If you’re looking to buy a new computer (or update your existing one) this holiday season, then there’s the chance it will be powered by one of two operating systems: MacOS Monterey, or Windows 11. One of these is designed by Apple specially for Macs, and the other by Microsoft for a wide range of PCs and tablets.
Naturally, that means there’s a lot of comparisons you might need to make before picking your platform of choice or updating your PC or Mac. The two operating systems might be powering laptops that look and feel the same in ways, but there are many differences under the hood that might shape your decision if you go Team PC or Team Mac.
That might sound confusing to you, but we’ve tried both MacOS Monterey and Windows 11 during the MacOs Monterey public preview and Windows Insider Dev Channel testing period. So we’ve got you covered with a look at some of the major differences between the two.
First, we start with the price and release date of these two operating systems. MacOS Monterey will be coming in fall 2021, and Microsoft has confirmed that Windows 11 will be coming “holiday 2021.” Both are free updates on existing hardware, but there is still a list of conditions that need to be met if you hope to run the operating systems.
MacOS Monterey will install on your device for free as long as your Mac is certified for it. Apple has an official list of Macs that work with the newest version of MacOS. It covers a lot of Mac Minis, MacBook Pros, iMacs, and MacBook Airs from the last six years. So be sure to check that list.
As for Windows 11, the situation is quite complicated. Windows 11 only works on PCs that have a TPM 2.0 chip and an Intel 8th-generation or AMD Ryzen 2000 processor and newer. It will also work on a Windows 1o on ARM PC with a newer Qualcomm processor. That basically covers any new PC purchased in the last three years. It’s also a free update, as long as you have a valid Windows 10 license.
Of course, Apple will ship new Macs with the latest OS later this year. And Microsoft will ship new PCs. You can buy a Windows 11 key later this year for “clean installs” (or use a Windows 10 one when a Windows 11 ISO is released), but MacOS Monterey isn’t something you can just buy and install on any old MacBook. It is listed in the Apple App Store as a download only for certified Macs.
The biggest area where MacOS Monterey and Windows 11 are different has to do with multitasking. We start with this first because it’s what Microsoft has mentioned the most when marketing Windows 11. It’s also where MacOS lacks the most compared to Windows.
Multitasking in MacOS Monterey works just like it has in previous releases. You’ll need to first open the app you want to multitask with, and then hover over the green expand button at the top left. Next, hold down your click and choose which side you want to tile it on. Your other open window will then show up on the right or left. This will then cut out your menu bar and dock, giving you a full-on immersive multitasking experience.
On Windows 11, Microsoft has revamped the way window tiling and multitasking works. Thanks to a feature known as “Snap Groups” when you hover your mouse over the maximize button, you’ll see new ways to tile your open apps, along with some cool glass-like effects.
There are a total of six ways you can tile the window, including side by side, in a column, in a grid, and more. Multitasking definitely works better in Windows 11 than it does in MacOS Monterey.
The second big difference between MacOS Monterey and Windows 11 is with the web browser. Apple has revamped Safari in the latest MacOS version, and Microsoft continues to push its own Edge browser as the best web browser for Windows. But remember, you can also download Edge on MacOS, too!
If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, then the new Safari has lots for you to enjoy. Apple has redesigned the tab bar to take up less space and adapt to the color of the website you’re on. Tabs also float and buttons are more streamlined. Other new features include tab groups and the ability to sync tab groups across different devices, as well as privacy and anti-tracking features.
These are features that Microsoft’s Edge browser has had for a while, even on MacOS. Though its design isn’t as compact as Safari, it does have a lot of the same privacy features, as well as a Collections feature to save websites across iPhone and Mac. The main differences are just visual and performance-focused — Apple claims that Safari is more power-efficient on MacOS.
Now onto the visual stuff. In Windows 11, Microsoft tweaked the way the Start Menu and Taskbar works. Both are now centered. This feels a lot like how things work in MacOS Monterey. It’s totally not a coincidence.
In Windows 11, all your app icons and active apps are toward the center of your screen by default. The Start Menu is also more rounded and no longer features Live Tiles. Rather, you’ll see a static row of apps, followed by your recent documents underneath.
In a way, it is a lot similar to Apple’s LaunchPad in MacOS, which takes up your home screen with a list of apps. Even closing apps in Windows 11 has animations that look like the ones in MacOS. For instance, apps bounce up and down when you minimize to the taskbar. We talk more about the visual design in our main preview of Windows 11.
MacOS Monetary, though, doesn’t come with any visual revamps like the previous update. It’s mainly the same as what you get in the MacOS Big Sur release. You’ll see uniformed app icons and shapes where the dock will take the color of your wallpaper.
If you’re in MacOS Monterey, then you’re getting chat apps like FaceTime and iMessage. On Windows 11, meanwhile, Microsoft will eventually push you to use Teams. Right now, the Teams integration isn’t available in Windows 11, but it is coming soon. Facetime and iMessage have a ton of new features in MacOS Monterey that might be good if you’re a social butterfly with an iPhone.
On MacOS Monterey, Apple has a new SharePlay feature for FaceTime where you can watch TV and shows and listen to music with your friends on a call. There’s also a new ability to share your screen and support for spatial audio and voice isolation during calls on certain Mac models. Grid view, Portrait mode (exclusive to M1 Macs,) and the ability to send anyone on Windows and Android a FaceTime meeting link cap out the features. Basically, there are many ways to be social on Mac machines.
As for iMessage, Apple has introduced new photos collections features, so they appear as a collage. There’s even a Shared With You feature so that you can see the iMessage link from content shared from Photos, Safari, Apple News, Podcasts, and Apple TV in the corresponding app.
On Windows 11, Microsoft is still working on a new Chat app, which will live as a new icon in the taskbar. The app has its own hub, where you can click that icon and start a Microsoft Teams chat with someone, or even a video call.
Microsoft mentioned that if the person isn’t on Teams, the message gets sent via SMS. This means you can connect with your friends and family on your Windows PC no matter what, just like with FaceTime links and SMS in iMessage on MacOS Monterey.
Moving along, Windows 11 takes some inspiration from MacOS Monterey when it comes to notifications and Quick Actions. These used to be combined in Windows 10 under the Action Center, but are now divided up into separate hubs. Notifications are a lot cleaner, and there’s a special section with toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and sound in Windows 11.
The MacOS Big Sur update introduced a new Control Center where you can access Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and music controls with a quick click. It basically works a similar way in Windows 11 now — and is unchanged in Monterey, too. Even notifications in Windows 11 are cleaner, now with more rounded corners and the ability to group notifications and even peek at your calendar.
It’s uncanny when put up against MacOS Monterey, but a little less crowded. That’s because Apple has widgets in the notification center, whereas Microsoft has put these in its own section to the left side of the screen for quick glances at the weather, sports, news, reminders, and more.
MacOS Monterey just brings some small tweaks to notifications. You can choose a focus time and then mute notifications across your devices. Notification tiles are also more clear and identifiable, with larger profile icons and app icons. Apple even introduced audio and video recording indicators in the Control Center, something Windows has had for years in the Taskbar.
And now we come to the apps and sharing experiences. On MacOS Monterey, you can enjoy select iPhone apps (on your M1-powered Mac), along with DMG apps like Chrome, or Mac Universal apps from the Apple App Store (like Day One journal or Microsoft OneNote). There are even traditional PWA apps that can be installed via your web browser. Windows 11 takes some inspiration from this.
In Windows 11, Microsoft learned from Apple’s addition of iPhone apps on Mac OS Big Sur and is introducing the ability to run Android apps in the Windows operating system. It’s powered by the Amazon App Store, but there could be some potential limits. It’s not yet available for testing, so we can’t judge it yet. Even Apple has put limits on which iPhone apps can run on Macs so as not to stop people from buying iOS devices.
Other than Android apps, Windows 11’s Microsoft Store now allows developers to list their app regardless of the architecture beneath them. That includes Win32 apps like OBS Studio or PWA apps like Twitter. The design was also tweaked to be much easier to understand, with a sidebar.
There isn’t anything new in terms of apps in MacOS Monterey.
When it comes to sharing, meanwhile, MacOS Monterey introduces the ability to control Macs and iPad with a single keyboard and mouse — known as Universal Control. Sadly, we weren’t able to test this as it’s not in the first Mac OS Monterey public beta.
However, what we do know is that this has been present in Windows with the Mouse Without Borders app for a while. It’s just not native and is as simple to use judging from Apple’s keynote presentation.
Apple also introduced the ability to play content from an iPhone to a Mac with AirPlay to Mac. This has been on Windows with Miracast, which lets you stream your phone or another tablet to your PC, for some time, and Apple is now catching up to Microsoft.
And now we end with performance. With Windows 11, Microsoft claims 40% faster update processes and says Windows 11 is the most secure Windows yet. Apple, meanwhile, didn’t share any specific performance improvements in MacOS Monterey, and we didn’t feel any difference in our hands-on time either.
In the end, there’s a lot more to an operating system than whatever is new in the latest update. Still, it’s hard not to notice that Windows and Mac have never been so similar. Despite the ways Microsoft wants to one-up Apple with its new developer payment policies, Windows 11 takes more inspiration from Mac than ever before. Most of the changes are for the benefit of the end user, which makes the competition between the two operating systems more subtle — and more interesting.
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