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macOS Sierra vs Windows 10: Why Apple Wins

Now that we've reviewed both Microsoft's Windows 10 Anniversary Update and Apple's macOS Sierra (10.12), we're familiar with both companies's visions for the next year in computing. Both free updates add tweaks to the user interface and special features such as Windows Ink and Apple's Siri, but the question remains, which desktop operating system reigns supreme?

Interface

Windows 10's fresh, dynamic redesign breathed new life into the once-staid operating system just last year, while Apple kept macOS Sierra (version 10.12) visually similar to OS X El Capitan (10.11), which was similar to the previous year's Yosemite (10.10). The notable interface change Apple added this year is Picture-in-Picture video, which is borrowed from the iPad.

While few users would call either interface bad, Windows 10 offers a built-in tablet mode, and Anniversary Update cleaned up the Start Menu to focus on apps. Since Microsoft designed this version of Windows with larger touch-targets, you can use the operating system on more devices, and gain different kinds of interaction.

Winner: Windows 10 Anniversary Update. This cross-device platform is more able and provides greater options.

Multitasking

Both macOS and Windows 10 offer virtual desktops, but Microsoft lets you do more at once. A year ago, Apple added a two-apps-at-once split-view to its desktop operating system in El Capitan, but Microsoft's operating system lets you snap four different windows into a grid, which is great when you have a large enough display.

Winner: Windows 10 Anniversary Update. More apps on a single screen.

Siri vs Cortana

Spotlight has helped Mac find files since its introduction in 2005, but manual type-and-search tools are the past, as voice activated assistants are gaining in prominence. By welcoming the once-iOS-only Siri to the Mac, Apple has caught up with Microsoft, which dropped Cortana onto PCs in the original Windows 10 release. 

While Siri can help manage files and Cortana can send news notifications, both now handle contextual follow-up questions. In the keynote presentation at WWDC, Craig Federighi got Siri to whittle down his file search for images to just the photos that Ken had sent him that Craig tagged as Drafts. In our testing, not only could Cortana answer the question "Who is the presdient of the U.S.?" but when we asked "how old is he?" it informed us that Barack Obama is 54 years old.

In addition, while both Siri and Cortana offer dashboards for their assistants where you can see the results, only macOS lets you drag and drop those results onto documents you're working on. Cortana has one leg up on Siri: it accepts both verbal and typed commands, while you can only speak to Siri.

Winner: Draw. Siri's arrival brings macOS to parity, but it doesn't surpass Cortana.

Special Features

Both Windows 10 Anniversary Update and macOS Sierra allow you to unlock your device with a device (your phone on a PC and an Apple Watch on a Mac), but their other new special features differ greatly. Microsoft introduced the option for Windows 10 PC and Xbox One owners to play against (or with) each other in games.

Windows 10's other major new feature is Ink, which translates notes written with your stylus or finger on the screen into text notes. Unfortunately, our months of testing Ink proved the feature to be more toy than tool. 

Meanwhile on macOS Sierra, Apple's most interesting new feature is Optimized Storage, which stores files you don't access often on Apple's iCloud servers. In a demonstration at the WWDC 2016 Keynote, this freed 130GB of space on a 250GB hard drive.

Snap-happy Mac users will also be eager to upgrade to macOS Sierra, as the Photos app has gained improved facial recognition, options to search by objects and people and Memories, an easy way to turn photos into slideshows. Also, multiple Mac owners will appreciate the option to mirror their desktop and Document folder files across all Macs running Sierra.

Winner: Draw. Both platforms added potentially great new features that users will hopefully enjoy.

Web Browsing

The biggest change happening on either platform is that Microsoft's Edge browser finally got extensions in Windows 10 Anniversary Update. Unfortunately, Edge extensions have been few and far bweeen, and if app development for Windows 10 is any indicator, Edge may have a hard time catching up with Safari in terms of numbers of available extensions.

Both browsers let you pin tabs that you always want to read, but of the two, only Safari lets you mute noisy tabs. Edge forces you to go into a tab, figure out why it's playing sound and manually mute it. And while Edge may let you annotate pages with notes and doodles, that's not enough to make up for the lack of mutes.

Winner: macOS Sierra. You can surf in peace with Safari's mutable tabs, and Edge can't beat that.

Phone Integration

Since Apple produces both Macs and iPhones, the company has the power to make them work in harmony. Windows 10 Anniversary Update added the ability to send SMS messages through your phone from your PC, but it can't take calls from your phone, which Macs can.

Apple's added even greater synergy between iPhones and Macs with Sierra with the new Universal Clipboard, which lets you copy text on one device and paste it in the other. Apple also introducing Auto Unlock, which will let you sign into your Mac with your Apple Watch. Also, you'll be able to activate ApplePay on your Mac with the TouchID sensor on your iPhone or Apple Watch.

Winner: macOS Sierra. Apple's cross-platform integration is hard to beat.

Price & Updating

Would you rather live by your computer's schedule, or make it adapt to your own? While Microsoft made upgrading from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10 free for its first year, the company told users to expect the operating system to cost $119 after July 29 2016. macOS Sierra is the latest in a long line of Apple desktop operating systems that are free forever.

Also, Apple lets you update your operating system when you're ready, unlike Microsoft, which forced the issue for Windows 10 and is currently taking months to roll Anniversary Update out to the masses.

Winner: macOS Sierra. Free, without asterisks and on your schedule.

Overall Winner: macOS Sierra, 5-4

A year ago, Windows 10 beat OS X El Capitan in our faceoff, but Apple sure has worked it's tail off to make macOS Sierra more compelling. From bringing Siri from iOS to the desktop to beefing up Photos' features, macOS Sierra gives desktop Mac users the features they've been waiting for. Windows 10 Anniversary Update is no slouch, but Edge is taking too long to become a browser that can compete with the field.

While these operating systems aren't the be-all and end-all behind shoppers decisions -- Mac hardware designs and PC gaming capabilities are extremely important -- there are enough differences between macOS and Windows 10 to predict a winner.

After graduating from Bard College a B.A. in Literature, Henry T. Casey worked in publishing and product development at Rizzoli and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, respectively. Henry joined Tom's Guide and LAPTOP having written for The Content Strategist, Tech Radar and Patek Philippe International Magazine. He divides his free time between going to live concerts, listening to too many podcasts, and mastering his cold brew coffee process. Content rules everything around him.