Mac vs. Windows: Best laptop for software developers

As a software developer I am always looking for the best tools, both software and hardware to help me do my job more efficiently and more enjoyable. The main tool for software development is the computer itself, and every developer chooses a computer based on the software they are developing, or as it is the case for many unfortunate developers, they simply use whatever hardware is given to them by their employer.

For many, software development has to be done in a powerful desktop machine, and that might be true if what you are developing requires it. However, if you are a software developer building web apps or phone apps then you don’t really need that much hardware power. After many years of developing software for Windows, iOS and the Web, I can’t find a reason a laptop isn’t better than a desktop machine. A laptop these days gives you more than enough power to run the most demanding IDE applications such as Visual Studio, Aptana, etc… and today’s laptops can even run a database server and virtual machines.

Laptops also give you the ability to write or review code on the go, and who doesn’t like to write software while in the train or airplane… I do. For those in need of more power than what a laptop can offer, there is always the option to have a powerful machine host your code and other applications you might need and then just use a laptop to connect to the desktop machine remotely and do all the coding you need in your laptop, from anywhere. This actually works very well, for example I have a Windows machine at my home office that serves as the main software repository and it is also the building machine. If I need to connect to it I just use Remote Desktop to connect to it from my MacBook.

Selecting the right laptop usually comes down to price and just personal preference. I have posted and seen many posts with titles like “the best laptop for software development”, etc in sites like StackOverflow, and many others… Many of the answers are detailed about why a laptop is better than the other, which one is lighter, faster, less noisy, best one to type, etc… The biggest disagreement seems to be between people who use MacBooks and those who use Windows-based laptops.

I have owned many Windows-based laptops from Toshiba, Dell, HP and IBM, and two years ago I bought my firs MacBook because I wanted to learn and develop an iPhone application, just like everyone else. I remember doing a considerably amount of research to see if I could just use my windows laptop to develop software for the iPhone. Yes, there are ways to do this, but in the end I decided it was probably a good learning experience to not only learn about xcode but also about using OS X, and just have the whole Apple experience at my fingerprints… and you can’t deny that MacBooks just look really cool as well.

One of the main things I discovered is that I love the simplicity of MacBooks. The lack of labels, little flashing lights, lack of ports, etc is actually one of the things I like the most. Many of you will disagree with me about the following, I do prefer the Windows 7 operating system over OS X. I might be biased about my opinion because I have used Windows for a long time and I am also primarily a .NET developer, and unlike many other Windows users, I find Windows a joy to work with. Really.

One of the great benefits of MacBooks is that you don’t have to compromise, you can use both OS X and Windows 7, no problem. I’ve found VMware Fusion a great tool to do this. VMware Fusion allows you to run both operating systems in parallel, and it works very well.

When choosing a laptop for software development, you want to have something that is flexible and powerful enough to run all the software and operating systems you need. If you are a .NET developer and do some iOS development, then a MacBook is probably the laptop you need. It is easier to run Windows on a MacBook than the opposite, just try it.

Another thing to consider is the total cost of ownership and the cool factor, yes it is important as well. A recent article from CIO showed that Macs in general have a lower cost of ownership than PCs. It is something worth considering since the cost of a computer is not only the initial purchase price but the cost of upgrades, support, maintenance, software, etc… Personally, I have not spent more than $200 on my MacBook after buying it two years ago, and I could probably sell it now for a lot more than any two-year old Windows-based laptop.

In the end, if you are a developer and are looking for a new laptop, get something that fits your needs and your preferences, if you do want something tiny and fast you should definitely consider the MacBook Air. And remember, you’ll probably end up using the laptop for things other than software development, I know how much fun is to code but you should also consider getting a laptop that you’ll enjoy even when not coding, and more importantly, a laptop with a great keyboard, you’ll do a lot of typing! I also have to add that if you have no need or interest for iOS development then you can probably forget about MacBooks altogether… it is your choice.

31 thoughts on “Mac vs. Windows: Best laptop for software developers

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  3. Wow you are talking to me directly with this article, I’m .Net developer too and I’ve been thinking about macs for a while. Thanks!.

    DanoneGzz

  4. I want to put in my 2 cents here … I have had 2 macbooks in the past 6 years and each one died after 3 years. While they are cool they do break and when they break the cost (ie logic board cost 1100 dollars while the laptop new was 1400) is just ridiculous.

  5. I believe that the life for almost any computer is about 3-4 years… I like Apple computers because I just load the software I need on them and they just seems to work, the lack of hardware peripherals actually help to keep things running smoothly and when is time to sell them to get a new one… you usually can get more money for a used Mac than a used PC – IMHO.

  6. We cant like customize stuff in mac. if we connect an iPod to the PC, we cant have an option “browse” . Mac creates limits for operation. we cant run grand theft auto or pc games on mac. thumbs down for mac. But the dock thing is only one which is good in mac.

    • The fact is windows dominates computers, http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_os.asp, acording to this windows holds 80%, but ill tell you one thing ,there are many people who use pirate windows, that means its safe to say window holds at least 90% of the world os usage.Thats why majority of video games are for windows only, same for viruses(thats why macs are “made” imune to viruses)

    • You can play all kinds of windows games in a mac. In fact, i find my mac to be better in terms of gaming. you can install windows through bootcamp and it runs perfectly. I play COD and other games with my friends who own windows laptops. My mac runs just like any of their computers do but at the same time it runs faster and looks cooler too. A mac is not bounded to OSX and can run Windows too whereas other laptops cannot so in my opinion macs are just better. I use OSX in school and the mac has a long battery life and then when i get to my room i just boot with windows (takes seconds) and use windows. I can access the files from both the OS regardless of which one i am using. And BTW there is an app for GTA in macs. also u can just download the torrent and it will run natively in Macs.

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  8. i want to puchase a laptop plz tell me about it which laptop should i buy i dont have any knowledge about it i want to do software engineering thats why i need best laptop

  9. I am loving my Dell so far, it has given me a relief while working at home and in college. Have a few macbooks at home, but they are for the fun stuff :)

  10. I am a 12 th student. I own a mac too. But so far I haven’t been able to compile a single c++ program on it. I have tried Xcode, Code Blocks, eclipse but they simply don’t have the basic compiler. Please help me to make them compile. I do programming in school using turbo 3.0 on PC.

    • Your mac comes with the gcc installed already. All you have to do is know how to invoke it. You can see what version and other basic information about the gcc by opening a terminal and typing “gcc” at the prompt. Of course, if you get an error about a bad command then you will have to download and install it.

      You can do a simple program in this way:
      - write your program and call it myprogram.cpp (or whatever you want)
      - open a terminal and cd to the directory where your source file lives
      - at the prompt type “g++ -Wall -Werror -o myprogram myprogram.cpp”
      - if your source code has any errors or warnings associated with it, gcc will let you know. Otherwise, it will pause for a few seconds (depending on how big your app is) and then you will get another prompt. In this case no news is good news so if you got no messages concerning your source code then you should have an executable called “myprogram” in the same directory where your source file is located.
      - run you program by typing “./myprogram” and you should see the result of your program running.

      Its as simple as that to get up and going. Of course, it can be a whole lot more complicated than that depending on your application.

  11. I have been a long-time Windows user professionally and a long-time Linux enthusiast unprofessionally. I found that writing software in Visual Studio is enjoyable and the debugging is top-notch.

    Developing software in Linux has always been quite enjoyable for me as well even though its not quite as polished of an environment as Windows.

    I finally decided to explore the world of the Mac user and found that development on a Mac is not as dreamy as the salesman at the Apple Store would have you believe but its not bad.

    All in all, its really a matter of personal preference. I will say that my Mac looks a lot cooler than any other laptop I have ever owned and the all aluminum casing is pretty sweet but I could have bought two high-end Windows-based laptops for the price of my one Mac.

  12. I have both a MacBoookPro and an Acer i7 Notebook. Both machine have similar processing power. The MacBookPro has 1440×900 screen resolution. The Acer and most windows notebooks have 1360×768 screen resolution. I’ve worked on the Windows environment for over 10 years. I bought my first MacBookPro about 3 years ago and my second one last year. I like the versatility of being able to run OSX and Windows 7 on the Mac. I like the ability to switch between screen on the Mac. Over all I find the MacBookPro and OSX a much more enjoyable combination to work with and am happy to pay the difference in price.

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  16. I have owned both Macs and PC’s and I currently just have a PC laptop. I am considering buying a MacBook air today, but the only issue I have with apple is the push of the apple app store. I have an iPad and like it for casual play but for programming or productivity it sucks. Macs are cooler though.

  17. Hi there
    Your piece on Mac vs. Windows: Best laptop for software developers | OnTechies is helpful as well as thought provoking.

    I shall be back to read your blog posts..

  18. Thanks for the insight. It really made up my mind. I am going to go with a mac as I do have a interest in ios and apple and also I really like MacBooks. So Thanks

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