I posted the above photo of my new office today on Instagram. Anybody who knows me was probably less surprised by the giant Darth Vader (or the fact that I have my own office at all, which still feels strange) than by the Windows 7 desktop on those two computer screens.
I switched to Apple laptops about ten years ago, and have mostly tried to avoid using Windows since. Now, I used to be all-in for the Microsoft ecosystem. I was eager to get my hands on a copy of Windows XP as soon as it was released, and I used Windows Media Player to manage my meager (and embarrassing) digital music collection in college. But I was fortunate enough to first start using Mac OS X in the days of 10.4 "Tiger", which was when OS X had finally matured, and I quickly came to prefer it. And even though the school at which I've taught for six years is essentially Windows-exclusive, there was nothing platform-specific I needed to worry about. So as long as I was comfortable doing my own tech support, I brought my personal laptop into work and that was fine.
Now that I'm a big shot administrator, they brought me a brand new Windows laptop, complete with fancy docking station. And it is a nice machine, some HP model with a speedy processor, and running Windows 7, not the mess that is Windows 8. So while my job is still mostly platform-agnostic, I figured I would try to use it and leave my personal laptop at home.
It took me a few minutes to get used to Windows 7 again, but I readily got myself into Windows Mode. But after a few hours, I had a growing list of things that I missed from my Mac. I'm going to share some of them here, but I want to be clear that this isn't a list of complaints. I'm just a nerd that likes thinking about the tools I use, and not having them made me mindful of these. If you have a Mac, maybe you'll find some useful apps here. If you don't, then feel free to suggest Windows alternatives to me.
I didn't realize just how much I used Spotlight until I didn't have it. I must hit ⌘ + spacebar multiple times every minute, to invoke a file, an application, or to do simple arithmetic. Not to mention the ability to hit spacebar and get a quick preview of PDFs, Word docs, and just about every other kind of file. If Windows 7 has anything similar, I haven't found it. (And all of this is doubly true for the application Alfred, which is also an important part of my workflow.) If any of these apps are a "deal-breaker", this would be it.
Thanks to Fantastical, I virtually never open a full-blown calendar app any more (even one as awesome as BusyCal). I can enter appointments right from my menu bar, simply by typing, "Meeting with Sally tomorrow at 1", and can view my calendar with a quick click on that same icon, without having to open a full-blown calendar app.
If I have to describe Omnifocus in a few words, all I can say is that it keeps me sane. I use it for one-off reminders for tasks that I need to do, but even more so for getting out of my head all the actions associated with big projects so that I can focus on, you know, actually doing the work.
This is pretty self-explanatory. I like that I can send/receive iMessages when I'm working on my computer, especially since most of my friends and family have iOS devices. (Though with OS X Yosemite, iOS 8 and Handoff, it will work for all my friends and family, not just the ones with iPhones.)
I dug through all the mouse settings I could find, but I couldn't duplicate the iOS-like "natural scrolling" that I've become used to. That one kept nagging at me.
While I rely on Dropbox for most of my document syncing, iCloud is still an important part of my workflow. I love knowing that in a pinch I can open up Byword, type up a quick note (or blog post like this one), and know that it's available on my iPad. And I have quite a few single-task iPad apps for which I have a Mac counterpart, and iCloud handles all the syncing seamlessly and behind the scenes. Even simple things like Safari bookmark syncing is something I've come to take for granted.
There are more, but these are the apps (and keyboard shortcuts) that I found myself reaching for the most. Are there Windows counterparts for some of these apps I use? Of course. Could I rely on Dropbox even more for some of this? Probably. But with the school going 1:1 with iPads next year, I foresee me relying on iCloud syncing more, not less. In today's world of integrated services becoming more important than they hardware they run on, there are a lot of benefits to having a sole provider. Whether it's Chromebooks + Google Apps for Education or iPads + iCloud, there are definite tradeoffs for trying to mix systems.
I'm pretty pragmatic. All these tools I've mentioned became vital to me because they solved real-world problems and made me more productive. If I can solve those problems on a Windows machine, I'm all for it.
Check back in a year to see if I have a similar list of Windows apps I've become reliant on. Do let me know if you have any suggestions!