Windows vs OS X - Which Is Faster? (Part 2)

1/19/2014 11:09:35 AM

Test 2: Office applications

For our next set of tests, we turned to two of the most widely used applications in the world - Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. Microsoft publishes OS X editions of these programs as part of the Office for Mac suite, but they have different interfaces. Also, while Windows users are on Office 2013, the latest Mac suite is the 2011 edition.

This being the case, we expected to see some palpable differences in the user experience across the two platforms. Basic tasks such as typing, printing, opening files and calculating sums happened so smoothly in both operating systems that we couldn't detect any difference. But larger tasks, such as big find-and-replace jobs and drawing graphs, make differing levels of performance noticeable.

We started by opening a large document in Word - the full text of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, to be precise - and timed how long it took the software to replace every letter “I” with the word “TEST”. This isn't exactly a real-world exercise, but it's an indicator of overall performance.

Native word-processing software performance

Then, we pumped up the font size to 32 points and timed how long it took for Word to repaginate the document. In Word 2013 on Windows, this stretched it from 43 pages to 587 pages, while in Word for Mac 2011, owing to differences in the default formatting, the document ran to 683 pages. Our results, in seconds, can be seen in graph 4, below.

Clearly, Word for OS X is slower than Word for Windows. On the MacBook Air, the difference wasn't too alarming - as a proportion, eight seconds is much longer than five seconds for a find-and-replace operation, but our test used a deliberately extreme usage case. In real-world use, the difference is likely to be negligible. On the iMac, however, Word 2011 for Mac lagged by a greater margin, especially in the repagination task.

As with our browser test, Word isn't your only choice. If you're using a Mac for work, you might prefer to use a Microsoft-branded office suite. But for many Mac users, Apple's own iWork suite - comprising Pages, Numbers and Keynote - provides sufficient power. It's cheaper, too, working out at $63 for the three applications, versus $170 for Microsoft's Office for Mac Home & Student edition. A more appropriate comparison might be Word 2013 versus Pages 9.3. The results of that test are shown in graph 3, above. As you can see, the situation is flipped: Microsoft Word is quicker on Windows than on a Mac, but Pages on OS X delivers the best performance on any platform.

Microsoft Word performance

We also compared performance in Excel. Again, we started by testing the latest versions, pitting Excel 2013 on Windows against Excel 2011 on OS X. This time, the test was to render a stacked 3D bar graph representing four series of 1000 random numbers. Here, we saw no effective difference between versions, so we moved on to compare Excel on Windows with Apple's Numbers on OS X. Since its charting options don't precisely match those of Excel, our approach doesn't allow a perfect comparison of performance.

Native spreadsheet software performance

Native spreadsheet software performance

However, we can compare how long it takes Excel and Pages to render stacked bar graphs in their respective default 2D and 3D forms, which gives us an idea of how long a typical user will spend waiting for their graph to draw or update. The results - shown on graph 5, below - are the opposite of what we saw with Pages.

For journalists and authors (and other word-heavy professions), the blazing responsiveness of Pages makes OS X and iWork an attractive pairing, with Microsoft Office on Windows taking second place. If you work heavily with figures, the situation is reversed, thanks to Numbers' slower handling of graphs.

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