Monday, September 26, 2005

Mac or PC? Tackling some myths...

You've heard the debate for years. Much of it goes:
PCs are cheaper to own than Macs
Macs are only for graphic designers
PCs have more software
Macs aren't compatible
PCs are fast - Macs are slow

Since I seem to be the go-to-guy for computer advice around here, I thought I'd use my first post to address the most oft-asked question I receive: What should I buy? Along with that, it seems more and more people are also asking: Is a Mac really an option? We'll see.

Truth, propaganda and hooey

First let's get one thing out of the way, the answer to another critical question: Which one will do what I want it to? The answer: both - there's not one thing that can't be done on either computer. The catch is that it's all a matter of trade-offs.

The only places these trade-offs are critical are in a few key niche areas (and you'll know who you are). For example, if you are a power-gamer and always want to run the latest 3D games you are pretty much limited to a Windows PC for two reasons: 1) most new-releases are available on Windows first, 2) most new video card hardware (needed for the new games) is available for Windows well before Mac. On the other hand, if you are a video professional using Final Cut Pro or Avid, well, then you're stuck on Mac. Most else is fair game.

With that key piece of information out of the way, let's look at busting some myths.

PCs are cheaper than Macs

If we are looking strictly at initial cost of hardware alone... yes, you're right. It's amazing how cheaply you can purchase a Windows PC for these days. But beware, many of these cheap machines are just that - cheap machines. And, you're never sure of compatibility with any of these.

Apple did one big thing right - they control the hardware as well as the operating system. Because of this, you can usually be assured that things will just work. With a Windows PC, since there are thousands of mix and match components and peripherals, you are more than likely to have some problem or conflict at some point. That's not to say this is Microsoft's fault - it's just the nature of the beast with so much variation.

But back to cost. If your goal is simply to write simple text letters and send an email or two, then the built in WordPad and Outlook Express will work fine for you on a PC. But above that, everything on that new super-cheap PC of yours will cost you money. Sure there may be a few free applications included on the PC, but for the most part they are worth only what you paid for them - nothing.

In contrast, every Mac comes with a suite of applications that are worth quite a bit when compared to equivalent programs on the PC. The iLife suite of iPhoto, iDVD, iMovie, iTunes and Garage Band is a significant suite of applications. Additional built-in applications like QuickTime, iChat, Mail, Address Book, Font Book, Preview and iCal are also exremely polished.

And, all Macs have the ability to create PDF files straight from any application - built-in - for free. Compare that to needing to purchase Adobe Acrobat for the PC at a cost of $299 and that $500 cheap PC gets costlier and costlier.

Note: since first writing this article, I have found the open-source PDF-Creator software for Windows, which is free and performs similar functionality to the built-in Mac pdf creation.

The bottom line on cost is knowing, or figuring out, what it is you want to do on your computer. And then finding out what the real cost to be able to do those things will be.

Macs aren't compatible in a Windows world

If this were 1990 you'd be right. But it's not 1990 and that's not the case at all. If you use a Mac today, it's doubtful your friends or associates will ever know you're not working on a Windows PC. The compatibility issue is a dead one.

There's not much software for Macs

Hooey - pure and simple. There's plenty of software for the Mac. Commercial applications (like Office), shareware and freeware all exist in abundance. The only problem, as previously stated, can be in newest release gaming.

However, you should note that finding Mac software can be a little more difficult. Big retailers like WalMart, Target, SamsClub, and Costco generally carry Windows-only software on their shelves. Unless it's a hybrid disc that has software for both PC & Mac, you're out of luck at these stores. As a Mac owner, you'll learn to grow fond of and the Apple Store.

Macs are slow

Again, in days gone by this may have been the case, but not any more. In raw speed tests it depends on the application and the machine configuration as to which platform performs better. It's not a "one is better than the other" across the board result.

The bottom line with speed is this: no matter what you get, in 12 months you'll always want a faster one!

It's the OS

And now we get to the biggest difference of all between the two types of machines: the OS.

Windows has come a long way in the last few years towards becoming a stable and usable operating system. Even with the crashes, Windows XP is a far better operating system than almost every other variant - with the exception of maybe Windows 2000. But Windows downfall has been security (viruses and malware), added to a confusing choice of products. Windows XP Home or Professional anyone?

And the confusion is only going to get worse. It has been reported that the next version of Windows (code-named Vista) will have a mind-numbing seven variants (yes, I said "7") to choose from. On the flip side of that is Apple OSX - with one single OS for everyone from home users to corporate professionals. Yes, there is a Server OS as well, but I'm not counting that because Microsoft also has a separate server OS.

And where these OS's really differ are in two places that should be near and dear to your heart: your time and your money. Put bluntly: Windows PCs take a lot of time to protect against viruses and malware - Macs take, well... none. Period.

I recently read a three-page article in PC World describing protecting yourself from malware, and yet they still said that "eventually you will be effected". A second article the following month discussed how to reinstall the OS because, as they stated: "when your system gets bogged down with spyware, as it will..." you'll need to know how to start from scratch again. As a computer geek, I can attest to that. I used to spend hours cleaning, fixing and protecting my PCs from spam and viruses - or reinstalling Windows and all my applications. Last December I spent the better part of a week (40+ hours) digging out from a virus on one computer, spyware on another, and a corrupted registry on the third. I was, in a word, done.

Since that day, when I put all three for sale on eBay and went on and bought Macs, I haven't spent one minute doing anything about viruses or malware (really - not 1 minute) and my systems have never been at risk, The peace of mind, not to mention the actual time saved by not having these problems, is priceless.

So, where do I lean? Without regard to security, I think both platforms have things to offer and can meet most people's needs. But in general, until the virus and malware problems are removed from the Windows platform, I'd recommend Macs in a heartbeat.

And until Microsoft starts losing a lot of market share, that may be a while.


At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for a well thought out and organized comparison. Coming from my work environment I can attest to the fact that it takes a larger amount of time to maintain a stable PC environment. Also, as you stated the OSX system of today is not like the older Apple operating systems of the past. I look forward to other posts.

At 12:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I personally love the Mac -- and it's true that there are many reasons that it's more stable and easy to use. . . the truth is it's simply not that popular. . .and as a computer professional it simply makes sense for me to work with the biggest percentage of computers.

The Macintosh is like the universal language Espreranto -- sure it's "universal" but nobody speaks it.

Windows is like the English language -- it's cumbersome and the spelling makes little logic sometimes. But that's what we us.

In the end -- I'm happy that Apple exists to "shame" Microsoft into to cool and sometimes the right things!

At 10:11 PM, Blogger N.J. said...

Blake - Thanks for the comments. I agree that from a service provider standpoint, it makes sense to hit the bigger market. With that said, I still wouldn't sneeze at Apple's market share.

But again, I believe both platforms have their merits - I personally use both.

By the way, your site is great and extremely useful. Keep up the good work.


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