Friday, August 28, 2009

Mac or PC?

No preface here. Just going to jump right in. This is in reply to Naomi's question.

Here's an unbiased answer from a Mac user.

It comes down to a few things.

In my personal experience and in the experiences of my friends and relatives, price does not equal value. Yes, the upfront price of a Windows machine is less than than of a Mac, but are you getting more for your money? Macs, especially the current line of Macbook Pro laptops, are more sturdy and well-built than any other computer I've seen. Are you going to get good customer service in case something goes wrong? There are so many configurations of PCs that it's often hard for third-party tech support to help, and good luck getting quality support from the Dells of the world (Please see laptop tech support Showdown, Aug 5, 2009: With a Mac, you know you're going to get help from a local Apple Store because Apple made the thing. I've even heard of Apple replacing things out of warranty if you ask nicely enough.

Speaking of support and problems, when you get a Windows PC, you get immediate access to all the latest and greatest... malware. With the rise in popularity of Macs, I do foresee some bad stuff being written for them just out of spite. But I don't see that happening for some time. Macs have always been more secure, and in my 15+ years of using them, I've never run an antivirus - though I probably should in order not to infect my PC using friends. Now, people will tell you that they've run Windows for years without problems. And I believe them. But sometimes even the most security conscious PC users get bitten sometimes. Do you want to deal with this? If time is money, add the time spent checking for and removing malware to the nominally lower cost of a Windows PC. Better deal? Hmm...

And maybe your question isn't whether you want to deal with Windows security issues or not. The next question is what you're going to do with the computer. Unless you're using some specialized program (or games), Windows or Mac OSX will both be fine. Things like MS Office are on both, though I'm beginning to realize that I really didn't need Office all these years just to write essays, as there are free alternatives (Wordpad on Windows and TextEdit on Mac; OpenOffice on both). For gamers, there's no question Windows is the way to go. Some financial applications and business apps require Windows. If you're just going to use the computer casually, there's no reason you "need" Windows, but then again there's no reason you "need" Mac OSX either. Also take a look at what software would come on your PC laptop and what comes on a Macbook Pro that you'd have to pay extra for on a PC - a DVD playing application, things like iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, Garageband, etc. These things may or may not matter to you, and I realize that there are alternatives on Windows - but it's just so much easier to have them integrated.

You'll notice that I have actually gotten into the usability comparison between OSX and Windows. I'm not going to go into that because while I find OSX much more intuitive to me, it's really a matter of what you're used to and what you're willing to learn. I've found that Windows users sometimes have a bit of a learning curve learning OSX because they're use to doing things a certain way, though your mileage may vary. Go to an Apple Store or your local student store to check out the Macs (hardware and software wise) to get a feel for whether you like it or not. Go to a Best Buy or a friend's house to see if they have Windows 7 installed. You know Windows 7 is coming out, but many don't know that Apple just today released their newest OS as well, 10.6 Snow Leopard (they name them after big cats, you see). I've heard very good things about Windows 7. Technology guru Leo Laporte, whom I really respect, says Windows 7 is the best release of Windows... ever. Funny thing is, Windows 7, like Snow Leopard, is simply a tune-up of the previous version rather than a traditional full, hundreds-of-new-features update. In other words, Vista Reloaded! Not that this is a bad thing. Vista was a good idea with bad execution and the current version (Service Pack 2) isn't so bad (I actually use it.. more on that below).

The other value of getting a Mac is that you can run both operating systems... even at the same time. Apple provides a utility called Boot Camp so you can boot into Windows, providing you the best (or worst) of both worlds on one computer. This is a good choice if you like Apple's hardware/want to use Mac OSX but still want to use Windows for some things. You can also run Windows in, well, a window on your desktop using Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion (both $80) or VirtualBox (Free) + the cost of Windows.

I have an iMac which I bought myself a few months ago. I run Windows Vista on it under Boot Camp just for games and of course OSX for everything else. I've had no problems with Vista, except for some incompatibilities with certain games - but as a software developer myself, I know that you can't support everything. Vista is not as horrible as others have made it out to be, especially now. It's just different from what people were used to with XP. And just like in society, people hate things that are different - Ugh, I hate that.

Well, there's a (not-so) quick overview of what to look out for. Some things I mentioned are an oversimplification, so others can feel free to add to it, ask questions, or give their side of the story. I could go on forever discussing the merits of each side. Is Windows 7 better or worse than Snow Leopard? Depends how you use it and what you like in a computer.

Hope this helps. Make the right choice for yourself.