Which is better?
When people realise I work on both Macs and PCs, they inevitably ask, “Which is better?”
My answer is always, “There’s nothing in it; one does not work any better than the other.”
In most cases, this answer usually results in them telling me about their “Uncle Bob” who swears by Macs and says that anyone who uses PCs is stupid (on many occasions, it is intimated that “Uncle Bob” likes to be different).
Sometimes I find myself actually talking to an “Uncle Bob”. Generally he doesn’t like my nod to equality of the platforms and wants to argue with me that Macs really are better. On the odd occasion, I get a Windows supporter who will do the same.
So what, if anything, is the difference between the two?
In the past (and I’m talking 20 years ago here), there was more to separate the two platforms, but these days, they use the same hard drives, RAM and processors, so there is basically nothing to separate them physically. Well, that is, except for the external appearance and this is where the Macs really do appear different.
I recently had a PC owner ask me if I could get her a white monitor. Try as I might, I couldn’t find one, so I asked her why she wanted white. She said she wanted it to look like a Mac because it was going to be in view of customers so it needed to look prestigious. And that, perhaps, is the main difference between a Mac and a PC – people think a Mac is a prestige product.
It does sort of make sense because for a given combination of hardware, they are more expensive than PCs (sometimes significantly). Plus, not many people have them (they are less than 10% of the personal computer market) so they do appear like a rare commodity.
We use many shortcuts in our everyday lives to save us having to endlessly evaluate everything we do. One of the shortcuts we use to judge quality and reliability is price. A high price is supposed to indicate high quality and reliability. So all other things appearing equal, we perceive a high price as an indicator of a prestigious product. Of course, another reason for a high price could be lack of popularity and therefore no efficiencies or economies of scale.
This rareness has both a positive and a negative effect though. Viruses are difficult to write because they exploit quite complex loopholes in an operating system or associated support software. Because discovering these loopholes takes a lot of time and research, it makes sense to concentrate on the most popular platform in order for the virus writer to get the most “bang” for his “buck”. So the positive is that because Macs are rare, virus and spyware aren’t created for them (it is often said that Macs don’t get viruses because they are inherently more secure than Windows, but security analysts would say, “Let’s just call it even“).
And herein lies the main difference between “PC” and “Mac”. On the one hand, a PC is designed, manufactured, marketed, sold and supported by a multitude of companies. Every model of PC is unique. Different hardware and software combinations (with many apparent and potential incompatibilities) mean that Windows has had to be designed to be used with a very, very large number of different hardware components. This means that Windows computers, though highly customisable and widely supported by the technology enthusiast community, are inherently slightly unpredictable. In regards to support, this makes it impossible for an individual to be fully knowledgeable, but there are so many people out there with their own specialist subset of knowledge, it’s not hard to find someone to solve your problem.
On the other hand, since the Mac is designed, manufactured, marketed, sold and supported by one single company, it has the advantage of being both highly predictable and easy for Apple to both sell and support. After all, Mac OS X has only been designed to be used with Apple computers, which is a magical combination because it can be CONTROLLED! However, Macs have the disadvantage of being very rigid and only slightly customisable, meaning that you’ll most likely be replacing it when the next model comes out, rather than just being able to upgrade certain components. The huge degree of control Apple has over its hardware and software also makes it difficult for large support networks to grow and this makes it difficult for Mac users to find support (outside of the immediate control of Apple, anyway).
The Uncle Bob’s of the world will often try to tell me (or anyone else who pretends to be listening), that Macs don’t have problems like PCs do. To be frank, I don’t understand where they’re coming from in regards to this notion because I’m usually fixing their Mac while they are telling me this!
More importantly, though, why would a Mac be significantly more reliable than a PC? They’re practically using the same hardware, so why would this be? So it would have to be the software wouldn’t it? Is it because Microsoft just can’t manage to employ any quality programmers to work on Windows? Do MacOS coders have some divinely-inspired programming powers? Is Microsoft saving money on quality control because it thinks people are so stupid that they will continue to use their products whether they work or not? Do you really think any of these are true (if so, here’s a link to a conspiracy theory website that will confirm your belief that man did not land on the moon). Hopefully you’ve said, “of course not” to all of the above (and accordingly, here’s your link to a website refuting the conspiracy theory that man never landed on the moon).
The reality is, both operating systems are extremely complex pieces of code with thousands of people involved in putting them together. With any complex project that humans are involved in, there’s the potential for mistakes and oversight.
Just like any other retail business, software businesses want to sell as many of their products as they can with as little outlay as possible. Just like virus writers, they do this by writing their software specifically to work on the most popular platform (currently that is Windows). If they think they’ve saturated the market on that platform, then they start writing for other platforms. This means that there is simply less software available for Macs.
This lack of software availability may not be an issue for the average Mac user, because they may only want to use email and surf the web. However, I’ve had a few business clients who’ve ended up with a white elephant after buying a Mac and then discovering that their business software doesn’t run under MacOS (of course, if they’d just consult me before going out and spending money on new equipment… ).
Which to buy?
So, what do I think you should buy? If you like Macs, buy a Mac, if you like Windows, buy a PC – you won’t be disappointed.
However, if you have no allegiance to either you could choose this way:
Happy to spend more for perceived prestige? Buy a Mac.
Want a plethora of hardware and software options? Buy a PC.
For all other factors, the two platforms are pretty much equal in their pros and cons.