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October 06, 2007

Which Way to Go?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

If you think the breeders vs. non-breeders debate brings out passions, how about the really fundamental divisive issue of our time: Macs vs. PCs?

* iPods plus Vista equals the Perfect Storm: More Princeton students choose Macs these days than PCs -- 60% in fact, up from just 10% in 2003.

* Steve Ballmer, hiphop star.



UPDATE: Agnostic asks, Are Macs girly?

posted by Michael at October 6, 2007


What this says too is that while the Mac hasn't penetrated the business world as it has academic institutions, in four years some of these students will be purchasing managers and that's when the ripple effect will beome a tidal wave.

I've been vacillating myself for almost year about this very question of switching.

Posted by: susan on October 6, 2007 10:01 AM

I'm thinking of getting a Mac. I've used the same Windows XP PC for three years now, and it's run perfectly. But I recently got a Vista laptop since I needed something a bit faster and had no end of trouble with it. I ended up giving it to my wife (yeah, whatta guy).

Those iMacs are looking pretty damn nice to me now.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on October 6, 2007 10:42 AM

I've become a stalwart Mac convert this past year. My MacBook runs smoothly and without complaint, if not as quickly as the wife's Dell tower PC. Viruses are no longer a worry, and even technical tasks like burning a disc image or networking (to PCs and Linux boxes, even) are a breeze compared to what I'd been used to.

And don't get me started on Vista. I paid $100, plus dinner and drinks, to get my friend to come over and downgrade that new Dell tower to XP.

Posted by: Nate on October 6, 2007 12:19 PM

Proud owner of dozens of Macs since 1986...and no plans to change.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on October 6, 2007 2:35 PM

I hated it when circumstances obliged me to rat to a PC some years ago. I'd like to re-rat.

Posted by: dearieme on October 6, 2007 2:45 PM

I recently tried to rid myself of a virus on my laptop running Windows XP. I spent hours running scans with two anti-virus programs with no remedy. At the same time, we needed a new laptop for various reasons. We're now proud owners of a MacBook Pro.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on October 6, 2007 4:40 PM

Randy Pausch, a Carnegie-Mellon professor of computer animation and virtual reality, gave his last lecture recently. With liver cancer and only a few months to live, he talked about life and life lessons to a packed auditorium. It was at once brilliant, funny, and celebratory. Among his many great comments was this: "I have experienced a deathbed conversion -- I just bought a Macintosh."

(The one hour and forty-four minute video of his talk is available on Google Videos. Just put his name in the search engine).

Posted by: Fred Wickham on October 6, 2007 6:01 PM

I got the Mac, I'm writing this from a 24" iMac.

Fuck Windows :-)

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on October 6, 2007 11:02 PM

Well, I've used (and am using) both Macs and PC's since the beginning -- we have both in the house -- and my take is that the Macs are over-rated. My biggest gripes are lack of a right-click, and lack of intuitive feel for how to get things done (find files, change programs, etc.) I use both Opera and Firefox for my PC browsers simultaneously (one for email, other for surfing) -- but then I'm no computer nerd and I've pretty much found my way on my own, since nobody around me knows anything.

This new $200 laptop for the 3rd world that's just coming out, with a brand new operating system and screen that reads in broad daylight, looks interesting though. I want a 1 pound (or less) laptop with a flash drive instead of a hard-drive and that is so rugged you can throw it across the room like a frisbee and it still won't break.

Posted by: Luke Lea on October 7, 2007 12:07 AM

The equation is still simple.

If you use a computer only for business purposes and e-mail, buy a PC. The price premium for the Mac cannot be justified.

If you use a computer for artistic, photographic or movie editing purposes, the price of a Mac might be justified.

Nothing has changed in 30 years.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on October 7, 2007 7:07 AM

I breathe a big sigh of relief when I leave the work computer (Windows 2000) and return to my beloved home Macs. Macs are hardly flaw-free -- we've had to take the iMac into the shop once (power supply blew out, or something), and I've called Apple Help three or four times when I've been puzzled. But generally they're smooth, helpful, aesthetically pleasing, and you don't need an IT department to keep them running.

Are they really that much more expensive than PCs? I thought I'd read articles comparing the "real" prices and they weren't that different -- given that the Mac includes a lot of groovy software and built-in functions that you have to pay extra money to equip a PC with ... Nice as well that, where accessories are concerned (printers, scanners, card readers, drawing tablets, etc), 9 out of 10 times they really are plug 'n' play ...

In any case, the combo of "aesthetic delight" and "lots fewer headaches" is well worth a couple of extra bucks to me.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 7, 2007 1:13 PM

And Vista certainly seems to have been one of the biggest turkeys of all times, doesn't it? The Edsel of software, maybe. Has there been decent coverage of what a bomb it is? I wonder if I've missed it. In any case, certainly seems like a nice journalistic opportunity -- a big cover story for someone: "How Could Microsoft Have Gone So Wrong."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 7, 2007 1:18 PM

Vista really is a turkey. I couldn't even use a USB hub when I tried it. Especially bad since XP was so reliable. Eventually they'll get it right, and it really is easier to use, probably because they copied the Mac so much.

Of course it should be added that you can't build your own Mac. I've done the many times with PCs and it's cool if you're into overclocking and that sort of PC hotrod culture.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on October 7, 2007 1:25 PM

Vista is annoying. Macs are beautiful. Still, when I bought my latest computer, I got a Dell running Vista. I just can't see switching to a minority platform with all of the compatibility difficulties that involves even if it does have a slick UI and Unix under the hood. Maybe if I'd bought a Mac, I'd find out it was worth it. Maybe next time. The "good" thing about computer is that you need a new one every 3-5 years, at least if you're like me.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on October 7, 2007 2:30 PM

Admired SF writer Neal Stephenson places the PC vs. Mac question in a larger context in the woderful long essay "In the Beginning...was the Command Line." Although it has since been published in book form it is still available free online:

Posted by: David C on October 7, 2007 4:25 PM

"The price premium for the Mac cannot be justified."

It certainly can. What's the cost of man hours lost when computers are rendered inoperable due to malware and the cost of IT specialists to fix them? I spent hours running virus scans on my laptop without solving the problem. Fortunately, I did it on my own time.

David C: The Stephenson essay is the most entertaining thing I've ever read about computers.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on October 7, 2007 5:14 PM

With the new Intel-based Macs, you can install Bootcamp and run Windows and OS X (the Apple operating system) concurrently, and with some free software, there is no need to reboot to switch back and forth. It partitions the hard drive so it is not like a Windows emulator, it is Windows.

With that in mind, there really is no reason to use a PC anymore, except for price considerations. Macs really are more expensive. They're also more realiable and more aesthetically pleasing.

Posted by: the patriarch on October 7, 2007 6:45 PM

"The price premium for the Mac cannot be justified."

It certainly can. What's the cost of man hours lost when computers are rendered inoperable due to malware and the cost of IT specialists to fix them? I spent hours running virus scans on my laptop without solving the problem. Fortunately, I did it on my own time.

I should have added that I'm a power user -- a professional programmer. I have enough trouble with PCs myself. If I had to take it in to an expert every time I had a problem (and pay for it!) I'd think harder about getting a mac.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on October 7, 2007 6:51 PM

I've heard enough horror stories from friends and family to persuade me to swap to Mac next time I upgrade my PC. Bye Bye Microsoft.

Posted by: Scott Wickstein on October 7, 2007 9:10 PM

I'm with Mr. Winkler and the Jewish Atheist. We are a mixed household. Mac's and PC's. If I could bottle all of the soul-sucking time-wasting days and nights I've had to spend de-toxxing and file-managing the PC's (v. the Macs), I'd already be in heaven, just waiting for my body to keel over from repetitive innocuous PC related tasks.

And as far as business applications are concerned, I'd most definitely have to disagree with Mr. Thomas. Mac's more than hold their won with PC's; our company has always had Mac's in the mix, even in the supposedly staid and horse-blindered accounting departments. The surprising thing (no offense) is that the Mac hasn't caught on with the most computer illiterate dept. (well, at least in our company), the sales department. It's as if they want/b> to remain confused and in the dark.

Posted by: DarkoV on October 8, 2007 8:22 AM

...and, if as Agnostic asks, Macs are girly, measure me for a skirt. Pants are so damn constricting.

Posted by: DarkoV on October 8, 2007 8:24 AM

I'm surprised at the number of comments this posting has generated. I've made my living hacking at computers since 1971. Having an allegiance, or any kind of feelings for these machines... what's that all about?

At various times, I've been Mac based. Other times I've been PC based. Ultimately, the only thing that matters to me is how much I get paid for hacking.

But, to add to my comments and answer Michael's question... no, the price difference hasn't disappeared.

Few PC users actually pay for their software. They bring home programs from work or pass programs from friend to friend. Hackers maintain huge websites of illegal software for download.

Plug and play is no longer a big difference maker. PCs work just about as well as Macs. For a sophisticated user, and most users who add on multiple peripherals are sophisticated, the technical issues involved are simple and easy.

Most users don't care about the OS. Well, they do care in a negative way. Since the vast majority of users get a PC at work, they are familiar with Windows. So, when they get home they are inclined to go with Windows.

Learning another OS is a total drag for the home user who is mostly looking for a good time, online chat and e-mail. For the casual user, understanding how to navigate to a multi-folder path is an overwhelming task he'd just as soon never encounter. Among my other jobs, I've taught people how to use PCs from the ground up. You can't imagine how many people are ready to quit when they encounter the problem of attaching a file to an e-mail, and they can't find the file in their directory structure.

I don't care whether an OS is elegant. As a hacker and software gunslinger, I prefer for things to be difficult and impenetrable. The harder programs are to use the better for me. I'm always searching for the next area of functionality that baffles users, programmers and hackers, because that's where the money is. As soon as systems and software become easy to use, I'm out of a job and working for nothing. So, the more complex and user unfriendly, the better from my point of view.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on October 8, 2007 9:55 AM

What this says too is that while the Mac hasn't penetrated the business world as it has academic institutions, in four years some of these students will be purchasing managers and that's when the ripple effect will beome a tidal wave.

Possibly . . . I suspect, though, that when people start using Macintoshes for real work, the people who write viruses will find it suddenly lucrative to write viruses that target Macintoshes too. Right now, Macs have an advantage in security, simply because no one uses them to do anything -- security through obscurity. If they build market share high enough, that advantage will evaporate.


Anyhow, my experience with Macs has been almost 100% negative, but that's because other than setting up Macs for my sisters, I haven't actually had to use a Macintosh since the 90s, back when they were doing their own OS from scratch. Getting stuck with the Macs in the computer labs at school back then was a bit of a booby prize because they were always crashing unexpectedly. Dedicated Mac users were telling me, at this point, that their systems never crashed, so I have remained suspicious of claims made by Mac-fans ever since. The crappy build quality of the early iPods did nothing to reassure me that Apple had fixed its problems -- one of my sisters had to replace her iPod four or five times, because it kept breaking in the course of ordinary use; another had to replace it only three or so times, but that was because she lost it.

Nowadays, OS X is apparently a Unix knockoff, just with a pretty Macintosh GUI tacked on (and design is the area that Apple really has excelled in, at least for the past five years or so). As a result, the claims that it is fantastically stable are somewhat more plausible than they were ten years ago. But I remain suspicious. One of my sisters' laptops bricked after about an hour of use right out of the box. It was covered by warranty, so we were able to get it replaced immediately, but still . . .

At any rate, on the other hand, with Vista, Microsoft seems to be trying to move its users into the same straightjacket Macintosh users have been in from the very start, so I may well switch over eventually. Indeed, initial reports were that Vista's content control system was like Apple crippleware on crack and steriods all at once. That's just ridiculous. I may switch to Ubuntu. It's apparently getting to the point of being a viable alternative for the casual user (i.e. me), and a few more versions should do it.

Posted by: Taeyougn on October 8, 2007 2:23 PM

Hey, Shouting Thomas, you would make an IDEAL bureaucrat with that philosophy. Or maybe even a great lawyer. Every thought about a career change?


Posted by: Charlton Griffin on October 9, 2007 11:56 AM

As a developer for genetic analysis software, I have found my macbook pro far more productive, much faster, and much easier to use than any pc I've owned in the past - desktop or laptop. I'm not sure why folks think macs are primarily eye-candy ... the unix os makes them superb at the many high-powered computational tasks we have to routinely perform.

Posted by: Greg on October 9, 2007 3:52 PM

I'm a longtime Mac user at home and at work -- I'm in publishing, an industry where PCs are in the distinct minority in most offices. Still, when I needed a spare laptop to drag around on planes or keep as an emergency spare, I always had a crummy old PC laptop because it was cheaper, and it didn't really matter if it wasn't intuitive or beautiful (as long as I had my Mac when I got home). My latest PC laptop finally self-destructed last week, and I was faced with the choice again: Figuring I had just $500 to spend on a spare laptop, I thought I'd have to get another low-end PC, because Macs start at more than $1000. Then I realized the choice wasn't so simple. For $500, I couldn't get a new Mac, but I could get a used Mac -- last year's model. And that was an easy choice. A used Mac is still a better, more intuitive, more attractive computer than a new PC. Sleeker, smaller, lighter, better constructed. And I don't have to deal with the nightmares of Vista. So now I'm a Mac man everywhere -- at home, at work, and on the road. And happy all around.

Posted by: Wayne on October 9, 2007 4:29 PM

It used to be that people were afraid of Computers. They thought they need to be shown how to do anything on a computer, and if they went to another computer and the same sequence didn't work, they'd panic.

No more. Young people have grown up with this stuff. It's just not scary. They can use Windows at work if they have to, and come home to their Macs. No big deal.

For most of what most of us do at home (or school) on a computer, it can all be done just as easily on a Mac (or Linux system for that matter) as on Windows.

The problem is with businesses that have developed or bought Windows-only applications. It's the rare college student stuck in that situation these days - unless the college stupidly requires Windows-only software.

Posted by: Rob on October 9, 2007 6:02 PM

My fave comment from the post:

ďThe equation is still simple.
If you use a computer only for business purposes and e-mail, buy a PC. The price premium for the Mac cannot be justified.
If you use a computer for artistic, photographic or movie editing purposes, the price of a Mac might be justified.
Nothing has changed in 30 years.Ē

I canít help but agree. The laptop I currently own cost me $1500 less than the equivalent MacBook Pro. I donít care about the higher build quality on the Mac if its base cost is literally three times what the equivalent Windoze laptop runs for. Also, if weíre talking about the artsy side of a Mac, itís equally hard to justify the cost of a MacBook against a Mac desktop because it needs to be a Pro before it truly meets the needs of current apps for art and movies. You can literally buy a highly portable Vista laptop *and* a Mac desktop for what a MacBook will cost you and truly have the best of both worlds.

Add in the fact that power users like me can take the Vista laptop and remake it as a Linux workstation and the job of justifying that expense becomes harder still.

Apple can't bank on the cachet and exclusivity of a their laptops like they can with a lower priced item such as an iPod or iPhone, especially when their desktop units are *very* competitively priced with respect to PCs.

Posted by: mongo on October 9, 2007 8:04 PM

Don't be fooled about Arts proffesionals all using Macs. In my biz I run 2 softwares (Stop Motion Pro and Softimage) that are not on a Mac platform. I was forced to buy a PC. I am an Animation Director and I needed a more powerful computer than the PC in my studio for a contract that I got last winter. But this time I bought a Mac and ran Boot Camp. Wth a Mac I can get both Mac and PC platforms with one machine. I used the new Mac INTENSIVELY as a PC and there is no down side. It worked perfectly.

Posted by: louise on October 9, 2007 8:39 PM

I'm a cheapskate - and know how to build my own computers. For me, it's either Linux or Windows 2000. Some software only runs on Windows - Linux office software is not ready for prime time - and Windows 2000 runs all the latest software and runs on cheap "junkyard dog" computers of the sort you can assemble from dumpster-diving, curb pulls, or trips to dotbomb liquidations, where you can buy old computer parts by the ton.

WinXP or *gak* Vista need not apply...

Linux is still my favorite for my main job as a software developer for embedded devices.

Macs are good for the "rest of us", ie not me - although I'd happily put the MacOS on a junkyard dog 'pooter if Apple would let me...

Posted by: Foobarista on October 10, 2007 1:00 AM

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