The Mac Vs. PC Debate: Comparing Apples and…. Lemons?
Ten years ago, Windows machines had almost complete control over the computer market, with Apple computers mostly consigned to niche markets such as graphic design. However, after the advent of the glossy Mac OS X, the industry-changing iPod craze, and, more recently, the move towards an age of “Intel inside,” Apple has definitely become a viable alternative. In 2008, Macs represented 21% of the consumer market in America (Elmer-Dewitt, 2008). This may be in part due to the increasing cross-compatibility between Apple and PCs; the most recent Mac computers can boot both the native OS X and also other operating systems, including Windows.
“The underlying operating systems have distinctly different flavors, but in terms of functionality, Microsoft Windows Vista and Mac OS X Leopard have surprisingly similar built-in multimedia, Internet and productivity applications” (Derene, 2008, p. 1). While the PC still has the advantage of its majority market share, Apple is in many ways an elite minority; not only does the Mac have much better performance and few design flaws, it can utilize the best of both operating systems.
For that reason, among others, it is easy to argue that Apple machines are superior to Windows-only PCs for most purposes. Overall, not only does OS X out-perform Windows Vista, Apple machines are also capable of running Windows faster than PCs do. According to a Popular Mechanics’ field test: “Leopard OS trounced Vista in all-important tasks such as boot-up, shutdown and program-launch times. We even tested Vista on the Macs using Apple’s platform-switching Boot Camp software—and found that both Apple computers ran Vista faster than our PCs did” (Derene, 2008, p.
4). This test found that Apple computers generally performed most tasks about twice as fast as the PCs, including booting and closing the OS, opening programs, and processing media information. They even found that Apple laptop batteries lasted twice as long. It is interesting to note that the choice of computers for this test was based on price, not on technical specs, so the PC laptop in question had a better graphics card and 1 gig of RAM more than the Apple. The author of the article clarified: “All that extra RAM may seem to give an advantage to the PCs.
Vista, however, is a noted memory hog, so throwing more RAM into PC computers is probably less of a performance booster for manufacturers than it is a new baseline hardware specification. ” (p. 1) What is not being said explicitly here, but should be pointed out, is the fact that the PC needs twice as much RAM to work half as well. Admittedly, there is more to performance than just how quickly a computer functions in stress tests; computers must also handle the daily tasks to which they will be turned.
Many software applications and hardware peripherals are originally designed with the Windows machine in mind, and are only later ported over to OS X. The Popular Mechanics test did include common applications such as the web browser and the media applications, and the Apple computer excelled in these areas. However, this publication did not test the performance of popular games on the Mac. In fact, this is one area in which Windows machines have a very clear advantage. As it happens, Windows is well known as the serious gamer’s first choice for an operating system.
Since the mid 90s, Microsoft has worked to prevent the adoption of OpenGL as an interoperable industry standard in favor of its own proprietary DirectX portfolio of graphics software and gaming tools. … Microsoft’s DirectX strategy was originally intended to push DOS game developers to Windows; it has since served to tie PC gaming to Windows, as DirectX is only available on Windows (McLean, 2008). Because DirectX became the industry standard for games, the majority of exceptionally high quality graphics cards are optimized to perform with DirectX and, subsequently, with Windows.
Subsequently, Macs generally have lower-end graphic chips, which are frequently integrated with the motherboard in such a way that they can’t be upgraded. While Mac Pros do have dedicated 3-D graphics processing units (GPUs), most of the cheaper Macs do not (McLean, 2008). Between the lower-quality graphics cards on most Macs and the PC-only availability of DirectX, many game-design companies choose to only develop their games for Windows. While the Intel-based Apple machine can boot Windows and load up most PC-oriented games, those that require graphics acceleration will simply not look as good as they would on a PC.
While Windows has the gaming market cornered, Apple has generally had the dedication of the graphic-design market. For many years Apple had a monopoly on good graphics programs, and this has given them the loyalty of many artists. “When desk top publishing (DTP) and WYSIWYG were first developed in the 1980s, along with the graphical user interface (GUI), Macs were really the only option for the design and printing industry” (“Computers and technology,” n. d. ). Even after Windows broke into this market, programs like Photoshop simply ran better on Macs than they did on PCs.
In a personal interview, visual artist(s) MANDEM (http://mandemic. com) stated: Several years ago when I used a PC for my work, I would frequently set a filter to render and then go out for lunch… Sometimes, with a large file, it would easily take 15 minutes… Then I switched to a PowerPC [a pre-Intel Mac], and the exact same sort of filter would take less than a minute. Since then I’ve used Windows in other settings, and while they’ve gotten much faster, even a new PC is slower… that difference may eventually disappear, but I’ll still keep my Mac (MANDEM, email interview, Feb.
2009). This kind of brand loyalty means that many graphic design companies and media creation businesses (such as Pixar) use Apple computers exclusively. Anyone who has hopes of going professional in the graphics art field would be wise to use an Apple. In addition to brand loyalty, Apple machines appear to still have some technical merit on their side in this area (just as Windows machines still have technical merit in terms of game acceleration), because it is “generally accepted that color calibration is more reliable on the Macintosh platform,” (“Computers and technology,” n. d.
), meaning that anything designed on an Apple machine is likely to convert to print more accurately than something designed on a PC. This color calibration issue may also be a legitimate concern for any private user who wants to make sure that any family photos and personal video media that they edit on their computer will look the same when exported for print or television. This brings the discussion around to the real concerns for most private-market consumers: user friendliness, security, durability, and price. While in most of these areas there are definite pros and cons to each system, there is also a large degree of subjectivity.
In particular, user friendliness is an extremely variable category. Most people who grew up using Windows machines at home, in school, or in the work place will probably find the Windows interface to be automatically more intuitive and more “User Friendly” simply because it is more familiar. Considering that Windows has historically had a larger share of the market, and has visually changed less over the last 15 years than the Apple OS, it has a certain degree of inherited user-friendliness. That said, the Windows system is not actually laid out more rationally than OS X, and in many ways it is more baffling and more difficult to use.
The same Popular Mechanics study cited earlier also found that for the majority of their testers, OS X was considerably more user friendly (Derene, 2008, p. 4). This ease of use is increasingly becoming well known. One website dedicated to helping people make the right choice between operating systems, reports, “Yes, the rumors are true. Macs, in general, tend to be easier to use than PCs, thanks to built-in video tutorials on new models, consistent look and feel across all applications, and the generally simpler, drag-and-drop-based actions of the Mac operating system. ” (Samiljan, 2008, p. 2)
In addition to being easier to navigate and use, OS X is much harder for the casual user to destroy accidentally. Windows has many well-known problems with its security and durability that Macintosh computers simply do not have; anyone who has a Windows machine needs to be prepared for regular necessary maintenance. First, Windows machines are extremely prone to malware and viruses. Apple computers simply do not have this problem. This is partly “because of the high volume of malware directed to Windows environments and the significantly lower stream of malware targeted to OS X” (Tung, 2008).
Since there are more Windows machines, it seems logical that the creators of malware and viruses will get a higher damage-to-effort ratio by targeting the majority system instead of the minority system. However, this is not the only reason that OS X is more secure and less prone to malware. Apple’s OS X also has a more cogently designed coding system that is specifically designed to be closed off to malware. Windows, on the other hand, is designed in such a way that it is innately more prone to attack. “It’s simply not in Microsoft’s DNA to provide high-quality, frequently updated security protection” (Vamosi, 2008).
Windows users must constantly struggle to keep their virus scanners updated and use a variety of methods to keep malware off their computers. Windows users tend to need extremely cautious Internet browsing and wary downloading practices to stay safe — otherwise, their systems can become utterly unusable very quickly. Macintosh users, on the other hand, can generally go without protection for years and never get a virus or malware. To make matters worse, even in the absence of all malware and viruses, the Windows operating system will always become less and less effective over time.
This isn’t just a matter of the system becoming outdated — it will actually work less well after a few months than it did brand new. This is because Windows machines do not practice good registry hygiene and they frequently do not have clean uninstall or file deletion. Windows users have to frequently defragment their computers in order to keep them running well, and even then they are likely to experience frequent registry corruption and data loss that will require professional assistance to repair. According to an industry white paper, file fragmentation causes many common problems, including: “a) Crashes and system hangs/freezes…
b) Slow boot up and computers that won’t boot up… c) Slow back up times and aborted backup… d) File corruption and data loss… e) Errors in programs…f) RAM use and cache problems…g) Hard drive failures” (Diskeeper Corporation, 2006, p. 3). Luckily, this sort of built-in file fragmentation is simply not a problem on OS X. Barring hardware failure, Apple software should work as well after 5 years as it did the day it was installed. In and of itself, this lack of maintenance is a huge selling point for Macintosh. However, to be fair one must admit that user friendliness is not just about maintenance or about how easy a program is to use.
The one area in which Windows users do have an easier time with their systems is when it comes to compatibility with the outside world. As Samiljan (2008) points out, “Windows-based PCs offer a wider world of compatibility” (p. 14). As in the earlier gaming discussion, it is important to keep in mind that there will be more software available for PCs than for Macs. Though most important types of applications will exist for both, Macs tend to have just a few good programs of each type available, while PCs may have dozens of competing programs. Just as importantly, Mac users may find difficulty in interfacing with a PC-dominated world.
Many web applications are designed to only be compatible with Internet Explorer, which is a Windows-only program. Some peripherals may also not work with Macs. The final consideration is price. There are definitely new PCs available that are cheaper than the cheapest Macs. In part this is no doubt due to competition; multiple companies such as Dell and HP compete in bringing PCs to the market, all of which can run Windows. However, someone who wants to run OS X can only purchase directly from Apple. So predictably, the cheapest PC costs less than the cheapest Mac.
In 2008, research showed that the average Mac laptop was about $100 more expensive than the average PC laptop (Elmer-DeWitt). However, this statistic may be somewhat misleading. The reader will remember the earlier discussion of the Popular Mechanics test (Derene, 2008). In that test, the computers being compared were chosen based on price, rather than on technical specifications. (The PC laptop chosen had double the RAM of the comparably price Mac). In the 2008 pricing studies, the computers being compared are not chosen based on their performance, but on their specifications.
This means that even though a PC needs more RAM than a Mac to function at the same level, this extra cost is not being taken into consideration in the pricing comparison. Currently, at the online Apple store (http://store. apple. com), doubling the amount of RAM on the Macbook Pro adds an additional $150 to its cost, which is more than the difference between the Apple and PC laptop costs. In other words, a cheaper Mac is likely to outperform a more expensive PC. In fact, for the budget-conscious consumer, a refurbished Mac may be better than a “bargain basement” PC, which is likely to need expensive maintenance over its lifetime.
In conclusion, while both systems have their benefits, a close analysis of the pros-and-cons for each does imply that the Mac is a better choice for most users. The user-friendly Mac has better security and performance, and it requires less maintenance. While Windows does have access to more software titles and some PC-only websites, Apple’s ability to run both operating systems largely ameliorates this. (In comparison, one should note that PCs cannot run OS X — if one really wants to keep all one’s options open, then an Apple is the only choice!
) Unless the buyer is a hardcore gamer in need of 3-d graphic acceleration, Apple machines are dramatically better values than PCs. So — which is better, PC or Mac? That question is like asking which tool is better, a hammer or an electric drill. While you may need a hammer if you want to use nails, an electric drill is faster and stronger for general utility. If a first-time computer buyer came to this author for advice, the answer would almost always be the same: pick the Apple. References Computers and technology: Apple Macintosh or Windows PC (and what about Linux)?
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