Thursday, 15 December 2011

PC versus Mac or Microsoft versus Apple

As the Director of a busy IT support company I deal with PCs, laptops and Macs on a daily basis. I am constantly asked by both businesses and home users which device is the best. This question is like asking which car is the best, and just like that analogy is as subjective. “Best” begs the question, in what terms and to who is anything the best, but in this article I will attempt to put both sides of the argument as it currently stands and aim to pre-empt those questions that are regularly asked of me. I am not setting out to write a didactic piece of techno-babble aimed at having you rushing out to swap your computer for one or the other of these devices, but rather a reasoned and balanced set of discussion pieces, so that you dear reader can at least have the benefit of some of my knowledge and experience, which you can judge for yourself how useful it is in the quest to decide which is the “best”.

In my opinion there are 7 key aspects that differentiate the two products and these fall into the rough category of: cost, looks, security, likeability & usability, interface, compatibility and support. 

In terms of cost there is no doubt an obvious and very large difference between Mac products and PC products. However, it must be said that to buy a MacBook Pro equivalent in a PC laptop in terms of components fitted would bring the obvious price differential much closer if indeed it did not overtake it. So, the issue here is that Apple does not sell cheaper end models with low end processors and memory whereas there is a plethora of PC manufacturers all vying for the market share, so causing market forces to push the prices down. The obvious maxim here would appear to be that generally you get what you pay for, but that if all you need is a basic machine to do e-mails and a bit of web surfing then you may ask do you need that performance offered by Mac for that price tag.

As far as look’s go, PCs both laptop and desktop have caught up in recent years forgoing their traditional boring design, now offering some very attractive product ranges and also featuring the monobloc design, always offered by Apple with the base unit and monitor integrated for that refined and minimalistic look. Again, what we have here is personal taste as to what you like to see and feel when you are working or perhaps what looks good in your lounge, although most people when presented with an Apple Mac in stores are always attracted to the Apple look and feel – perhaps most readily drawn by the Apple design philosophy i.e. single aluminium block bodies for their laptops, separate and lighted keys on the keypad and bright glossy LED glass displays. 

Nearly all internet security companies would agree that both Macs and PCs are just as much at risk from an internet security perspective, particularly from phishing attacks, but here is the big difference, the number of viruses and malware written for PCs far outweighs the number for Macs. Based on the most recent statistics Windows dominates the world’s operating systems market with a 91% share of that market, Apple having only 5% and the other 4% being owned by other operating systems. This bare fact alone, discounting the many and varied discussions about how robust the actual operating systems are, Windows or Mac OSX, just the sheer target scope for Windows to be attacked make them a far easier opportunity and although Mac OSX is intrinsically no more secure than Windows Vista or Windows 7 they have far fewer attacks as there are far fewer people writing hacks for them. What defines the security is that for either product if good anti-virus and malware software is run and updated regularly and all patches are downloaded from the relevant OS vendor then – in the main – all should be as well with one as the other providing the user is cautious.

Users of computers - in a very wide sweeping generalisation – appear to fall into two main categories; the mainstream and the uber-cool individualistic type, and as you may guess PCs and Macs appear to fit in that order. In terms of likeability people who don’t care about the general opinion tend to go for Apple whereas a lot of people like the large scale presence of PCs. There are lots of reasons for people’s choice here, but some of it may be down to being comfortable with Windows or not wanting to convert and having to learn a new operating system all over. Some of this is driven by the difference between a known – for many – OS such as Windows and a different way of working which is the Mac OSX. The interface is intrinsically similar but different enough in many key ways to cause many to pause in their choice, particularly driven by what they use at work or having already owned PCs or having children who use PCs. Traditionally the feedback from users in terms of usability of Macs is always extremely positive, with nearly all users asserting an extremely positive user experience, quoting simplicity, and productivity i.e. “my Mac just does it” also people like the look and feel of the Mac OSX, whereas there are many tales of frustration from PC users, although again the market balance means that there are countless more happy users and with Windows 7 this seems to be on the increase.

Some of the most strident voices against Macs as opposed to PCs are raised in the area of compatibility. This is a fact that is hard to argue on both sides, as again with Windows having the 91% market share nearly all software is developed and written with Windows in mind and all hardware is developed to connect and work with PCs first and perhaps Macs second. That is not to say that there is not always a way of finding something that will do the job from an alternate supplier, with a bit of searching, but frustration levels can be high when software and hardware bought and then taken home and installed or connected fails to operate correctly.

Finally, there is the support issue, once you have purchased your choice of computer, for fixing problems and faults that arise or maybe an upgrade is required or wanted. The sad fact is that there is minimal good quality IT support for Macs around and when you do find a good support company they will undoubtedly reflect the fact of their scarcity in their pricing.  PC support is widespread and there are many companies to be found that can carry out any fix, support or upgrade required. The last issue of upgrades is also tempered by the inability, on the whole, to upgrade Macs whereas PCs are easily upgradeable with new components if this is your choice or requirement; if you don’t have the skills or the interest but do have the need again there is a good company around the corner. Apple would say that once purchased it is extremely unlikely – due to the quality of the product – that you will need to upgrade your Mac.

Therefore, in conclusion the decision is as before one of very personal choice, driven by your personal requirements and ultimately what you want to pay and what you like the look and feel of and whether you are willing to go for the unique or happy to be mainstream. In essence the choice is how you feel the device of your choice will match your life and work and pocket. I hope I have at least clarified some of the areas around the choice.

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