Mac versus Windows

Tips & Hints

Posted 28 November, 2004

Our apologies for the delay in getting this article up. We've had a lot of feedback on our ABC spot on this topic, and have incorporated many of those comments into this article. Our thanks to those who posted intelligent and constructive contributions.

Windows' security problems are prompting a lot of people to have another look at the Apple Mac.

The Mac versus Windows debate was one we thought long settled. But Macs seem to becoming more popular as users get fed up with the number of Windows security problems. We decided to look at the myths and facts about the two systems.

First, let’s settle some definitions, computers that run Mac or Windows are PCs, in that they are all Personal Computers. Macs are only built by Apple and use Apple’s operating system. Windows (or IBM compatible for old timers) computers can be built by almost anyone and use the Microsoft Windows operating system.

Windows and Mac are not the only operating systems. In fact, there are thousands of other systems, the most popular alternatives being Linux and Unix. But we don’t have the expertise and time to discuss them all.

Of all the choices, over 90% of computers sold use Windows. Apples have less than 2% of the worldwide market. The other options are difficult to measure as many systems are downloaded for free.

There are a lot of myths about the different systems. There’s also a lot of marketing spin involved. So we’ll look at the major questions and myths.

Ease of use
Historically, the Macintosh operating system had a reputation for being easier to use. With the arrival of Windows 95, that advantage disappeared. Today, both systems have their quirks and advantages.

We don't believe the "ease of use" argument is valid. If you have never used a computer before, then you will find both take some time to understand. Should you be going from one system to another, then you will have to learn some new ways of doing things.

This is the area where the Mac wins hands down. Windows users are plagued by viruses and other mal-ware. The security on a Mac is superior.

The main reason for Window’s weak security is that most users have to be administrators to use their systems properly. This gives virus writers great opportunities to get their wares onto computers. In other systems, users are not normally running with root, or administrator, access.

It should be noted that Macs (and other operating systems) are not immune from viruses and other nasties. A great concern for many of us in the industry is that a lot of Mac and Linux users have the attitude they cannot get compromised, this is a risky attitude. All computer users should have a firewall and anti-virus before going onto the net.

A lot of Mac users gloat about Microsoft’s constant updates. They shouldn’t be smug as Apple, like all vendors, also have to patch holes in their software. All computer users must make sure their computers are kept up-to-date regardless of what system they use.

Window’s security problems are not the only strike against it. Because Apple have a tighter control on the specifications and quality of the systems they sell the quality is consistent. A Mac bought in San Francisco will be identical to one bought in Capetown, Vladivostock or Chatswood.

In the Windows world, computers can be made from anything to all sorts of quality levels. Some systems may be better built than the equivalent Apple, but the quality can vary dramatically between shops and even individual computers from the same source. This makes it difficult to predict how reliable a Windows system may be.

This isn’t to say Macs are perfect, they do break down, and sometimes bad systems are shipped. Apple, like all computer companies, can be very reluctant to admit they have sold a dud. This reluctance to ‘fess up when something doesn’t work properly is an industry characteristic that all of us, including the major system vendors need to address.

This is one of the biggest myths. There is no doubt Windows computers are cheaper at the low end of the market. At the upper end, some Apple models are actually cheaper than their Windows equivalent.

The purchase price is only one part of the question, you also have to consider running costs. That is, exactly how much you can expect to pay in maintenance, repairs and accessories. With the current level of virus and spyware infections among Windows systems, the maintenance costs are on Apple’s side.

For parts and software, the story is somewhat different. The Apple market is smaller and Apple dealers tend to operate on higher margins than their Windows based colleagues. A Mac user will tend to pay more for accessories and software.

Repairs and support
While Macs don’t break down as often, most users will need repairs or upgrades during the life of their computers. Apples are more expensive and support is harder to find. We’ve also been somewhat underwhelmed at the level of workmanship by some Apple dealers. In an industry known for shoddy standards, that takes some saying.

Not so long ago it was difficult to get Macs to talk to Windows machines and vice-versa. With the arrival of Windows XP and OS X they work together well, so compatibility isn’t the issue it was. Most compatibility issues today are due to specific software problems.

Probably the trickiest area in this topic is software. In the past, there were serious differences between programs and Mac users didn’t have the choice Windows operators have. This problem has largely been overcome.

It is still true that there are many more software titles for Windows systems. But for most applications people use there is a good range available for the Mac. The sheer number of titles doesn’t necessarily translate into a real difference in choice.

Software is still the biggest argument against mixing platforms as some fields are better suited to one system or the other. If you’re a hard core gamer then a Windows machine is probably the way to go. Graphic designers will probably find that Macs are essential.

The most important thing is to choose the platform your friends, relatives and colleagues use. Not only does it minimise the risks of things not working, but your friends, workmates and relatives are the cheapest and best support you can get.

So what type of system should I get?
In a typical computer expert fashion, the answer is “it depends.” The main factor to consider your needs and then what your friends, relatives and colleagues use. The advice and help from the people nearest to you is the most cost effective advise you will get.

The current tidal wave of viruses and spyware make a Mac a viable alternative. The wide acceptance of Windows means it is still the popular choice. We’d suggest looking carefully at all the alternatives, and choose what fits your budgets and needs.

PC Rescue Pty Ltd
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ŠTechnology Publishing Australia, 2011