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The Great Mac-PC Debate

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I noted on the program yesterday that it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of under-25 computer purchasers who have a choice chose Macs. Dissenting calls and e-mails rolled in, but so did this e-mail:

Morning Glory, Hugh-

I am the network manager at a high school (1,350 students) which has been transitioning to Macs over the past 5 years, and I agree with your assessment. Macs are ‘cool,’ and the number of kids who buy a computer for college who *have a choice in the selection* overwhelmingly favor Macintosh. The trend is favorable to Apple, but PC geeks usually don’t “get it,” and they probably never will.[# More #]

There are a few important considerations why:

1) Many PC-heads are stuck in the old days of Mac before Jobs came back – when Apple’s OS 9 was showing its age. The Mac OS has been unix-based now for 8 years (Mac OS X, say “Mac O-S-ten”), and it’s a whole different animal… stable as all get-out — crashes are rare –and secure to a point Windows has not approached. Unix is a 40-year-old technology built from the very start to be a multi-user, secure, network operating system.

2) Many geeks I encounter still do not know that Macs can run Windows natively (which means no emulation needed). Since the migration to Intel processors started 3 years ago, Apple has made it possible to easily install Windows in addition to the Mac OS, making a dual-boot powerhouse (even achieved the “Fastest Windows PC Tested” status in ’07: ). This turned out to be
a great “safety net” for the fence-sitters who weren’t sure they’d
like the Mac operating system (hint, hint, Hugh). Caveat: Windows does not come with a Mac, you must purchase a copy from that little mom & pop software company in Redmond.

3) Several of your callers brought up the much misunderstood “software titles available” and “market share” myths. While it is true there are more consumer titles available for Windows, just how many different word processors does one need? It is rare nowadays to find anything except odd utilities which do not have a Mac version or counterpart. Apple’s Product Guide ( lists over 18,000 software titles for Mac OS X. Also, some make the argument that since scientific applications (which run largely on UNIX mainframes) are easily ported to OS X, the whole argument is moot, and point #2 above
seals this “mootiness” with a kiss.

As for market share, it’s a misleading figure, and more and more
software developers are figuring that out. Many allocate development resources based on these numbers, but they’re wrong, and here’s why: a large percentage of Windows PCs sold will never run any consumer-oriented software or games. As many as 50% of PCs sold are used in hospitals, factories, retail cash registers and similar which have proprietary software running. Most hospital rooms have a PC workstation nowadays. These these computers are “locked down” by IT departments to only run what the hospital uses to manage patients. The situation is similar in the vast “cubicle farms” in Corporate America- millions of PC workstations completely locked down to run only proprietary applications (often databases developed and maintaine in-house) and productivity applications– almost always Microsoft Office. Why should software developers consider these PCs as potential
customers? Most developers have products which have no chance of cracking into the above markets. The more important point is that software written for a single platform will disappear in the coming years as more and more applications are created to run in web browsers, either via the internal network or over the internet. This really levels the playing field when any modern browser can run the same application on any computer.

4) “Security by obscurity” is the term used by Windows proponents to explain why there are no self-propagating viruses which affect the Macintosh platform. Who’d want to waste their time when Windows has such dominant market share? There is some truth to that, but it’s only a small factor. Many hackers have stated that Windows is “easy pickin’s” in terms of security compared to OS X. The only malware that exists for OS X are the ‘socially engineered’ exploits which try to get you to launch a program pretending to be something it’s not. These viruses/trojans/worms cannot self-propagate and are rarely seen. I’ve never seen one myself.

5) Job security – I hate to admit it, but many geeks are threatened by Macs in terms of job security. One of my brethren so much as admitted to me: “I hate Macs. If everyone had Macs, they wouldn’t need me.” How short-sighted is that? Windows computers require a lot more attention than Macs to maintain, it’s true. But capitalism allocates resources saved in one area to expansion of the whole. As an example: I manage about 400 Macs (300 of which are laptops) for student and faculty use and about 50 Windows XP PCs (10 for student use, the rest used in offices because they’re ingrained there). Those two groupings take about an equal amount of my time to manage, though it’s an 8:1 ratio. As we weed out the old PCs, I’ll have more time to support our other
adventures in education technology.

In the past two years, I have been involved in the purchase of about a dozen PCs for various school needs and a few private clients. In every case, we paid extra for the “XP Downgrade” option instead of Vista, but the trick is that Vista still comes with each one on a CD, so Microsoft counts it as a sale of Windows Vista. What a joke! That being said, Apple has benefited greatly from Microsoft’s Vista disaster. I am sometimes accused of being a Mac “fan-boy” or”lemming,” but the truth is, I use Windows for much of my work, I like some things about Windows, and I believe that the competition between Microsoft and Apple has been, and will continue to be, good for the consumer. I think Windows 7 looks to be a big improvement over the Vista debacle, and Apple needs that pressure to keep innovating.

Free market capitalism: who woulda thunk?

High regards,

Tony in Minnesota.

P.S. FYI: I didn’t see you make this error, but Macintosh is
abbreviated “Mac” not “MAC” — In geek-speak, a “MAC” is something completely different ( if you’re really interested).


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