Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Sound Off: Mac vs. PC; YOU Tell ME

Yeah, we've all seen the cute commercials with the laid back comedian and the uptight comedian bantering about how much better a Mac is than a PC.  I've been contemplating this issue literally for years, and in doing some of my homework, I have some legitimate beefs with switching that I either don't hear about from other switchers, or that don't seem to come up with other people.  So, being that I well could be the odd man out again (as is so often the case), I present to you a few issues that spring to mind in the Mac vs. PC decision.

  1. First of all, a Mac is friggin' expensive.  Don't gimme a line o' crap about "What's cheaper, replacing your PC every two years and protecting it from Malware, Spyware, viruses and hackers, or buying a Mac?" either.  That's not gonna fly.  Initial outlay of capital is initial outlay of capital.  The cost of ownership isn't even a factor in this argument yet, so let's leave it alone.  Right now, the Mac costs a lot more than a PC, period.  I'd love to make the switch, really I would, but -- day-um, y'all, those prices are exorbitant.  Yes, you can get them on eBay and refurbished for less, but those still run more than an off-the-shelf PC.
  2. Lack of standardization between the two OSs for users.  I mean to tell ya, you have zero similarity between Macs and PCs functionally.  I'm not arguing one's better than the other here; you can do that if you want, but the fact of the matter is the number of PCs in the world far, far outweigh the number of Macs in the world.  Common shortcuts are different, the naming and location of commands is different, the interfaces are different (like menus and even the three buttons at the top of the screen for applications) , the input devices -- yes, keyboards and mice -- are different.  Hell, there's not one thing except the alpha-numeric keys they seem to share in common.

    That's not easy to get over one way or the other.  Give the advantage to Mac users here, because they most likely have to use a PC in their workplace, so they know both.  I had one user I supported years ago tell me, "I use a PC because I have to; I use a Mac because I want to."  Have to or want to, he had the best of both worlds.  He used a PC at work (the "have to" part) and a Mac at home (the "want to").  He knew a fair amount about how to get around in both worlds.  I think this will be true for most Mac users, since most commercial places of employment aren't willing to spend the extra money on Macs to fill their cubicles.  I've never been a Mac user; PC only am I.  Therefore, I have a steep learning curve ahead of me with a Mac, and I wonder what my frustration level and stress level will be in doing that. 

    I'm a writer too (just ask me), so I spend a lot of time working my keyboard shortcuts and avoiding my mouse when I can.  I like my keyboard layout; I'm familiar with it and know where to find almost everything without looking.  What about a Mac?  How much trouble amd I going to have with a Mac?  I've also heard that the shortcuts aren't always consistent from one software package to another.  Any truth to that?

    Any recent switchers from PC to Mac, please sound off here, because I'm legitimately interested.
  3. Shortage of USB ports.  I've read a couple of articles where users have complained that their Mac desktops only have 3 USB ports, and most Mac notebooks only have two.  Are you frickin' kidding me??  What the hell are you thinking over their, Jobs??  Get a clue!  Beef 'em up!  You're asking people to pay an arm and a leg and depending on what model they're getting a right lung too for a computer.  Put the things they need on it, jackass!!  Most PCs are coming with 4 ports on the back and at least 2 more on the front.  What's Apple's problem?  The iPhone cost them so much they can't afford USB ports on their computers?  Gimme a break.
  4. Shortage of software.  Okay, you want to talk about the overall cost of ownership with a Mac vs. a PC?  Take a look in this category.  There's a fair amount of premium to be paid off the shelf for Mac software, and there's not a lot of it.  I go to any computer specialty retailer and I can find hundreds of titles for PC.  I go to the Mac ghetto section of the same store, and I see a couple dozen titles.  And that's only the beginning.

    I personally have ... obtained, let's say, thousands and thousands of dollars worth of software.  I have it, I can install it and use it on any PC I buy running Microsoft Windows (so long as it's an appropriate compatible version of the OS, which would be true for any computing platform).  But, if I switch to a Mac, all those CDs and DVDs become coasters only suitable for protecting my table top from the condensation from my Long Island Iced Tea.  I can't use it anymore, unless I'm willing to work with some sort of emulator like VMWare (EXPENSIVE) or WINE (which claims it's NOT an emulator, but also doesn't have a 100% success rate with Windows software and doesn't have the same performance capability as Windows software running natively in Windows).  To get back all the capacity I currently have, I'd have to spend thousands of dollars to replace that software, some of which are high-cost suites.  Now, total cost of ownership?  You tell me.  I don't know about the "average" user, but for me, it's no contest.  Period.  (Incidentally, this is the primary reason if not the only one preventing me from switching to Linux, too.)
  5. Viruses and Spyware.  Mac users claim Macs are virus-proof and don't need antivirus software, but my beautiful and highly-intelligent wife read just scant months ago how a new spate of malicious code was being scripted lovingly just for the *nix crowd of OSs, including Macs.  I don't know how popular or widespread those infections are now, but give it time.  There will be no advantage to having a Mac in the security area before very long, because evil people are evil, and when Microsoft no longer presents a challenge to their abilities, they will seek others.  Mac is foremost among those challenges.  Unix-based OSs are next.  What's the advantage here, then?  I still need to get AV software, and with PCs it's readily available, even for free in some cases.
  6. And while we're discussing cost of ownership and free, what about freeware?  I have a good supply of programs I use, which are Windows-based, and is freeware.  I can download it from their site or others and run it without any problem.  Get a Mac, and I lose free programs.  I don't have a Mac, so I've never done a search for Mac-oriented freeware, but if the difference in commercial software availability is any indication, it will be no contest.  Again, this is a hesitation point for me in switching.  What does Mac offer that is the equivalent or at least comparable to the things I'm using on my PC?  How do I find out?  I mean, besides Google.  ;)
  7. Maintenance and repair.  I'm fully capable of diagnosing and repairing any problem I have with my PC.  I haven't had a problem yet that I couldn't find and fix.  After 12 years of technical support experience, I'd better be able to say that.  But with a Mac, despite the introduction of Intel chips, the guts of the machine are different.  How hard is it to figure out?  This is yet another learning curve; how steep of one?  Anyone who knows, sound off.  I'm sincerely interested.
  8. Cost of hardware.  My last exposure to Mac hardware was many, many years ago.  There was absolutely no comparison in pricing.  As cost of parts plummeted for PCs, Mac hardware was both difficult to find (without going directly to Apple somehow) or difficult to afford.  The premium on their proprietary innards was so ridiculously high it just wasn't worth it.  I personally know of at least one person that gave up on Macs when his broke and he couldn't afford the replacement part.  He switched to a PC and hasn't gone back.  At least, not that I know of.  Is this still true?  Does Apple continue to shoot itself in the market foot by pricing itself out of competitive play?
  9. I've heard a lot of good things about Macs, but their networking capabilities aren't among them.  I don't guess there's a definitive answer for this; my only experience with networking a Mac was pretty painless, but it only involved setting up a printer on a TCP/IP network so the Mac user could print while he was in the office.  What's the story with AirPort?  Is it reliable?  Do Macs come with built-in wireless cards like PCs, or do you need to add a third party one?  And if they are added, do the driver disks that come with the devices work with Mac?  Most of them will have a few generations of Windows drivers on the CDs (Win95/98, W2K, XP, maybe Vista now).  Does Mac use those drivers, or is it something completely different?  And if they don't use the standard drivers, where do you get the drivers?  If you can't get online, you can't very well download them, now can you?

Well, those are a few of the off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts regarding switching to a Mac.  Some of these are common to my concerns about switching to a Unix-based OS, too, but at least those don't run on proprietary hardware platforms.

What have you got for me, Mac world?  Answers?  I truly want to know.  I'm not planning on making this switch soon, and I can tell you that it's a shame if I'm told I have to attend some stupid workshop taught by an "Apple Genius" at an Apple store to make this happen, but if that's the truth, I want to know.  Sound off, tell me how it is.  Don't tell me how great Macs are and once I go Mac I'll never go back (for the money I'll shell out to "go Mac" I damn well better not have to go back!).  I can get that kind of "Rah-Rah" anywhere Macs are sold or used.  I want the guts, the internals, the workings of switching from a PC to a Mac.  I'm especially interested in hearing from any of you that only recently switched.

So ... whattaya got for me?


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