I have a few Mac-loving friends who, whenever appropriate, insert the usual derogatory remark about my beloved PC laptop, Boosty (who, despite such prompts, has yet to transform). I usually respond in kind, and we all have a good chuckle. But to others, this debate does not seem so funny: the last computer salesman I encountered wasted more breath Mac-bashing than he did trying to sell me anything. What is it really all about? And which, if either, is actually better: Mac or PC?More...
First of all, it is important to know that "PC" is not a brand, and some are much better made and designed than others. The term "PC" has come to denote a "computer running Windows". Many Mac/PC stereotypes flounder on this simple fact, although it is true that Macintosh computers start in a higher price and quality range than many PCs. The only concrete, non-aesthetic quality that distinguishes them is their operating system (OS).
These are either made by Apple or Microsoft, which are respectively personified by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Apple started out building and designing personal computers, while Microsoft has always been focused on software. So initially, the two were not at odds; they invaded the world of personal computing, then dominated by IBM, from opposing fronts. While Apple battled IBM to sell computers, Microsoft was licensing their programs to computer manufacturers, working with both IBM and Apple, among others. (Licensing is a practice that lets them profit off every copy of their software that is sold.)
The two entities first crossed swords in 1987 when copies of Microsoft's new Windows operating system first became available. It incorporated some of the qualities featured by previous Apple designs, including the desktop organization and the graphical user interface (GUI) that are now the norm for personal computers. This sparked a lawsuit with Apple alleging that prototypes of it's new PC had been copied by Microsoft (In fact, the concept of a desk-top GUI was pioneered by Xerox.)
Microsoft won the case: Apple had to allow Microsoft the right emulate the feel of their computers; and Microsoft continued to write software for Apple. This was a period of decline for Apple who were being badly out-competed by makers of IBM-styled "PCs", which came with Microsoft Windows. Then, in 1997, things get really interesting: the two companies declared a truce, and any and all lingering legal issues were settled. As part of the resulting deal, Microsoft invested $150 million in a nearly bankrupt Apple. (They have since sold these shares at a profit.)
Today, Microsoft versus Apple is everywhere apparent: Windows competes with OS X; Zune with iPod; Windows Mobile with iPhone; Windows Media Player with QuickTime; PCs with Macs. Was the 1997 deal a misjudgment on the scale of Coke's famous misjudgment of Pepsi? Why did they save Apple, instead of simply ridding themselves of the competition?
It is important to note that Apple really poses no threat at all to Microsoft whose continued dominance of the PC market is assured. Remember also that Microsoft writes and licences software for Macs, so they profit directly from Macintosh sales. And apparently, the majority of Mac users also own a "PC" anyway! This is great news for Microsoft, who can now sell these people twice as much software.
But perhaps most importantly, this situation actually goes a long way in legitimizing the virtual hegemony of Microsoft. This is because Microsoft continually faces some very serious allegations of anti-competitive and monopolistic business practices. They have often found themselves in both US and European courts, usually for bundling software like Internet Explorer or Windows Media Player with the Windows OS, which gives these programs an unfair advantage over competing software. Microsoft has already cornered over 90% of the market; if Apple disappeared tomorrow, they would surely be exponentially harder pressed to defend themselves against the allegations.
In contrast to Microsoft, it does sometimes seem as if Apple is rather saintly. Apple's marketing techniques are widely extolled. They are glowingly credited with creating strong emotional appeal, and with "selling a lifestyle, not just computers". No recounting of their genius is complete without mention of their ability to accrue customer loyalty. But in fact, both companies use questionable techniques to thwart competition and thus limit consumer choice. Apple also happily leverages its lead in the "iPod" business to crush and discourage competition in other areas, including sales of online music and Mp3 players. For instance, by enforcing iTunes- iPod exclusivity.
"Never mind all that! What about ME? What OS should I use?"?
The cold truth is that the complex relationship between Microsoft and Apple has also had the effect of gradually reducing the differences between the OSs they produce. This interesting time lapse clearly depicts a convergent evolution. Today, they really are virtually identical considering the various paths they could have taken.
But even still, there are real differences between Macs and other PCs. For instance, Macs are praised for being well-packaged. They look great out of the box, and all you do is pull it out, and plug it in. They are user friendly, and less susceptible to viral infiltration. Many people also like the fact that Apple makes both hardware and software; everything works seamlessly with other Apple products. Simple. Easy. Beautiful. They also tend to be favored over other PCs for some uses, notably for computer animation.
However, where some see a mess, others see options. "PCs" can be more easily tailored to suit their intended use, and their customers have more of a say in the compromise that they eventually must make between memory, speed and price. The Mac's user-friendliness is of limited value to someone who is used to Windows. And viruses are really not a major issue for any PC users: this is at least partially due to the fact that viruses are actually far less prevalent than most people would have you believe. The gaming industry is a good example of an area from which the Mac is almost entirely absent.
In fact, all of the evidence suggests that it is simply a matter of personal taste; there are expert proponents to be found on either side. But if all you want to do is check your email, surf the net, and read my blog posts, either OS will probably do just fine. (If you are at all interested, there are other alternatives.) I recommend that you use whichever best suits you, and give short shrift to those who would tell you that one or the other "sucks", or "rules". It's a nearly incomprehensible, and somewhat meaningless, expression of their own preference, and it is seldom preceded by much in the way of meaningful, objective thought. And, depending on the context, it also often misses the point.
The personal computing industry has taken the world completely by surprise in terms of its sheer scope. Proper regulation of it has been lagging well behind: the controversy over file sharing; personal privacy issues raised by the advent of Facebook or Google; and the personal fortune amassed by Bill Gates are all symptomatic of this disconnect. Policies that unfairly discourage competition and strangle consumer choice have been pursued by both Apple and Microsoft. And because of the many uses to which the modern PC has been put, these policies have wide-ranging impacts on offices, homes, and lives. While in school, I have repeatedly seen my instructors inconvenienced by the Mac/PC divide, usually by issues centered around the incompatibility of a document that has been posted on the Internet. These problems all appeared to have been easily overcome, but cumulatively, I believe instances like this pose a highly inappropriate stumbling block to educational institutions. I can't offer solutions to problems like this without being led to the idea of a "universal operating system". This is pure fantasy, I have been assured by people who then make convincing analogies to language or currency or television sets. But don't we almost already have one?
Mac vs PC is a debate that both propagates, and is fueled by, a myriad of popular myths. It also leads leads to irrational purchasing decisions and pointless debate; and presents an obstacle to technical innovation and the progress of society in general. It is silly because it will never be settled: it is over two increasingly similar systems that seem to appeal to different people for different reasons. But it is also important because, obscured behind the emotionally charged exchanges, very important yet unresolved issues lay unattended.