Buy a Macintosh/Apple Computer or a PC? Why do I need a mac?

I love Macs. So much so that I have two: an iMac Desktop and a MacBook Pro. I am a big sucker for their product line, think their marketing is genius, and am impressed with the intuitiveness of its operating systems. Recently, however, I’ve watched my business partner, as well as my girlfriend buy brand new PC laptops at a fraction of what I paid for my computers. They both were able to get great deals via Dell, both for under $700.

 

While, I’m not ready to replace my computers with PCs today, I am not alone when I say that the state of the US economy is a bit worrisome, and I do anticipate replacing our business’ computers with new ones in the next year or so. Therefore, I’m trying to decide if I need to stick with Mac. I put together a list to neutrally weigh the pros and cons in what is often a very annoying Mac vs. PC debate, to shed some light on the question: Do I really need a Mac?

Mac AppleCare vs PC Support

Like I said, I’m on my second Mac right now and am trying to figure out what to do when it’s time to buy a new system. One of the issues that I have always worried about was my Mac going down without warranty, which has happened to many friends of mine. I have experienced first-hand the care they provide under their standard 90 day tech/ 1 year hardware warranty: I had just moved to the UK for graduate school a few years ago and my computer just turned off and would not power up. After getting tech support on the phone, we determined that the ram was defective. The computer wouldn’t work at all, When I came home from class the next day a parcel from Amsterdam was waiting on my door step. It wasn’t pot, but rather a replacement piece of hardware. They even walked me through the installation. Very nice, Apple. Very nice.

 

However, I’m a bit of a cheapskate and I didn’t have AppleCare beyond the grace period, nor do I have it now. And with the economy being what it is, the complimentary 1 year hardware and 90-day telephone tech support seems a bit short-sighted vis-a-vis most products put out by Dell, which generally offer three year on-site warranties as standard. It’s also a known fact that one of Dell’s service representatives will come to your house or office to help you set up your computer if you are unsure how to get things going, while AppleCare can cost up to $300 for 3 years of service. If you are a whiz and know how to work on Macs, maybe this point does not apply, but for someone like me or my Grandmother who’s 80 next month (and not a big techie), Dell’s offer sounds pretty good. Additionally, if you are beyond your warranty, it is probably easier to find a technician that is Microsoft certified than someone who has Apple certification. This may be a deciding factor for newer computer users, but not for everyone.

Mac vs PC: Office Usability

 

While the Mac lab does look pretty great in our office, Microsoft is still the king of most offices in America. While Entourage is decent and Squirrel Mail is on its way, I earnestly believe that Outlook Web Access/Exchange are still in a league of their own. And while I personally am willing to compromise function for fashion (to some degree), there’s no denying that anyone with a need for a computer beyond basic internet surfing and music downloads will need Microsoft Office Suite. One great upside, is that the Office Suite either comes stock on Windows, or can be downloaded for free online.

 

Microsoft Office has been a staple for years in businesses, universities and in most people’s daily lives. Having installed Office for Mac on both my computers, I still believe that they do not compare to the PC version. The validity of this claim is based on my personal opinion and experience, but we could all very well agree on the fact that it has taken Mac a few years and countless updates to improve their versions, which always come out months after updated versions of the Microsoft programs are introduced. It seems as though I get more bugs using Office for Mac compared to when I used to use a PC. I am sure we can expect this improve over time. I do know that all my friends who decided to pursue careers in finance work in offices that still use PCs. Perhaps there is a correlation. What we do know is that there is probably a reason why many people who rely on Office software to do their jobs, and maybe also a reason why they haven’t switched systems.

Mac Customization vs PC Customization

 

If you are looking to customize your computer and tune it specifically to your tastes, the logical step for you is going to be to get a PC. Whether you will customize for gaming, video workstations, media centers, etc., the number of possible configurations are endless. This is perhaps the strongest argument on the side of PC, because “Power Users” (people who require special software/hardware for either their professional or gaming needs), can customize each and every component of their personal computer. Macs are pretty much all the same out-of-the-box, and while they offer a fine array of user-friendly programs, they typically offer something to be desired for the serious computer user.

 

Additionally, the open architecture of the PC operating system will allow each person to spend money on only the programs they will use without wasting space on their computer’s hard-drive, or their money on software they will never use. My brother, for instance, is a sound engineer and doesn’t even have MS word on his studio computer. Ever heard of building your own Mac? Not gonna happen for the average Mac user, aside from the minimal selection of upgrades offered upon purchase, unless you are willing to drop big bucks for the Mac Pro.

Compatibility of Software for Macintosh Computers vs Windows

 

Earlier this year, Japan announced that 10% of all its country’s computers in use are now Macs. That’s pretty big news for Mac, but it’s still only 10%. And, last I checked Japan was still just an archipelago. The fact of the matter is that Windows remains the operating system for the masses. Case in point: Apple Boot Camp. This software is for those who want the look and feel of a Mac, but aren’t willing to give up Windows. Perhaps we could all take this as admission on Steve Jobs’ part that, although Apple is steadily capturing market share, Windows isn’t going anywhere just yet.

If you are buying a Mac for school, remember that much of the software and technical support provided by colleges is geared towards Windows, so even if you buy a Mac, you might end up having to pay for a copy of Windows to use via Boot Camp. My girlfriend is starting Law School this fall and will be using ExamSoft. This PC-only software was her primary reason for not choosing a Mac, and partly the impetus to my research on this subject. In short, Mac OS X fails to provide a platform with a good amount of compatibility, including a general failure in not being able to run common software such as enterprise applications and basic games.

Mac Performance vs PC Performance

 

It’s often argued that one is better than the other when it comes to performance. Examples include: Adobe Photoshop is better and faster on a Mac, while gaming in general is better on a PC. What about the day-to-day usage for the average Joe? From my experience, Firefox loads and runs really fast on a PC, and shuts down pretty regularly on my Macs. This seems to be the case with Office too, and most types of everyday type programs, especially those that are cross-platform.

 

I must admit that when you get your first Mac it is quite the experience. You get the wonderfully designed box with its impressive packaging. I personally was amazed when I got my first Mac and was impressed even more so when I got my first iPod at the ingenuity employed in the packaging design alone. When you open that Mac box, all you have to do is simply plug in the mouse, keyboard and power source and hit the ‘On’ button. There, you are ready to go. The Mac OS is extremely intuitive and is a very attractive operating system. For those that want a great out of box experience, Mac definitely has the upper-hand. However, for those of you who want to run Linux, go ahead and install the newer Linux distribution called andLinux. Operating within the actual window’s operating system. This is pretty cool for all those geeks out there that run Linux. Performance issues are, I believe largely a matter of preferences, and which system you prefer to run on your computer.

Mac Gaming vs PC Gaming

 

Once I turned 21, my gaming career took a turn for the worse. Now you can take this one way or the other. I do however find the bug to play a strategy game like Civilization or Starcraft every once in a while. And to be honest, I’ve not been able to find a good version of either one of these games, or any of the shareware classics like Wolfenstein 3D, that I used to play when I was a kid, for a Mac. However irrelevant my own gaming tastes are, it is well documented that PCs still have the market cornered when it comes to gaming. This is because most games developed today are made with Window users in mind, and because Microsoft itself spends quite a bit of money developing new games and gaming software.

 

And typically, games that do make it to the Mac OS are far more limited and are distributed only after proven success in the PC world. The aforementioned types of games that I used to enjoy are still the best sellers for Mac because games that require after-market graphics hardware like Halo 3, typically won’t work with a Mac. Usually these are only compatible with the Mac Pro Towers, so if you own a iMac or MacBook you are out of luck. I’ve also been told that if you have an XBox 360, it will operate seamlessly with the new Windows Vista. Pretty cool.

Creative Suite for Macintosh and PC Computers

 

Although everyone wants to think of themselves as a ‘creative’ type, do Macs really provide an interface that will facilitate your becoming a graphic designer, digital music producer or the next indie film mogul? In fact, I have found that PCs can perform nearly any task that Macs can when it comes to: video editing, photo editing, audio editing, etc. I have done photo editing and design on both PCs and Macs over the years, and haven’t noticed a significant difference.

 

The fact of the matter is that most every piece of software that is out their for use in the creative arts has a PC-compatible counterpart. People hail the Mac as being a better computer for design, but in all truthfulness you can get the entire Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, et al), as well as every piece of music publishing software worth anything (sorry Garageband) for PC. The only situation where there may be a marked advantage (at least in terms of user-friendliness) is with the pro-sumer Final Cut Pro, which currently is not available for PC. There is, however, the very decent Sony Vegas, which is currently available exclusively for PC.

Mac Multimedia vs PC Multimedia

 

You have an iPod or an iPhone and want a PC, guess what? There is no problem. They work on Windows too. Even more so, the Windows Media Center is very much comparable to iTunes, I think when we get to a discussion of these two media management software, personal taste will play a large role. Perhaps a digression on the evolution of Apple is in order. It seems like the company is heading in the direction of becoming a hardware/electronics company. While Microsoft has branched out with the Xbox and some other peripherals, Apple is going after different markets such as the iPod (Yeah, Microsoft has Zune…) and the iPhone.

 

The rate at which these products are evolving and the increasing market share they are taking over in what was once uncharted territory for a computer company begs the question: where will their dedication be to software in the future? Microsoft has, and and currently is a software company primarily, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the future. At the very least we can say that the two types of computers are very much on the same level, at least when it comes to contemporary media management. Tim Danton, editor of PC Pro was recently stating that “Apple recently admitted it is more concerned with fine-tuning its iPhone than working on its latest operating system.” This does make me wonder whether or not the Mac will be able to compete with PC on the multi-media front. Perhaps only time will tell.

Mac Marketing vs PC Price

At the end of the day. One of the most important factors in choosing between the Mac and the PC is going to be the price. The annoying and ubiquitous Mac vs PC commercials featuring Justin Long do not address this issue. While it does poke fun at the PC, citing the attractiveness of the Mac brand and its product line’s features, no where on this commercial will the PC guy speak up and say, “But a PC is about half the price for the same technical specs!”

Here is a look at the pricing and technical breakdown of two comparable machines, the 20″ Apple iMac and the 19″ Inspiron 518, courtesy of TechBlog:

iMac: $1,199; 2.4GHz Intel Core Duo processor, 20-inch widescreen display (integrated), 1GB DDR memory, 128MB ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT graphics, 250GB hard drive, 8x double-layer DVD burner, Bluetooth 2.1, 802.11 g Wi-Fi, Webcam and Mac OS X 10.5.

Inspiron 518: $739 (after $150 instant savings); 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor, 19-inch widescreen monitor, 3GB DDR memory, Intel GMA X3100 graphics, 500GB hard drive, 8x DVD burner and Windows Vista Home Premium Service Pack 1.

There is no doubt that Steve Jobs is a master marketer, and he knows good design. But the question remains: Are the branding, the design and the cool factor worth Apple’s price tag? This is where many people are at a crossroads. I am not sure necessarily what I am going to do when it’s time to get a new computer, but I do know that price is ever-becoming a more important factor.

All this being said, no conclusion on the subject will be cut-and-dry. Personally, though I am familiar and comfortable with my Macs, I am becoming less willing to pay more for features that are really comparable with what a PC offers. Sacrificing my comfortableness with Mac’s OS X and giving up the sleek aesthetic doesn’t really appeal to my superficial side, but functionally and financially, it is starting to make more and more sense.

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