Which Is Better? PC or Mac? Better for What?

It seems that the PC industry is finally starting to take the Macintosh seriously. Sure, there are still lots of areas that the Apple Snicker Factor (ASF) is still in play. However, the fact that the ASF is on its way out is a cause for great jubilation among the Mac faithful. The world is now ready to contemplate the perennial question: Mac or PC.

Many Mac and PC oriented web sites have already taken on this issue at great length. True, the Mac is strong with graphics professionals and those who don’t want to mess with a complicated computer. However, PC’s are strong with gamers, 3D animation, tech geeks, IT departments, and people in general. Why is there a difference? Are Macs and PC’s suited for different things?

Most of the contributions on this subject have been from someone who has a vested interest in one side or another. As a result, their opinions have an angle, and therefore need careful consideration. I myself was a longtime Mac fanatic. I was such a fanatic that I cared more for Macintosh than I did for Apple Computer itself. Needless to say, I don’t work there anymore. But my very next job was doing on-site computer repair/troubleshooting/networking. Not Macintosh computers, all computers.

I started to work for a company called ComputerNerdz (www.nerdz.com) in Austin, TX. At first I was their Macintosh Nerd. Well, guess what? I wasn’t making much money as a Macintosh nerd. Why? Well, they didn’t have an advertising budget specifically for one nerd. Also, most Mac users generally look for a computer shop that specifically does Macintosh. And while I had lots of clients who loved me and my expert service dearly, man cannot live on Macintosh Support alone. So I went over to the Dark Side.

What I found is that troubleshooting a Mac is not all that different for Windows. Sure, there is a little more to remember. Hardware isn’t that different. There’s a little to learn there. But generally, for 99% of the issues that you’re bound to run into in the field servicing Windows machines, it’s not a whole lot harder to fix than Macintosh. However, it is a lot more profitable. For one, there is just so many more PC’s in Austin, TX. This is Dell Country. Second, there are more viruses and network security loopholes. And lots of badly written free software on the internet (not to mention badly written retail software). So while I could optimize a Mac and have her humming like new in less than an hour in most cases, PC’s usually had more for me to fix.

But back to the topic at hand. Did you know that some people actually like to buy broken cars? It’s amazing. Why would someone want to buy something that’s broken? Well, someone who is good at fixing cars and enjoys fixing them up would. He can buy a junker cheap, rebuild it, and sell it for a bit more than his total investment cost. But, there are PC users who like to fix PC’s. They are tinkerers. They are the ones that you pay your hard earned money to resolve your problems. But why do they like to do it? It’s empowering. They spent years learning how to use an arcane system and make it hum. Their self worth and esteem are tied into their computer expertise. So why do they hate Macintosh? Are you kidding? These tech geeks truly believe that people should become more computer friendly, and not the other way around!

But this alone doesn’t explain why the PC platform is so much more popular than the Macintosh. Sure, if you want to buy a computer you’ll ask an expert. And as most experts are geeks, they like to tinker, and thus they are more inclined to PC’s. (Side note: if you really want advice on buying a computer, ask someone lazy. you’ll like the results better.) But if this were all that PC’s had going for them, then they wouldn’t be the dominant platform. They also are cheap. They have tons of software and hardware that you can get everywhere. They also have experts in every corner of the globe to help you with it, for a price. But, the biggest reason why PC’s are more popular than Macintosh? It is a language based operating system.

What? Language based? No one has ever made that distinction before in reference to this topic. That’s why it is so misunderstood. Windows uses primarily language to communicate its interface. The Macintosh uses primarily symbols to communicate its interface. Well, isn’t one easier than the other? No. However, right-brained people feel more comfortable interfacing with symbols, and left brained people feel more comfortable interfacing with language. Windows is also a lot more structured than Mac OS 9. (Mac OS X’s columns hierarchy may be an attempt to make Windows users feel at home on a Mac.) Mac OS 9 is so flexible in the layout of files and directory structure that it’s nearly formless, except for the form you give it. This frightens structured minded people. They are always thinking of what the right thing to do is, not thinking in terms of what they want to do. For these left brained people, it’s about procedure, not expression. And that is the difference between Windows and Macintosh.

A child of 4 can navigate Windows just as easily as a Macintosh. Why? They are capable of using both halfĂ•s of their brains as easily. One is no more important than the other. But to us adults, it makes all the difference. The other end of this coin is the old consumer verses producer spectrum. There is a phenomenon called the Creative Flow. And Macintosh users swear by this force. It is as addictive to them as any amount of caffeine. However, give a person 17 seconds of frustration, and that creative flow is shattered into a million shards of lost potential. Then why do creative types swear by Macs and swear at PC’s? The Macintosh is a lot friendlier to the creative flow. When you do encounter frustration on a Macintosh, it rarely lasts for 17 seconds. You spend a lot more time in the flow on the Macintosh than on a PC.

But is the creative flow important to everyone? Of course not! Those who are left brained very rarely use that creative portion of their mind. And when they do, it is for brief segments of time, not 24/7 like a designer would. Thus, they don’t find the Macintosh any more appealing than a PC, and they relate to the language-based interface better. But a creative producer makes their living off of that creative flow, and therefore would rather have just a pen and paper before they create on a PC.

So, now we understand why the Macintosh has the niche market it does. And we understand why some people just don’t like Macs. But there is still a large part of the market that we haven’t covered yet. And that market can be referred to as Joe Sixpack and his Amazing Packets (JSP for short, a Robert Morgan original). But what does this ever-elusive consumer market want from a computer? They want it to work. They want it to be understandable, i.e., a good balance of symbols and language. They want to easily connect all of their digital gadgets to it and have it work without trying. They want hassle free computing. In other words, they want Macintosh and don’t even know it.

They think that they need this or that. They think they need to be compatible with work. They think they need this brand or that brand. They just want everything to work. The company that shows them the most effectively that they can do everything the consumer wants to with as little hassle as possible wins. However, they have to overcome the fears of what the consumer thinks they need. We all know that Windows is not strong on integration. We know that integration is what consumers want. This is why Steve Jobs’ Digital Hub is such a great platform. However, Apple has never effectively communicated anything in its life. Ever. (Okay, the first commercial about 1984 was pretty good.)

So, the final decision on what computer you should buy depends on how well the company can sell it to you. If that’s the case, then Apple is lost forever. They wouldn’t know effective marketing if it hit them in the face with a Louisville Slugger. They have a superior quality product compared to *most* retail PC’s. They have better integration than any PC. They work better with external gizmos better without configuration. They simply serve the consumer better.

But that’s not the final word. Some people *love* games. Those people are better served on a PC. Some people only have PC using friends around them. Some people only have PC techie friends around them. No Mac is an island, and the same goes with PC. Use the platform you like, the one you can get support for, the one you can get help for, and the one that just tickles your fancy. PC or Mac? You can’t go wrong either way. That is, unless you’re miserable with your experience. And then the correction is just cold hard cash away.


Mark A. Collins

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