PC vs. Mac- My Thoughts

There is an interesting article on MacWorld about the new Mac advertisements that compare a fairly young, active actor playing a Mac with a middle-age looking nerd playing a PC. The ads really make you want to buy a Mac. They make the point that Macs don’t get viruses and can build web pages and edit home movies. I won’t comment much on the article itself as I believe that the author did a great job of sorting out fact and fiction on both platforms.

If you’re like me, you may have used a PC for a long time. I’ve been using PCs for better than 10 years. Even before that, I’ve used several but it’s been the last decade that I’ve owned and heavily used a PC both at home and at work. I was discipled in the mentality that Macs are made for idiots and smart people use PCs. I was told that "Macs are great when they work, but when they break it’s all over". I honestly don’t have enough background to refute or debate these claims, although the last year has put events before me that have made me want to pay serious attention to the Macintosh platform.

However, I have quite a few PC systems, including the laptop that I just got for Christmas last year. I use it very heavily and have spent quite a bit of time configuring it to be just right. With my recent interest in registry hacks, I’m tweaking it even more. My only real experience with Mac is the iMac that my friend gave me. It’s a Blueberry (Rev D., 333Mhz G3 PPC). I use it as a toy mostly, but I’m slowly learning. Someday I hope to upgrade the RAM and put Panther on it. Until then, it’s running Mac OS 9.2.2.

As for the debate over Macs and PCs: the claim is made that PCs get viruses. Well, to add a little reason to this debate, simply owning a PC that runs Windows does not give you viruses, anymore than stepping off a ship in Thailand gives you AIDS. For the 10 years that I’ve used PCs, I’ve often run without a virus scanner or firewall. It’s only been the last few years that I’ve decided to use either and I admit mostly it has to do with the paranoia that everybody else is under. I’ve been tempted to uninstall my virus scanner on several occasions as it adds a lot of time to startup and really bogs my system down at times. Norton was the worst; I won’t use Norton again. McAfee does a decent job but still can slow me down, especially when I reboot because my computer got unstable while I was trying to get a lot done and when I came back up McAfee wanted to download 48 Gigs of definitions… OK, a little exaggeration, but still annoying.

What typically gives you a virus is executing a program. Virus writers are getting better, but for the most part your system won’t get infected if you don’t take the final step to execute the virus or worm. If you receive a strange email from someone with an attachment, don’t open it. Even if the email is from a person that you know well, if it’s out of character, don’t touch it until you contact them and verify that the email is valid. Don’t visit web pages that are likely to infect you. I’ve heard that porn sites are known to do this at some times. You can sometimes be redirected to some very strange places. A friend of mine lost the key to a game of his, so to help him out I went to some key code sites to see if I could find it. He legally purchased the game, so I had no problem with this. Man, was I ever redirected to some non-family friendly sites! For the most part though, if you stay away from the "red light district" of the internet, you shouldn’t have to worry.

It can’t be said that Macs and Linux machines are immune to viruses. Better designed would be appropriate, more secure yes, but not immune. There are some Mac viruses out there. What helps both systems is the fact that the user does not have full admin access. In Windows, admin is assumed, in Mac and Linux, admin is granted. No user should ever have full administrative access to a system for casual use, yet in Windows you really can’t function without it. Microsoft has not developed a good user scheme after all of these years. In XP Home, you either get full access or User access, and User can’t really do ANYTHING. The problem is that the viruses, malware, spyware, rootkits, etc run at the access level of the user, so if you’re logged in with root privileges, the programs you execute have that root privilege. I wish MS would come up with a decent user scheme. On my machine at work, I was set up as a Power User, which is still very limited. Our IT guy got tired of me tracking him down every time I wanted to update iTunes (you think MS releases too many updates? Apple is much worse), so he gave me the local admin access to the machine. That worked for a while, until I tried to install a program that would only work for the user who installed it. If I logged off myself, logged in as admin and installed it, I couldn’t use it under my access. I set myself up with admin privileges, installed it, and haven’t really downgraded myself yet.

Rest assured as Macs become more popular, virus writers and script kiddies will begin writing more viruses and assorted malware for them.

One of the commercials that really amused me was the one where the Mac and PC were in the box. The Mac said he was going to create some web pages, edit some home movies, etc. The PC said that he has to download more drivers, read some tech manuals, uninstall some trial software… This was funny. Which tech manuals? I’ve been told that Macs have about as little documentation as PCs. I thought it was funny when I bought Microsoft Flight Simulator 95 and got a box full of books. One book was about the mechanics of flight, one was about using the program, and a few more were about scenery. When I bought MS Flight Sim 98, it came with no books and some promotional literature. Flight Sim 2002 Professional came with even less. My laptop came with 2 Zip-lock bags with promotional material and 2 CDs with XP SP2 and a Driver disk. So what documentation did this PC have to read?

OK, now to tackle out of the box functionality. As for building web pages, let me ask you how many web pages have you built in the last week? The last year? I can’t say I’ve really done that much web page building myself, and while I was still in the Navy my friend and I worked on an internet advertising venture with a friend of ours. I will admit that to the best of my knowledge, Windows XP doesn’t come out of the box with many site building tools. If you like to write your own html, Notepad will get the job done just fine. I remember Microsoft used to include a "Frontpage Express", but I can’t say I ever used it and I never really gave it any thought until somewhere in the last 6 months when it would have come in handy and I realized that it was gone. As for home movies, Windows XP does come with Windows Movie Maker. I have mixed opinions about this. What it does, it does well enough. What it can’t do, you might as well get something that can do it. I guess Macs come bundled with a program that will allow you to do all of the work. I don’t believe that WMM will let you burn a DVD. You probably have to do your editing work and then open in another program. I’ve been using Ulead DVD Movie Factory 3 for all of my video editing needs. I only open up WMM long enough to realize that it can’t do what I want to do, so I close it.

Now for the "PCs do charts and graphs, Macs do fun stuff". I can’t say I’ve done many charts and graphs in my life. I’m honestly not sure how to do them in Office because the need honestly hasn’t arisen for me to learn how to do them. And so to characterize my platform as only a business platform is a little bit untrue. Actually, if you’ve seen HP’s latest commercial with the snowboarder, I honestly thought it was a Mac commercial at first. PCs can do a lot of "fun stuff". I would say that the most common argument I’ve heard as to why people won’t leave Windows for Mac or Linux is "Well, I’m a gamer, see, and I need to play my games". The PC is, for now, the best gaming platform short of a console. I can’t say I game much myself.

When it comes to advertising, stick to the facts. Ads want to sway you to one side or the other. Do Macs have a place? Yes, and I wouldn’t mind getting one but it will have to be a buying decision quite a bit into the future. Do PCs have a place? You bet. Take some time to think about your needs and choose the platform that will suit them best.

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