Mac v. Windows: The Sequel

This is an excerpt from an email I wrote recently to a friend who is considering buying a computer but isn’t sure 1. whether to get a desktop or a laptop and 2. whether to get a Mac or a PC.

Believe it or not, _______—if you get a laptop, Apple may be your best bet. An iBook is about $1149.00. A Dell Inspiron 600m is $1497.00. This is with these specifications:

iBook Inspiron
Memory 256MB 512MB (includes Dell promotion)
Processor 1.2GHz PowerPC G4 1.6GHz Pentium
Hard Drive 80GB 80GB
Wireless Card Yes Yes
Video Card 32MB 32MB
Display 12″ 14.1″
Weight 4.9 lbs. 4.98 lbs.

The Apple iBook has the added advantage of already including firewire and Bluetooth. I’m not sure how important those things are to you. You could argue, of course, that with the $300 more you’d be spending on the Dell, you’re also getting twice as much memory, two inches more screen space, and a slightly faster processor. iBooks do come with Garageband, though.

Also, if you don’t want 80GB of hard drive space, both laptops would be about $100 or so cheaper. Considering you’ll be getting an iPod and may be playing around Garageband, you’ll probably need all the space you can get!

Of course, you could always get an eMachine at Best Buy for $599.00 with these specifications:

Memory 512MB (expandable up to 4.0GB)
Processor 3.06GHz Pentium
Hard Drive 160GB
Wireless No
Video Card 224MB

160GB of hard drive goes a long way.

No Apple computer with 160GB would ever be under $600 [after-thought, since the new Mac Mini has arrived on the scene: its $600 model has less than half the processing speed of the aforementioned eMachine, half the hard drive space, half the memory, and a third the number of USB output slots—clearly the greatest appeal of the Mac Mini is its small size]. Now that I have constant access to both Mac OS X and Windows XP, I’m extremely fascinated by the whole Mac/PC debate (of course, a lot people caught up in semantics insist that Macs are PCs, but most people just use “PC” as an abbreviation for “Windows PC”). People get very emotional about this topic. I certainly have more of a leaning toward PCs, but I can appreciate a lot about Mac, and I’m obsessed with the idea of eventually getting one of those cute 12″ iBooks. There are many things Windows can do that Mac can’t, and vice versa. I’m learning to be bilingual, and I’m also appreciating that, as some in the minority of this debate contend, it’s not so much that one operating system is “better” than the other. It’s all about personal preference. Why should one be able to recommend a type of operating system for all users, unless one of the operating systems is so deficient as to be unusable?

In my experience, Windows appeals most to those who are intermediate computer users who also like to customize their computer experience as much as possible—people like me. I want all my folders to open in list view by default. I want to be able to control whether the control-alt-delete security log-on appears at the boot screen or not. I want to have easy access to the registry and all files on the system. I want to be able to turn on the start-up noise, turn it off, or change it to something else. I have to confess, even though Windows allows me to do all these things, its default settings are terrible. Whenever you do a clean install of Windows XP or add a new user, the desktop is totally empty except for a trash can (er, recycling bin—sorry!). There is no documents or systems folder to click on. You have to enable through start menu preferences the quick launch bar. I’d say it takes me a good hour and a half to fully customize XP to my liking, including the installation of Firefox, Thunderbird, iTunes, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Audacity, etc. (and their respective shortcuts and quick launches).

Macs seem to appeal most to both absolute beginners and extremely advanced users. Beginners like Mac because it doesn’t have a blank desktop straight out of the box. It has a dock ready to go. All the majors programs are installed, and all the major buttons are in place. Most beginners don’t care about changing the start sound or picking a folder view other than icon view. They just want to be able to launch programs and use them—Word, Excel, Safari, and some email program. Extremely advanced users appreciate that Mac OS X is unix-based. They like to tinker “under the hood” of the operating system. And everyone (even Windows die-hards) knows Mac just plain looks better.

As you can see from the above email, it’s a tough call. Mac is lowering its prices in one sense. It really depends on what you want, though. Dell can customize every little thing, whereas Apple will let you change only a few specifications before your purchase.

When it comes to value, though, don’t go to Dell. Definitely buy an eMachine. My wife and I have had only positive experiences with our two eMachines, and they’re by far the cheapest, most reliable computers around.

Bottom line: My best advice for computer purchasing is to keep an open mind. Don’t listen to the Mac-onlys or the PC-onlys. Find what’s best for you, what suits your needs, your lifestyle, your work, and your personality. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to do so, get one of each. Being proficient in two operating system “languages” can only benefit you in the long run, and Mac OS X and Windows XP communicate well with each other (as far as file and printer sharing go).

P.S. I’ve also found that there are few comparisons like the one above. Everyone will say, “This is cheaper,” “No, this is cheaper,” but very few people will make an actual dollar-to-dollar comparison.

P.P.S. Do some real investigating. Most of things PC-people say Mac “can’t” do can be done; they just don’t know how to do them. Same goes for what Mac-people say Windows PCs “can’t” do.

P.P.P.S. I’ve changed my mind. I was just in a store looking at the current G4 iBooks, and they look like the cheapest pieces of plastic I’ve ever seen. The Powerbooks look much better (but are more expensive), and Dell has since dropped the price of their Inspiron 700m model considerably. (20/03/05)

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