The Great Debate: PC vs. Mac

(Before you read this, why not watch the video clip for this segment? You'll see something pretty astonishing: Angela saying something nice about the Macintosh. We hear she's sending that clip as her Xmas greeting this year, since even folks who believe in Santa Claus are going to demand proof for this particular event. Go on, we'll wait.)

Sometimes in life, notes Steve, you have to choose sides. And that's particularly true when it comes to the operating system, the basic software that keeps the hardware going. You've heard of the two big ones: Windows and Mac; Angela notes that there's a third likely contender these days, Linux, but the Duo will save that conversation for another show.

Which leaves us with only the biggest holy war in computing: Apple Computer versus the world. Apple is responsible for not only the Macintosh computer but the Macintosh operating system--which means that the hardware and software work together beautifully, but also that Apple and only Apple controls the prices and dictates which features will be made available.

Mac devotees are legendarily vocal about their preferred machine, but the lion's share of personal computers are nonetheless operating the Windows OS, developed by Microsoft and running machines sold by everyone from Dell and IBM to Abel's Computer Stable and Laundromat. The good news is that a diversity of hardware manufacturers means lots of choices for buyers. The bad news is that with so many companies in the mix and none of them working hand-in-hand with Microsoft, there's a lot of diversity in quality.

Neither Steve nor Angela is willing to get into the whole which-is-objectively-better-Mac-or-PC thing; Angela mumbles something about having a life, and Steve has both kinds of computers in his Captain Kirk-like home office. So Steve lays down a rule of thumb: If you're starting out and you don't know much about computers, get one that's just like the one your really smart friend has--the kind of friend you can call at two in the morning when the tech support line doesn't help.

Great rule, snorts Angela, if you're just starting out--and if your really smart friend hasn't got Caller ID. But nowadays most people are buying their second or fifth computers. They've already got a lot of money, not to mention experience, invested in the platform they already know. It's going to take a lot to get them to change--and most of the time, she says, they shouldn't.

Steve agrees, for the most part. What might move somebody from Mac to Windows is something that doesn't exist in MacLand, such as ultralightweight laptops or the tablet and Media Center machines mentioned earlier. Gamers will also find more offerings on Windows machines, and Steve's beloved Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech-recognition program keeps him tied to the PC as well.

On the other hand, says Angela (in the tone of a PC bigot facing a painful truth), with the Mac you don't get anywhere near the number of severe security problems that are built into every Windows machine. They're virtually free of spyware, adware, viruses, all that bad stuff, and you just about don't have to worry about it. And, she continues, lots of people switch from Windows to Mac, while just about nobody switches from Mac to Windows voluntarily.

As the paramedics step in to revive Angela, Steve comments that there are a lot of extremely attractive programs that are Mac-only, including the ILife suite that comes with every machine, and most of the best video-editing software, like Final Cut Pro. But if you do change platforms, he cautions, remember that you'll also need to replace a lot of software. What runs on Windows won't run on the Mac, and vice versa.

Angela, recovering, notes that in addition to all this, the Mac-PC landscape was in serious flux as the Duo went into the studio. In 2006, the Mac system begins moving away from the PowerPC microprocessors it's using now--a microprocessor being the essential brain inside the box--to Intel processors like the ones in Windows machines. It's not yet entirely clear how those future Macs will handle current software, but eventually current Macs won't be able to run new versions of the operating system. And, of course, Windows moves to a new version called Vista late in 2006--and if Microsoft's next version is anything like its last version, upgrading current machines will be extremely tricky.

In other words, you can't count on any computer you buy now to grow old with you. But isn't that always the case?

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