I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC.

Mac, PC, what’s the difference?

Let’s bring it back to where this column belongs shall we? Back to basics. Operating Systems. Sounds exciting I know, but bear with me, I’m sure that I’ll be able to make an obscure reference at some point that at least makes you grin for a moment.

The operating system is the core software of your computer. Be it Vista, XP, Mac OSX, Linux, or GEOS on the Commodore 64, your machine has an OS and it needs to be your friend. It is quite literally the way in which the computer interprets and handles information, the language if you will, that your computer speaks most fluently. There are pros and cons to them all of course and right now is perhaps one of the more difficult times in personal computing history in terms of deciding which to make friends with.

I’m a Mac and I’m a PC. Really, I am both. I have been a Mac user since the very beginning, but I am on a PC every day as well. This serves me particularly well considering my current profession of course but there are a multitude of reasons for my dual citizenship. I am not one of those adamant people who will tell you that one is better than the other or to get this one or that. I try and evaluate each individual and help them to make that choice for themselves. That said, my first computer was an Apple IIe and I’m quite sure that it is still in my parent’s attic, just waiting for the day when I get the urge to dust it of an fire up LOGO to draw little boxes on the screen, or maybe Wizardry, in which i attack orcs and the like. Some years ago, Apple began their life and dramatically increased their presence by making their computers available to schools at a huge discount. They optimized them for education by working directly with software developers in that field, so it stands to reason that many of my generations first computer experiences were on Apples. For the generation previous, your first hands on was far more likely in the business realm, where a little company called International Business Machines was making itself known as the foremost provider for enterprise computing needs. Incidentally, IBM was actually founded in the late 1800’s making tabulating machines or calculators as they are better known. When Apple launched their Mac line of computers in 1984, they were the first computer commercially available that used a mouse and a GUI or Graphical User Interface instead of a Command Line Interface. Command Line requires at the very least a fundamental knowledge of the code used in the system, whereas GUI allowed point and click simplicity to thrive. Without going too deep into history, we can say at least that Macs were targeted at the home user, educational and creative professional markets. They had early agreements with the graphics and audio software developers that helped them to remain the most prevalent computing force in those fields to this day. And from their inception, they have always antagonized PC users, first with their Big Brother Ads of 1984 and still evidenced by the current ad campaign.

PCs however held fast to their plan to offer more choice, lower cost and more business oriented software, retaining the strongest market share by far. In reality, while the ads make it sound as though their is a healthy competition going on, the truth is that Mac computers make up only 3.5% of the world market, but that is a slanted number to be sure and if we evaluate their share in American homes it increases dramatically. Regardless, that very fact is one of the best reasons to buy a Mac instead of a PC. Viruses and Malware plague PCs, and their hefty market share make them prime targets. No hacker wants to create a virus that at it’s greatest and most unrealistic potential only affects 3.5% of the market, so they target the big guy, the PC operating systems. When people say that Macs don’t get viruses, it’s not entirely true, but the threat is so minimal as to be non-existent.

Software wise, many people assume that things are as they always were and that a Mac is for play and a PC is for business, but this is no longer the case. In fact the parity between the two is only increasing. Many graphic artists use PC’s exclusively and many businesses run Macs from stem to stern. So what do I recommend to someone buying a computer today? It depends entirely upon your answers to a few simple questions. What are you used to? What are your needs? What do you want most?

To clarify a bit, if you are new to computing and want little more than email, internet and to share pictures of your children in the tub (Mom, please stop sending that around…), I generally recommend a Mac because of their intuitive operating system and out of the box software package that makes it incredibly easy to do just that. But if you’ve been using a PC for the past few years at work and it’s time for you to get a computer at home, then perhaps a PC is a better way, you’ll save money for one and Vista has a fine complement of software for pictures, video, audio and home entertainment. A Mac system costs more than a PC, that’s true. Very true indeed, but that ‘bling’ factor is there as is the lack of need to spend more on maintenance and virus software.

You’ll notice I said ‘Vista’ there. Some of you may have heard of it, and most of you probably heard that it’s horrible. It’s not, it’s fantastic. It really is, unless (and this is a big unless) you are using legacy software and need to keep running it. If you have an old printer that has somehow kept plugging along for five years, it probably won’t work with your new vista box, and if you’ve been using software for over ten years as some of my own family has, then the transition will require your geek relative to do a lot more work to make sure that you can still read the files that you created over time. Overall though, for home computing, Vista is excellent, and it’s built in software rivals that of Apple in a lot of ways. There were a multitude of problems initially, but the recent update has made Vista much more stable and compatible.

One more note is for the gamers out there. Let’s say that you’re 32 and running a computer store and you still like to go home and kill orcs and the like. Well, if that is indeed the case, then you need a PC. It’s not that Macs don’t play games, of course they do, but if you’re a ‘gamer’ then you’ll need a custom built PC or at least something beyond the computers available at Wal-Mart. Many games are being released on both platforms, but ALL of the best games are available on PC.

So what’s the difference? Not much, but what do i know anyway? I use my Mac for work and my PC for play, so I am hardly the stereotypical user. But if you are thinking about getting a computer, ask around, ask your friends and relatives, or ask a geek what they think. It really depends on your needs.

Colby Dix is the co-owner of Vermont Geeks and his 70 Warlock awaits the Lich King…

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