PC vs. Mac: What should I buy?

Remember the humorous and light-hearted commercials that Apple ran in the mid to late aughts? John Hodgman and Justin Long played the PC and Mac, respectively.

These commercials were pretty gentle in nature, but the PC holy wars were anything but. And like all holy wars, the endless rhetoric was driven by ignorance and intransigence by the blind faithful rather than by actual facts or knowledge. Not too unlike today's political climate, eh?

Truth is, both platforms have their pros and cons. Neither one is "better" than the other. The position one eventually takes is simply based on how one is affected by and realizes those pros and cons, nothing more.

This article will go into those pros and cons and will offer some guidance. For this article, I will refer to the two platforms as Windows/PC and Mac.

Hi, I'm a PC                       And I'm a Mac

Macs have long enjoyed what I consider an exaggerated reputation for being easier to use and immune from viruses. There's some truth that Macs are less prone to viruses, but they are not "easier to use". The supposed chasm between the PC and Mac in those terms is really more like a small trickling creek that you could step over. The Mac isn't "easier to use" nor all that more secure.

If you plopped a full-grown adult newbie (never used a computer) in front of a computer and gave minimal instruction, s/he might -- might -- have a slightly easier time with the Mac compared to Windows. But that doesn't happen much these days. Virtually all adults today have used computers for years. The only real newbies today are little kids and they'll readily learn whatever you put in front of them, including Linux by the way.

PCs and Macs (any computer, really) all require equal amounts of savvy, skill, and familiarity to use them fully and effectively.

Both PC and Mac equally require the user to understand a number of basics such as those listed below:

  • What files are and how they work

  • How folders (directories) work and how to coherently arrange your files within them

  • How to use your products such as word processing, spreadsheets, photo editing, music, etc.

  • How application windows and dialog boxes work, sizing and positioning them

  • Using the clipboard and other productivity tools

  • How to print and scan

  • How to download and install applications and drivers (for a new printer, etc.)

  • How to create and manage bookmarks in your web browser (that's Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.)

  • Password management

  • lots more...


The foregoing is hardly a complete list. But these are examples of the kinds of things you need to know to get the most out of your computer whether it's a PC or a Mac. A Mac won't be magically or somehow easier to use if you lack these skills and know-how. Nor are these skills and know-how particularly easier to learn on a Mac.

Jumping ship

Changing from PC to Mac or vise-versa: If you aren't computer-savvy, if you don't understand how to really use a computer, if you mainly just perform tasks by rote to accomplish something without much understanding of how or why then I don't recommend changing from one platform to the other because all your rote steps and crib notes will be useless. Switching from one platform to another entails quite a learning curve. Everything is in a different place, menus work differently, things have different names, etc. The computing basics are all pretty much the same -- what changes is the keystrokes and steps you take to accomplish them. If using your existing computer presents any struggle to you whatsoever, then switching platforms will drive you crazy!


Malware immunity

Macs have historically been somewhat less vulnerable to malware infection. This is due to:

  • Mac having far smaller market share (maybe 10% total) so the malware writers don't focus on them quite as much

  • MacOS (the operating system) being somewhat more secure than Windows traditionally. But Windows 10 is closing that gap rapidly.


While Mac may be inherently more secure and less vulnerable to malware exploits, today's most dangerous malware (ransomware and the like) can run on Mac just as easily as Windows, needing no vulnerabilities to exploit. This new breed of data-encrypting ransom-demanding malware needs no special permissions or capabilities to run on a Mac. For this reason and others, backing up is very important, regardless of what kind of computer you have.

Intended users

Apple markets to consumers, not businesses -- except perhaps to some creative occupations. Windows is the preferred choice in a business setting. Why is that? Windows computers are far less expensive to buy, run more business-oriented software, easier to manage from an IT perspective, and are cheaper and easier to repair.

And about those creative occupations: Back in the day, the Mac clearly excelled with photo and video editing, design work, desktop publishing, etc. Mac had a useful GUI (Graphical User Interface) long before Windows did. But that was then, many years ago. Windows today is totally capable of running all manner of creative software so the Mac no longer has that edge.

Build quality

Mac build quality is absolutely superb. Apple spares little expense in designing beautiful machines that are solidly built. Tolerances are close, materials are all highest in quality, and attention to detail is excellent. Everything Apple builds follows this philosophy. They offer nothing downmarket for the sake of reducing price. Apple spends as much or more on the design and enclosure as they do on the guts.

Other makers as well build some pretty impressive machines. But those makers also build models at lower price points that are still fine computers. In that way, they offer something for everyone. Apple targets the top of market, nothing less.

However, all that physical build quality doesn't mean that Macs run any faster or enjoy a longer life from a performance standpoint. Mac computers have the same CPU, memory, storage, and graphics devices that you'll find in Windows computers and obsolesces just as fast -- which isn't really that fast nowadays. If you take reasonable care of your stuff, then even a laptop made of plastic will last a long time and cost far less.

Cost

It's certainly no secret that Apple hardware is expensive and their profit margins are the envy of the industry. They have long targeted the very top of the market in all they do. e.g. A Mac laptop can easily cost three times more than a Windows laptop with similar specs. Even a high-end Windows laptop can be had for half the price of a similarly-specced MacBook. So if money is a consideration, there are far better deals to be had with the Windows platform. If money isn't (much of) a consideration, then you have excellent, high-end choices in both Apple products and those that run Windows. e.g. Both the Macbook Pro and the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 are excellent, well-made computers.

Decider

Here's some points to help you decide which to buy.

Consider a Windows computer, if...

  • you are equipping a business office with multiple computers. Outfitting an office with Macs will cost a fortune.

  • you run business-oriented or other specialized software that may not be available for Macs.

  • money is a consideration, even slightly so.

  • have used Windows computers before and are already familiar with the user interface.

  • you are rough on your laptops and tend to bang them around. Windows laptops are far cheaper to replace if you damage it badly. Although Macs have excellent build quality, you can still break them plenty easily enough.

  • you want the greatest selection of computers from which to choose.


Consider a Mac computer, if...

  • you have an iPhone or iPad and want the tightest possible integration with your main computer. iDevices do integrate well with Windows but not as tightly and seamlessly as with Macs.

  • have used Mac computers before and are already familiar with the user interface.

  • money is not a consideration. Macs are expensive with nearly all models costing over $1,000 and some well over $2,000.

  • you maintain a very organized, well-appointed, high-end workspace in your home and perhaps you want others to see that. Macs are beautiful pieces of equipment and look great in such a setting.


Please consider everything I've mentioned above in helping you decide. But the bottom line is that for the most common residential uses by folks, either platform is fine.