Mac or PC: Here's How to Decide Which Is Best for You

"Why a Mac?" or "Why a PC?" Ask the question either way, and there's a lot of craziness to wade through. But I think your own answer is to be found by working through some pretty clear decision points. In this article I hope to list the major positive points for each platform and add a few more thoughts that might help you put your own version of this puzzle together.

Three reasons to buy a Mac instead of a PC

  1. Macs are easier and safer to use and to maintain.
    1. "Registry Key," "Virus," "Malware," "Spyware." If you've had the privilege of getting to truly know the meaning of any of these terms on your Windows computer, there's not much more to explain. There is nothing like a registry key on your Mac that you have to come to terms with after software uninstall. All that is required to uninstall most Mac software is dragging the application icon to the trash.
    2. Although the smaller Mac market share makes it a less-appealing target for malevolent hackers, its Unix underpinnings also make it less vulnerable than Windows. With the built-in security of the Mac operating system, it's as safe as Windows with third-party security software. With third-party security software for the Mac OS, it's safer.
    3. The learning curve for a new user on a Mac is typically one to three days. And when something does go wrong, most often the malfunction is user-reparable or solvable through the peer-to-peer network of Mac users that's easily accessible on the Internet. Apple's tech support is also consistently ranked #1 among all computer companies.
  2. Macs are cheaper.
    1. Perhaps not always at the initial purchase, although even then, Macs are very price-competitive when compared to PC hardware and software combinations that have the same capabilities as a new Mac. Where Macs shine is on total cost of ownership (TCO). There is only one flavor of the Mac OS, and it has all the bells and whistles - for $129. Compare the full version of Windows XP Professional for $299.99 or Vista Ultimate for $399.95 at office supply stores. A $999 license for X-Serve Mac server software that can also handle Windows PCs has no limitation on the number of clients ($499 up to 10 clients).
    2. Macs last longer, and users tend to be happier with them longer, since they can run up-to-date versions of the Mac OS longer. The most current version of the Mac OS, 10.5.2 Leopard, can be installed on a 7-year-old Mac. I'm not sure there is a 7-year-old PC that will run Vista Ultimate.
    3. Macs also hold their value longer. A 2-year-old iBook originally purchased for $900 recently sold for $650 to the first of four callers from a classified ad in The Indianapolis Star.
  3. Macs play well with Windows, PCs and PC networks.
    1. You don't have to switch to all Macs all at once. Macs and PCs now "talk" to each other very well on networks of every size, from Microsoft Exchange servers to larger and more robust PC networks.
    2. Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage (the Mac equivalent of Outlook) are all available for the Mac, and PC users have no problem opening and collaborating on documents created in the Mac versions of those applications. For Access users, Mac has FileMaker Pro, a cross-platform, relational database program so robust that Microsoft chose not to port Access to the Mac.
    3. And if you just have to have a specific Windows program for your professional or personal use, Intel Macs now also run Windows XP or Vista, either by booting up into Windows exclusively in Boot Camp on the Mac or by running it simultaneously on the Mac desktop through the third-party programs Parallels or VMWare Fusion. All of these options allow you to use Windows network connections.

Three reasons to buy a PC instead of a Mac

  1. The Mac is proprietary.

    Only Apple makes Macs, and, at least as long as Steve Jobs is around, only Apple will make Macs.

    1. There are only six basic Mac computer configurations: three types of laptops, one small console, one large desktop box and one all-in-one. If you don't like these options, you're out of luck. For example, if you want a tablet computer, you have to go to a third-party manufacturer, Axiotron, to buy a Mac tablet, converted from a current MacBook.
    2. There are very few (read "close to none") user-replaceable or customizable Mac hardware parts. If you like to build computers, you're out of luck with Macs.
    3. One cannot buy a lot (read "any") discount Mac computers or components to swap in and out.
  2. Mac's market share is small.

    On a good day, one can argue that Mac's market share is on its way to 10 percent.

    1. This means that there is not nearly the selection of software for the Mac that there is for Windows. For example, at a major national retailer in the Indianapolis area, where there are 2 1/2 aisles of Windows software, there is less than half an aisle of Mac software. There is, however, a much larger selection of Mac software on the Internet.
    2. Mac on-site tech support is not nearly as ubiquitous as Windows and PC tech support, although any tech person trained in Unix " the platform of many government units and universities " can maintain Macs, too. But, it is worth repeating that Macs require far less maintenance and repair than Windows PCs, and most times, when a Mac acts up, the problem can be solved by the user. Mac's small market share also means that if you're not calling Apple's award-winning tech support, you're calling a small software company where you often speak with the actual developer who is eager to help.
  3. Macs are still marginalized, although less and less.
    1. Some Internet Web sites absolutely scream at you when you come in on the Mac Web browser, Safari, telling you that you are not running an approved or compatible browser. This is because Safari is written to the international Web standards, which are relatively stringent and require more careful design than many Web designers are willing to devote to their sites (and clients!).
    2. In fact, every once in a while you will run into a Web site that will not recognize any browser other than Internet Explorer. For those few, backward sites, there is Mozilla's Firefox Web browser for the Mac, a free download. But this happens less and less because it's becoming counterproductive to ignore the company that's selling more than one of every five new laptop computers.
    3. Interestingly enough, Microsoft just announced that it, too, will be writing Internet Explorer 8 to the same international Web standards to which Safari is written. This will make Web designers finally write to standards that all Web browsers can depend upon, anywhere in the world.

So, where do all of these considerations leave you? If you're like many who find that it's time for a new computer due to age, frustration or Vista, this time, for the very first time, you'll seriously consider (and probably buy) a Mac.


Judge Paul D. MathiasJUDGE PAUL D. MATHIAS is on the Indiana Court of Appeals in Indianapolis. He can be reached at macsenseofit@mac.com. This article was originally published in The Indiana Lawyer, a publication of the Indiana State Bar Association.