Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Computers and Mac vs PC

This is part of a series of reprints from my classes. Once the class is over, I will lose these if I don't save them elsewhere. I've decided to post them here as they may be of some interest. This is from my Introduction to Information Systems class, which I was too lazy to test out of. While working on this I compiled a list of my computers that I posted earlier.

About 50 hours a week I use my work machine, a Dell Precision M65 laptop running Windows XP Professional SP2. When I’m at home I primarily use an Apple MacBook White laptop running OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). Often, I connect into my file server, which is a Dell Optiplex 170L desktop running Windows XP Professional SP3. The file server, which I have dubbed “Kowalski,” is in my office and does not have a keyboard, mouse, or monitor attached to it. Other than hosting copies of my media files, it also serves as secondary desktop and I use it as a print server.

Other machines in my house include my wife’s Lenovo S10 netbook, a Dell Dimension 4700 desktop running Windows 7, and a Compaq Armada 1500 laptop from 1996 running VectorLinux that I saved for my toddler to play with. Roughly 6 years ago I received the Compaq laptop, at the time it was my first laptop, so I worked hard to make it useable again. I’m proud to say that it works well for light internet use and simple games, it even has a working wireless NIC.

As for my thoughts on the Mac vs. PC debate. Well, I find that it’s not much of a debate. Instead you have a majority of people who simply don’t care and a tiny minority of geeks who are passionate about one system or another to a religious extent. Very little debate happens due to this, instead each side focuses on circumstantial issues, biased opinions, and stereotypical members of the other camp. While this is great for strengthening the resolve of the group, it’s terrible at exposing the true strengths and weaknesses of each operating system.
In my opinion, the market leader (not to be confused with the sales leader) changes every few years. It’s about to change back to Microsoft, after Apple has enjoyed several years of superiority with OS X. The problems with Windows over the last several years have been security, polish, and a fear of breaking backward compatibility. Apples issues have more to do with their longstanding inability to attract corporate users [builds familiarity] and software vendors [more tools to get things done] and cost of entry.

Microsoft made a great stride in addressing their issues with Vista, they came close to fixing some of the worst security problems. Unfortunately, Vista is bloated due to the backward compatibility, and it is severely lacking in polish. [For a great breakdown on the polish issue search for “Joel Spolsky Yale talk” on Google.] After some time using Windows 7 it is clear that Microsoft has further refined their security, nailed the polish, and it seems that their implementation of backwards compatibility was taken right from the OS X playbook.

Meanwhile, Apple has mainly rested on their laurels with their operating system. The jump from OS 9 to OS X was huge, and for good reason: OS 9 was terribly outdated and only the staunchest Mac users remained. Since, they’ve further polished the system, and I can say that Snow Leopard has great usability from experience. The only issue that they’ve addressed at all in the time has been entry price, you can get a computer similar to mine for about $900. I did find that there are plenty of software vendors for the Mac world, I only ever need to use a Windows desktop if a site require Internet Explorer or to verify that my Pages document is formatted correctly to display in Word, but I know that plenty of people out there require software that you cannot find for Mac. Similarly, I’ve seen almost no increase in consideration for Mac users in the corporate world. Firefox has done much on the Web to expose the need for platform independence, but little else has changed.

Last year when I bought my MacBook I did so because I was fully aware of the issues with Vista. I did not want to buy a Vista laptop. I knew the Vista Capable debacle. [Though I don’t know what happened to the lawsuit that it caused.] When my Inspiron 6000 died I knew I would have to either buy a Mac or a PC with Vista, and at the time a PC with similar specifications was no cheaper than the MacBook. Ironically, Vista’s issues and the success of netbooks have pushed the PC manufacturers to sell respectable machines for far lower prices. Right now the PC truly is the better deal.

Windows 7 will re-energize Microsoft’s slumping sales. If we can assume that the price of a new PC will remain somewhat flat, or only rise a small amount, then I think they will fly off the shelves. People will be happy with them, and the bleeding in the laptop segment will stop for Microsoft. The debate will still go on, but it’s clear that competition is a good thing.