Thursday, October 21, 2004

Want to be Productive? Use a Mac

As the iPod continues to dominate the MP3 player market, leading more and more PC users to consider buying at least one piece of gear from Apple, I think it is worth taking a moment to explain why I would never use anything other than a Mac.

First off, I am the first to say that if there is a compelling reason to run Windows I certainly understand. Windows is a software tool like any other software tool and as such, it should be deployed where a user finds that it is the only option.

There are dozens of varieties of Windows operating systems, each specifically designed to run on a given manufacturer's hardware. In this respect, there is no monolithic OS called "Windows". Every manufacturer of a "Wintel" PC has its own way of implementing Windows and thus, you can't think of Windows like you can with the Mac (which is a tightly integrated hardware/software environment controlled entirely by Apple Computer). The MS Windows operating system is customized by each hardware manufacturer to suit its own needs. This gives it flexibility but at the sacrifice of stability and ease of use. Of course, the hardware itself varies widely from manufacturer to manufacturer as well.

That said, in this contest, I believe Macintosh wins as a productivity platform for the following reasons:

No viruses. At this point (5 years after its initial release), Mac OS X remains virus and worm free. This translates directly into a safer user experience. In this day and age, the value of this single issue cannot be overstated. OS X makes this possible. Meanwhile there are thousands and thousands of viruses for the contemporary versions of Windows (NT, XP, 2000).  Of course, someday someone might figure out how to write one for OS X but then there will be only ONE virus vs. the tens of thousands for Windows. For this reason alone OS X is simply the better choice for the academic and home environment.

TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). Macs are simply better built, obsolesce slower, are easier to support, and more intuitive to use than its Wintel competitors. If user productivity is higher then the value of the computer increases. A total solution must consider not just the OS preference but longevity of hardware, ease of support, ease of upgrades, downtime considerations, and training issues.

Less expensive to support. Dozens of studies have looked at just this one issue related to TCO and have found that user-to-tech ratios are much better in operations running Macs over Windows. If the computer takes less time to troubleshoot or to upgrade or to explain to a user, then it is spending more time doing what it should be doing, being a productive tool rather than a constant headache.

Initial purchase cost. A similar speed Mac with comparable features is currently less expensive than the Dell. A 2Ghz iMac is comparable in speed to a 3.5Ghz Pentium IV (the combination of the outdated Windows operating system running on inefficient Intel chips requires much faster clock speeds to get the same amount of processing as the Apple/IBM combination). As of Spring of 2004 the eMac, for example, was priced well under $800 while the comparable Dell Dimension 8300 runs around $1200. At this writing, there are no $800 Dell PCs with Firewire and a quality separate video card like the eMac. The price gap is even wider when comparing the Mac Powerbook lineup with the Dell offerings.

Support. Apple provides better direct support of its customers. the best test of this is to visit Apple's web site and then Dell's. The experience is like night and day.

More user-friendly. The Mac has easily the most elegant user interface on the market with OS X. It is designed from the table up to work right out of the box. In 5 years of using OS X I have experienced only 3 crashes amongst my 3 different Macs. It is that stable.

But you might ask, what about all the Windows software that is unavailable for the Mac?

It is true that there are roughly 40,000 usable Windows packages that few people will ever use on their PC vs. about 20,000 that few will ever use on their Mac. Of course, all the MAJOR packages that a user generally needs are available for both platforms. I think most of these run better on the Mac than under Windows. The exception is MS Office, which generally performs better from within the Windows environment than on the Mac. However, Office X is a very robust software package and actually has several key features not found in the Windows version.

Over all, the software availability for OS X  is very wide and includes many extremely advanced packages NOT AVAILABLE for Windows. These include Final Cut Pro, Logic, Soundtrack, DVD StudioPro, iDVD, GarageBand, iCal, iMovie, iPhoto,, and iSync.

Finally, I'm rather fond of the UNIX underpinnings of OS X.  The BSD code under the hood has proven to be the most reliable of any OS kernel ever built.

This is not to say that Windows is not useful. I think it's a great platform to run Solitaire!


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