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Computer Shopping - Apple Mac or Windows PC?

Written by Christina Tynan-Wood - 2008, No Starch Press. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with Permission.
This article is an excerpt from the following book: How to Be a Geek Goddess.

Deciding between an Apple computer (or Mac; Apple is the company, and its computers are called Macs) and a Windows PC is more personal than technical. If you like the look of Apple, if you identify with the hip, friendly image the company has nurtured, if you are intimidated by Windows, or if you are a graphics, music, or web professional and everyone you work with uses a Mac, get one. If you like plenty of options and support from your friends and neighbors, a Windows PC might be more your style. Tonya Engst, editor-in-chief of ebook publisher Take Control Books, suggests that you "buy the [operating system] that your most technically competent friends use, so you can share files, gadgets, and know-how. One of my best friends uses Windows and we end up sniping at each other instead of sharing [because I'm on a Mac]," she admits. This might be a good time to tell you that I (and most of the women I consulted for this book) use a Windows PC. So in areas where we talk about how to use your computer or software, we will be talking about Windows PCs. For the most part, the content in this book will be relevant even if you do have a Mac, but you might want to take a look at My New Mac: 52 Simple Projects to Get You Started as well.

I suspect Mac owners swear at their computers less than we Windows PC owners do. Perhaps they were driven to buy their Macs by a romantic feeling of attraction and are therefore more tolerant. Romance is powerful. How long do women stay with husbands they were driven to for the same reason, despite their shortcomings? I have noticed that Mac owners tend to hug their computers or beam beatifically at them. That sort of affection is achieved through design, branding, and prettiness of interface, though, not by anything as mundane as price, processor speed, or upgradeability. People who buy cars because they are adorable, sexy, or evoke a feeling of luxury probably love those cars more than people who buy cars for cost-effectiveness. And it is that sort of emotional appeal that differentiates the Mac from many PCs (though I have gotten pretty fond of a few computers in my time), not anything particularly technical. The main difference between an Apple computer and a Windows PC is the operating system. Macs runs Mac OS X and a Windows PC runs some version of Windows. But the operating system is fundamental. Without one, the computer won't do much unless you can speak to it in ones and zeros. So your choice of operating system not only determines your user interface (what's on the screen), but also dictates which software programs and hardware accessories will work with your computer.

If you use Windows and develop a loathing for the calendar software that came with it, for example, you can hit the Internet or visit a retailer and find something you like better. You will have a mind-boggling number of choices from a seemingly infinite number of companies and even individuals. Microsoft's operating system dominates the market, with about 90 percent of all desktop computers running Windows. The top computer makers (such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo) sell Windows machines. Apple, on the other hand, is the only company selling Macs, and it grabs only a small share of the computer market. So, when some brilliant teen takes up programming or an electronics company builds computer accessories, they go for the big market. The result for you Mac coveters is fewer choices. "You will definitely have to look harder for Mac software and hardware," agrees Tonya.

That being said, there are reasons why Macheads are so devoted to their machines. As I've said, they love them. And love is illogical. In addition, the exterior and the operating system are very pretty. Beauty is intangible, but it evokes great devotion. Many beautiful Windows PCs have hit the market in the past couple of years, and the latest version of Windows Vista is also lovely. Mac users claim Macs are less often the target of viruses and other security problems. Windows PCs do get hit more often by viruses, but that is not necessarily because Windows (especially Vista) is less secure, as Mac users are fond of saying (so fond that I'll be getting angry letters about this statement). Windows machines could get hit by viruses more often because they are more widely used. Malicious hackers, like software developers and component builders, go for the bigger market.

It is certain that Macs appeal to a certain kind of buyer. That buyer often feels drawn toward the Mac and can't be dissuaded from that course. I don't want to suggest that you should fight that urge if I am describing you here. To thine own self be true.

Buying a Mac is pretty straightforward: one company, a finite line of products. Go to and choose the machine targeted at the kind of computer user you are (or plan to be). Expect to pay a bit more for comparable performance. One caveat: If you or anyone who plans to use this computer intends to play games, step back and rethink. Most game developers build first for the PC; your choice of Mac-compatible games will be limited. And it's not just games: Some other software categories are not well represented on the Mac. If you need a particular piece of software for your job, such as Autodesk's AutoCAD, or for your favorite hobby, check to see if there's a Mac version before you commit the next few years of your life to Apple. You may have heard talk about a new line of Macs that can run Windows too, but this isn't really a beginner activity and shouldn't drive your purchasing decision. For more information, see How to Be a Geek Goddess.

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