Friday, May 21, 2010

Mac vs PC: can we end this once and for all?

If you buy a PC, you’ve just bought a PC. If you buy a Mac, somehow you’re a Machead, a cultist, an Apple fanboy or girl, you’ve joined a religion, you worship Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive, you’ve been fooled by the hype, you’re trying to be cool, you think shiny is good, the list goes on.

You hear much the same degree of jeering between football fans but at least with that there are fans on both sides. Who’s actually fan of Windows PCs? But okay, if Apple is a religion, it’s the Church of the One That Works.

If Microsoft comes out with something, I’ll probably hear about it at some point. I don’t follow many of the techie news sites I used to when I worked in computers but I’ll hear eventually. Mostly because it takes so long: a pretty standard spiel from Microsoft is that our new product will kill Apple/Google/Everybody as soon as it’s launched in three to four years. And it’s cheaper too, so there. Will be cheaper.

There was a nice-looking tablet computer they did this about: if you saw the articles, you quite fancied this. It was a wee way off, they said, and now the other day they cancelled it entirely.

In comparison, Apple loves making big announcements about fancy technology and ending with the words “Available today”. I’m not sure whether you’d call that smug or gleeful, but I think they earn whichever it is. The famous Apple secrecy up to the launch of a product has some unpleasant sides but ultimately where so many firms talk about what they’re going to do, Apple tends to just do it first.

Seriously first, too. They nicked the idea for a graphical computer back when there used to be any other sort. Microsoft nicked it from the same place an hour later. But where Apple took Xerox PARC’s idea and made it commercially practical, commercially available, Microsoft Windows has been copying the Mac for nearly thirty years and it’s still not there.

You have a mouse. You wouldn’t have if Apple hadn’t done it first, or at least if someone hadn’t, because Microsoft came late to mice. If you’ve got a laptop, it has the keyboard pushed to the back so you can type comfortably and it’s got a slick touchpad. Because of Apple. I was at the UK launch of their first PowerBook with that touchpad and they crowed about how they had patented it.

Apple patents are plainly rubbish, but there you go.

When Apple does come out with something new, I hear about it much, much faster because these days I’m looking. I’ve got a couple of Mac sites on my iPhone’s newsreader and I’ll read them not through fervour, not because they happen to update while I’m bowing toward Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino.

I read them because of Apple’s track record and how the firm thinks things through.

One example. I hope this has changed in Windows 7 but it lasted for the first twenty years of Windows so it’s a fair illustration of how the technology doesn’t matter, it’s the people behind it. Copy some documents to a floppy disk, if you can find a floppy disk.

Windows gives you a nice, pretty graphic of paper airplanes flying between an icon of your hard disk and an icon of your floppy one. Until suddenly the floppy is full and it panics. “Error!” it screams. I can’t remember the unmemorably techie error message but its meaning is very clear: it’s your fault. You’ve got it wrong, not Windows.

Do the same thing on a Mac and it looks first. Tells you there’s not going to be enough room on the floppy.

That’s it, it’s just sayin’.

Microsoft did the pretty icon fine, it just thinks that pretty is enough. Well, sort of. Windows XP has a very Fisher Price kind of look but Windows 7 is prettier. It’s just that pretty is as pretty does, I think: Apple products have a shine to them at least in very great part because they work and work so well. Before the iPhone, no phone looked anything like it. Since the iPhone, no phone has been released that hasn’t tried to copy it. That’s design, that’s thinking brilliantly.

That’s not trying to make a long list of features, that’s trying to make the things useful.

Not long ago I recommended that a friend did not switch to Macs because I felt he was so wedded to Windows and had so many applications that changing was a giant deal. He changed anyway. I’m very persuasive. And for weeks afterwards he’d phone me up laughing. Because he’d buy some new software, new hardware, something, and he’d read out the six pages of instructions for how you install them under Windows before delivering the punchline. For Mac, the instructions were always “Plug it in.” The End.

I used to actually like computers. I enjoyed fiddling, I even had a fair enough career in computer magazines though I always felt I was a magazine guy more than I was a computing one. And all the friends I still have from there are nodding now. Possibly also nodding off, but.

Today all I want is to work on a machine that works. Someone asked me recently how I could possibly enjoy computers so much. I had just repaired a ridiculous problem with his Windows Vista laptop but I swear we stared at each other as if across a gulf. I don’t like computers, I like that I can talk to you like this, I love that I can do my work wherever I am in the world, I adore that right now I’ve got music playing, that in a short while my Mac will record the Afternoon Play so I can listen in the car later. That BBC News channel is open on my right. That Twitter is updating in front of me. That the film I’m buying off iTunes will be ready to watch in a second or two.

And obviously I write. But for every advantage this Mac gives me for writing, it does offer a thousand distractions.

It’s just that I’m not distracted struggling to find a DLL, whatever in the hell that is, I’m not interrupted by WARNING! VIRUS! YOUR FAULT! messages. And when my disk is full, I know I’ve just been talking too much.


Phill Barron said...

So what you're saying is, can we end this debate because Macs are obviously better?

I'm one of those people who perceive Apple as a religion, primarily because a lot, but not all, of the people I know who use Apple technology are fanatical about it to the point of delusion.

For example, I know people who genuinely believe you can only access the Internet on an iPhone - no other phone has that capability.

I get people asking if my tablet PC is an iPad. When I point out it's a laptop, they get confused because everyone knows Apple invented touchscreen computing this year ... so where did this come from?

Macs break down too, they just spontaneously go wrong like any machine - but where as a windows user will grumble about it and fix it, Mac users deny it happened. I've sat with people who've stared at this spinning beachball until they had to shut down and restart their computer ... only to be lectured by them an hour later about how Macs never, ever go wrong. The fact it did an hour ago is just an irrelevant fact which proves nothing.

When I first had a phone with sat-nav built in, Apple-fanatics insisted they didn't want sat-nav on a phone, it was useless and uneccessary. The same people, a year later, would show off their new iPhone with this incredible new thing called sat-nav!

You mention advertising, Apple make a big deal about shouting about things they've just invented - regardless of how long other manufacturers have been selling them. The iPhone adverts actually have disclaimers on them telling you the iPhone can't actually do what the advert says it can!

One of the first things you do when setting up a cult is to change the names of things, this create a gulf between you and them. Scientologists do this, the Hitler youth did it, so do Apple. Hence the unconcsious mind becomes the reactive mind and a laptop becomes a macbook.

All this behaviour, coupled with the constant nagging attack on anyone who uses Windows is just grating and off-putting. I have a fairly neutral stance on Mac v PC - I don't really care since as far as I can tell they both do the same things - but I feel pushed into a defensive position by this kind of biased thinking.

For me the bottom line is this: Windows users know their machines aren't perfect. Mac users don't and turn up on your mental doorstep waving leaflets.

Sally A said...

I made the change last year after resisting for ages. The zeal of users put me off. Now, I love it. But not with a religious zeal, just cos everything seems one click away and it just feels more joined up in the thinking behind using different functions. I love my macbook and wouldn't go back. I had a blip a couple of months when it stopped working cos I hadn't been updating it but I'd bought applecare on ebay and was able to get phone support to sort it out. I back up regularly too so that was fine. I also love the fact that it's so much quieter than a pc and atheistically is a thing of great beauty.

William Gallagher said...


I was actually prompted into this by an event I went to where a speaker said the iPad was crippled because it doesn't do Flash. You'd agree that's a bit of bollocks there, right?

But then he also stated that the iPad was not the best value, that much as you say here, there are better alternatives.

So where are they?

Why haven't they worked? How does Apple get this thing into people's hands when nobody else does?

You can argue advertising, you can argue the Apple religion, but I've been using Macs and PCs since the 1980s when Apple was dying. It's religion didn't help it there.

I do totally agree about people not wanting things on their iPhone until the day those things are available. I'm a bit guilty of that too: I thought the lack of copy-and-paste was a pain but not especially an issue. Then as soon as iPhone had it, I've found I use it continually. So I was wrong there, though I don't believe it was a delusion.

But I've got to press you on this business of Apple claiming to invent things that others are already selling. Did you watch Microsoft's launch of the Windows Mobile 7 software? A great invention: you could pinch photos in and out.

I remember Microsoft people saying PCs were better because of this new plug 'n' play idea. You mean you couldn't always plug something in and have it work?

And in between the two, I see Apple doing something and then Microsoft coming along to claim it did it first.

So I can't give you that one. Nor really, come on, the advertising one: "Sequence shortened" doesn't mean you can't do whatever it was.

I said that I felt all this was about people, not technology. (That example of how Apple thought for a beat more than Microsoft did over something as trivial as copying a file.) If you find Windows makes sense to you, grand. But I offer that the usual argument that PCs are better because they're cheaper is as delusional as anything you've said Mac users carry.

One thing: I got a notification that Sally A had commented on this but not that you had. I have no idea why this would be but sorry if this has been sitting here for days with my apparently ignoring you.


William Gallagher said...

Sally A,

Hello. You find your Mac quieter than a PC? It's been years since I used a PC outside a noisy office so I hadn't noticed that at all.

Well, I've heard the odd thump when I drag a file from one window to another and XP just closes both folders but I feel that was a head-on-desk kind of noise.


韋于倫成 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lozzie Cap said...

I'm not able to enter into the debate in any truly meaningful way other than to say a heart-felt "Thank You!" for being one of those who introduced me to my MacBook earlier this year. I can only say without hesitation that, for me, it offers a style of computing that works well with my particular sort of brain. If Winnie The Pooh had had a Mac, just think of what he might have achieved.

Phill Barron said...

Interesting, I didn't get notified about your reply either.

The iPad crippled by lack of flash - I don't believe anyone who buys it will care. No one cares the iPhone can't do flash (despite initially being advertised as the only mobile device which could browse ALL of the web) so why should the same people care about flash on a slightly bigger iPhone?

As for better alternatives to the iPad - I'd find that a very difficult argument to propose since I've no idea what the iPad is for. I'm one of those people who can't see the potential. Maybe in a year or so it will become obvious but right now ... what is the point? I always have either my phone or my laptop on me - why would I want a third device which does significantly less than either? I know people who want one for specific, good reasons - but they're reasons which don't apply to me so ... just don't get it.

But then, I don't get people who carry a phone, an mp3 player and a camera around when their phone does all three.

By the way, the advertising of Windows 7 is a complete travesty and seems specifically designed to stop anyone buying it. They've actually started claiming they've just invented things Windows has had for years - it's really bizarre. And shit.

My whole dislike of Apple isn't based on a love for PCs or Windows (which are two seperate things) - I don't think either are better than Apple products. I just stand by the belief that Apple products break down/do stupid things/can't do things they should be able to in much the same way as every other piece of technology in the world - yet their owners still claim they work perfectly.

It's the belief in the brand in the face of their own personal experiences which allows me to think of Apple as a religion.

William Gallagher said...

>>It's the belief in the brand in the face of their own personal experiences which allows me to think of Apple as a religion.

I'd have to agree with that.

This business of what an iPad is for interests me a lot: I've been struggling to write a blog about it. Not because of the iPad but because of how it feels to me like there are parallels in drama and how drama is received. I can't think of examples, this is why I'm struggling, but I see certain TV critics approaching a new series in one way, then later another. That ought to be fine except that oftentimes I see them criticising a show primarily because it's not like any drama they've seen before. I would think that was a good thing, and these same critics bemoan the lack of originality on TV, so it makes me mutter.

Much worse, you can often see a critic start writing more positive things and even claiming they've always liked something, when the ratings turn out to be good. Changing your mind, fine. Rewriting history because your readers aren't agreeing, not so priceless as all that.

You're wondering where the iPad comes in. One of the first criticisms I heard of it was that it won't fit in your pocket. Neither will my car.

The iPad is creating its own niche, I think. Do you know of Aperture? It's a photo organising kinda thing. Like a bionic iPhoto. Before it launched, everyone assumed Aperture was meant to be a Photoshop rival. They had all the facts, many of them actually had the software to try, but still that was it: this is out to kill Photoshop and it cannot succeed. Therefore it is a worthless product.

Now nobody thinks that and Aperture's doing well enough on its own turf that Photoshop makers Adobe have brought out a similar product called Lightroom.

I think Apple is leaning on this reputation it has for good products more than it is currently able to explain what an iPad is for. Steve Jobs seemed a little apologetic at the launch, effectively repeating that trust me, it's great when you hold one.

It's actually true, it is. I used one a month or two ago and that's what really sold me on it.

If I can have a go at what I'll use it for after just a day with it, I'd say it's more a relaxing kind of thing. I tend to use my MacBook and my iPhone for work at least as much as anything else but last night I had my feet up watching documentaries on it, idly skipping through books. Trying not to keep buying apps.

Oh! That's a thought. This business of flash and video. The iPad for me is a video device: that's what I probably spent most of the time with it yesterday. Didn't once see a Flash issue anywhere.

You know the guy I said claimed iPad was crippled without Flash? He also said there wasn't much you could do with iPads because there was just so little video out there. How have I got more than I can watch when he hasn't?

Why was he being paid to tell me these things?

Why didn't I raise my hand?

Well, that last is because the fella next to me had an iPad and was showing me some apps.