Wednesday, March 21, 2007

(Two) Reasons Why You (Might Want to) Buy a Mac

The Register, a prominent British IT tabloid, has graced us today with an opinion piece listing ten reasons to buy a Mac. I read it with great attention, as I have so far singularly failed to be convinced by the hot new toy. I don't even have an iPod. On the other hand, I'm a fairly experienced PC user. I've installed countless machines from zero, replaced bits of hardware, etc. I also like to think I have a fairly good bullshit detector. The Register article set that one off.

So, in typical blog style, a response.

1. The MacBooks have aluminium cases, so they can take a fall and keep going.

This is not a reason to buy a Mac instead of a PC. This is a reason to buy a laptop with a full metal frame & case instead of one made predominantly of plastic. I've never dropped my Dell so far, but I've done bad things to my MP3 players, and I agree that an expensive gadget benefits greatly from a full metal jacket. There are PC laptops with metal cases.

Anyway, if you drop a laptop, you are very likely to fuck up its innards, in which case the sturdyness of the case becomes academic. You'll easily kill a hard drive or the screen panel, even in a MacBook.

2. Macs have those cool commercials which make them look better than PCs.

If you're a hipster with a trust fund - maybe. If you're an actual human being... Try telling a girl at a party that you have the computer advertised in that really awesome commercial, and see where that takes you.

3. You can hook up two Macs with a single cable, over FireWire, and the hard drive of one will be fully visible an external drive on the other.

This is, actually, awesome. It's something I'd quite like to have on my computer. Only works with two Macs though, so it won't help if you're moving stuff from your old PC to the new Apple machine, or if you want to pull something off of a friend's PC laptop.

4. It comes with drivers for a lot of smartphones and a syncing utility, built-in. And there is a third-party tool (at an extra cost) which makes the Mac talk to PDAs and Windows Mobile devices.

This is the consequence of a dire shortage of drivers for OS X. Whereas with a PC, all the software you need - drivers and utilities - come on a CD at the bottom of your smartphone's box. Proprietary syncing packages often suck, but vastly superior enthusiast-driven Open Source alternatives are only a short google away.

So the argument comes down to "the Mac can do what your PC can, and almost as well!".

5. The Mac is now based on x86 architecture, so it can use common components. This makes it cheaper than earlier, PowerPC-based Macs. Plus there are software tools that allow game developers to add support for Macs to their games.
  • iMac with a Core 2 Duo 1.83Ghz, 512mb RAM, 160gb hard drive and a 17-inch LCD: 15,990 EEK (1021 Euro).
  • PC with a Core 2 Duo 1.83 Ghz, 1gb RAM, 250gb hard drive, low-end 256mb video card, plus a 17-inch LCD, plus Vista Home Premium: 14,135 EEK (903 Euro).
Local prices, and the cheapest off-the-shelf Core 2 Duo box I found in a cursory look. The PC is cheaper and technically superior. The fact that the Mac is not as expensive as it used to be is not really a reason to switch.

As for games, the ease of creating ports doesn't even enter into it: even if Half-Life 2 comes to OS X, without mainstream and high-end dedicated video acceleration hardware the Mac will not be a viable gaming platform. To get any sort of video card at all in an iMac, you need to spend preposterous amounts of money.

6. The Mac comes with a lot of bundled applications for manipulating media.

So does Vista. What Vista can't do, or can't do well, you can find an Open Source package for.

7. Mac laptops go to sleep and wake near-instantly.

Excellent. Wish my Dell's XP Pro could do that.

8. Vista may be pretty, but OS X has been this pretty for ages.

Uh-huh. But Vista is pretty now. Why should I switch away from all the software and practices I'm used to?

9. You can run Windows on a Mac. Well, unless the Windows license agreement says you can't.

So what - I'm paying 50% extra for inferior hardware, then have to pay more for dual boot software, then have to pay for a Windows license, and I'm still doing software piracy? For what - a fancy case mod?

If you're not too squeamish about license agreements, you definitely want a PC: thanks to torrents and copy-protection cracks, every bit of software you've ever wanted (Vista Ultimate, Office Pro, the latest Photoshop with all the extras, all the new games...) are out there, for free.

10. You'll feel smug, having bought a Mac. You can't feel smug for buying a PC, whatever it is.

Quite on the contrary, I felt very smug indeed, having bought a gaming rig based around a hundred-Euro Opteron 144, which has run at 3Ghz for a year now, and is as fast as any single-core CPU out there. If you want to feel smug about overpaying for a slow computer that isn't compatible with 90% of the machines out there, so be it.

But I'm sorry, mr. Tony Smith, I'm not convinced.


Anonymous said...

As a Mac user I disagree with you. You definitely have not ever tried out Mac seriously, because otherwise you wouldn't write like that. If you give Mac a try, you find out the most basic reason you want to have a Mac - it is so easy to use! No installation hassle, no virus problems, no stupid hunting for drivers or stuff, no problems with computer speed or crashing etc etc etc. Just pure plug'n'play.

And the "If you're not too squeamish about license ..." part. Have you ever heard about Serial Box? No? Sad! And it means it is all out there for Mac too. You just haven't really looked into it.

antyx said...

the most basic reason you want to have a Mac - it is so easy to use!

If it's easy to use, then why couldn't I sit down at a Mac and understand how everything works at a glance? The difference between XP and OS X is one of conventions, not any significant practical usability. For a person switching over from Windows, OS X makes no intuitive sense, and for a person sitting down at a computer for the first time, it hardly matters which conventions to learn.

No installation hassle

Yeah, because there's nothing to install. For periphery, you'll either have devices that hook up over the standard USB external media protocol - which XP handles natively - or they need firmware anyway (can you upload music to your iPod from a Mac without iTunes?).

no virus problems

Admittedly, but I don't see this as a worthwhile payoff for an expensive, slow machine that I can't play S.T.A.L.K.E.R. on.

no stupid hunting for drivers or stuff

Last time this was a problem was Windows 98. The only time I went looking for drivers was when I was installing XP on a fresh machine and I wanted the custom performance-enhanced video card drivers. This is not an issue on a Mac because a) it doesn't have a video card, b) it doesn't have performance.

no problems with computer speed

Yeah, there is none. Like I said, I tried a G5 iMac and it was woefully slow. Are you telling me that an x86 iMac will run OS X faster than a similarly priced Dell will run XP? Somehow I doubt that.

or crashing

When was the last time you saw XP crash?

And it means it is all out there for Mac too.

Suppose so, but there are two issues here. One - you can't share what the developers haven't written, so I don't expect you can download and run Dark Messiah on your Mac. Two - peer-to-peer is heavily dependant on installed base, and the Mac's installed base is still tiny. I guess this isn't all that much of a problem if you're just downloading Solitaire for Mac or whatever...


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