Everyone around me seems to be using a Mac. Some of my friends switched and are now die-hard Apple fanboys. But do Macs really never get viruses, never crash, always work beautifully, better for multimedia, and are they worth the premium? Do you even NEED a Mac to experience Mac OS?
Some of the things people say about Macs are downright wrong; others have truth to them but are exaggerations. Still others are completely true. Some of them are facts, others opinions.
"PC" means "personal computer" (as opposed to a server, mainframe, or embedded system, for example). Since a Mac is a personal computer, it is by definition a type of PC. However, the common usage of "PC" versus "Mac" defines the term "PC" as "a personal computer that runs Windows." Thus, when I use the term "PC" in this article, I am referring to a Windows-based PC.
Macs are better for multimedia?
This is a very common myth. Probably THE most common myth, seconded by the virus/stability myths.
Define "better." Does it mean "more intuitive and simpler to use"? Then a Mac, out of the box, will win. iMovie is superior to Windows Movie Maker. However, iMovie is by no means a professional application – do you honestly think that Avatar or Saw or The Matrix were made on a Mac? Nope. Professionals will use Sony Vegas or Adobe Premiere (or a host of other video editing applications) – and guess what? Sony Vegas is a Windows-only application. Adobe Premiere is available for both Mac and Windows, but that makes absolutely no difference in the PC vs. Mac debate.
Same goes with audio. Garage Band is a great, easy-to-use, intuitive program, but it lacks features used by professionals. Perhaps the bigger issue though is hardware – a Mac does not support nearly as much hardware, including sound cards, DACs, TV tuners, capture cards, and other devices often used for multimedia. Sure, DV capture over 1394 works, as do USB or 1394-interface DACs... but wait, why don't some Macs even have IEEE 1394 (Firewire) ports?
Macs never crash and never get viruses... come on.
There are far more Windows users than Mac users. Thus, virus writers will try to target nearly 90% of the market (Windows), as opposed to about 8% (Mac). Viruses HAVE been reported for Macs. Conversely, PCs don't always get infected by viruses either. I am a careful user and have gone without a virus scanner for over 3 months at a time... and never in my 5 years of using PCs have I gotten any real virus infection.
As far as stability goes... yes, the hallmark Blue Screen Of Death on Windows-based systems pops up more often, on average, than a kernel panic message on a Mac, but this is almost always caused by a 3rd-party driver. If you say that PCs are inherently less stable due to operating system design flaws, that's the equivalent of saying that a Boeing 747's design is inherently flawed if someone brings a bomb aboard.
Hardware expandability and choice
A Mac provides a better out of the box experience... everything works perfectly. Yes, that's a good thing per se. But is it a good thing in retrospect, considering that you are stuck with what limited hardware Apple provides and certifies?
No, and I repeat, no: it is not a good thing. With a PC, I am able to add or replace whichever hardware I want. I have a large selection of motherboards, video cards, sound cards, processors, and even things like webcams at my disposal. Heck, I can even build my own PC from the ground up. I can upgrade to the latest and fastest video card the day it comes out, instead of waiting the better part of the year for a Mac-ready version to be released (and there's usually only one to choose from, and it costs more than the PC counterpart).
Form factor and build quality
This is one reason that people buy Macs – they look good, are well-built, or have a unique form factor. However, "look good" is subjective and is entirely a matter of personal preference. Cheap PCs often have poor build quality, but that doesn't mean that well-built PCs don't exist – check out the Lenovo ThinkPad and Panasonic Toughbook (which is mil-spec by the way), to name a few. The iMac sports a unique form factor, but it's definitely not for everybody. So in short, PCs offer a much wider selection of exteriors, and if you go the desktop route, you can choose your case separately from the internal components.
The Operating System
The main reason that people buy a Mac. They want Mac OS X. I have used Mac OS X, and have been impressed with some things and disappointed with others. Some of its ups are its point-and-click simplicity and its UNIX-like core; its downs are its point-and-click simplicity being too dumbed-down, and probably its lack of support for the many Windows-only programs out there. I can say that although I like it, I prefer Windows.
Read that last sentence again. I said that I prefer Windows. The guy living down the street prefers Mac OS. This is entirely subjective. It's entirely a matter of personal preference. There is nothing inherently better about either operating system.
Do you need a Mac to run Mac OS?
No. My Lenovo ThinkPad – dubbed the "Hackbook Pro" – runs Mac OS X Leopard quite well, with the exception of its lack of support for my wireless card. But is that Intel's fault for not providing a Mac driver for their PRO Wireless chip, or Apple's fault for not allowing Intel to develop such a driver? You tell me.
Can you run Windows on a Mac?
Yes. The only caveat is that modern Macs use EFI-based firmware while PCs use BIOS-based firmware. Thus, you will need a BIOS compatibility layer – Apple provides this, and it's called "Boot Camp". Thus, if you are worried that Mac OS may not be for you but you really like that shiny MacBook Pro, don't worry.
Price vs. Performance
Macs are more expensive. But are they worth it? A "cheap" white Macbook with 4GB of 1066MHz of DDR3, a 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo processor, and 320GB hard drive costs $1,149. A similarly-specced HP laptop (13-inch schreen, same RAM, same CPU, and a 320GB HDD) costs only $864. That's a $285 difference... which will buy you an 8GB iPod touch and a few accessories in addition to that HP laptop.
Whether the price is justifiable depends on your own personal preferences. Is an aluminum unibody worth several hundred dollars to you?
Who are Macs good for?
The beauty of a Mac is its simplicity and the "it just works" paradigm it is based on. I've found that most intelligent Mac users are people who are not computer enthusiasts but have some computer literacy. They're the people who enjoy a simple and easy way of making movies, managing photos and music, typing up documents, and browsing the web. Graphic designers and people who work with multimedia often opt for Macs because of their high-quality displays, and probably because of their preference for the Mac user interface, although a PC with the right set of hardware will do just as well. Some of the worst Mac users I've seen are the people who buy Macs and then lose all sense of logic and make themselves believe that their Mac will someday save the world.
Who are PCs good for?
The beauty of a PC is its expandability and the many choices you get, both hardware-wise and software-wise, for a wide variety of uses and budgets. PCs are good for people who want freedom of choice when it comes to hardware, tech enthusiasts who enjoy building their own systems, and at the opposite end of the scale, people who are budget-conscious and want to spend as little as possible on their system. However, people who don't work with computers much may find a Mac's "it just works" design to be a plus.
So when you ask yourself "should I buy a Mac", keep these things in mind. In the long run, it's purely a matter of your personal tastes in hardware and user interface design, the programs you need to run, and the hardware you need for whatever it is you are buying the computer for. A Mac is not inherently superior to a PC, nor is it inherently inferior. In short: Macs don't suck, but they don't blow PCs out of the water either.
Will I be buying a Mac? No, my current desktop and laptop suit me just fine, and my "Hackbook" will run Mac-only software should I ever have the need to.