As operating systems like Windows, Mac, and Linux have all matured, the differences are getting smaller, so small that your choice can often boil down to simple personal preference.
The Mac versus PC battle is almost a tradition.
But at the risk of pissing off both sides, I will profess that it’s also becoming pointless.
My laptop is a MacBook Air mid-2012 model and buying it led me to think about platform wars, religion, choices, taste, and what’s really changed over the years.
The reason I bought a Mac might not be the reason you think.
It was about the software.
I’ve been planning to buy a laptop for a while. My 2011 27” iMac was just too big to travel with. I was planning a trip overseas and felt I still needed a PC of some description. I have an iPad with a keyboard and an iPhone but those devices just don’t cut it when called on to do desktop publishing or graphic design work. I needed something small and light.
But why a Mac?
Simple, there’s a software package that I use. It’s available only on Macs.
I bought a Mac so I could continue using this app.
I looked around at various models and decided against the MacBook and the Pro series from Apple, I needed to stay in Apple’s camp because the publishing app I use is Mac only.
Regardless of which model I bought, I stuck to Apple because of this. Had a Windows version of the app been released when I travelled I might have bought a Windows-based machine.
What may be more important about my decision is what did not drive it.
I’m not some kind of “Mac convert”. This isn’t my first Mac – I’ve had one for several years and before that, I had a Hackintosh (a windows machine running a hacked version of OS X Snow Leopard). I also regularly use systems running Linux, and, of course, Windows.
I’ll continue to use all three – and whatever else pops up in the future.
My personal reason for picking a Mac is something of a counterexample to one of the reasons why I think platform choice is becoming pointless.
There’s good software to do anything you want on any platform, especially if all you really care about is the basics.
In many cases, it’s the exact same software. On my Mac, I’ll be running Chrome, Dropbox, Office, and a few other applications that I already run on PC’s – versions are available for both platforms.
In many cases, there are perfectly acceptable equivalents.
For basic computer use, there’s very little to point you to one platform over another. Email, web browsing, creating documents, and media management can all be done, and done well, on any of the three primary platform choices.
That ubiquitous cloud
The largest new contributing factor to the increased irrelevancy of platform choice is the cloud.
Anything you do on the web can be done from any computer. Use Yahoo Mail, Outlook Online or Gmail? What operating system you use doesn’t matter in the least. Facebook? Twitter? The same. Using online collaboration tools like Google Docs (now Google Drive)? Share photos on Flickr, Instagram, or elsewhere online? Once again, those online services are all designed to be platform agnostic.
Use what you like, PC, Mac, or Linux. Or even Android or iOS, as much of what we do “in the cloud” these days is influenced by the incredible growth of mobile devices.
Back it all up, of course, in some way that makes sense for whatever system you do use, but use whatever system you like to access the cloud.
Security is important, but a red herring
For many years, the operating system arguments all centred on security and the relative quality merits of each platform’s software.
That argument is losing its relevancy.
As many Mac owners have come to realize in recent months, their systems are not immune to malware, and they are less prepared to handle it when it happens.
The malware itself is moving to components which are more platform agnostic. Phishing attempts and email hacks don’t care what platform you’re running – in fact, whatever your computer is running might not even be involved.
Without a doubt, Windows stays the largest target for malware, but regardless of the reasons for that, it also has a very mature ecosystem of anti-malware tools, technology, and related help.
All the major operating systems are also constantly being updated. Windows, Mac OS, and most Linux distributions are all recipients of software updates – typically security-related.
The fact that it often is a good thing. It means that the makers of the operating systems are quick in resolving problems that come to the surface.
Taste and personal preference
The single largest factor in deciding what platform to use these days is the comfort, familiarity, and personal preference.
That’s not to say that there aren’t other factors at play – like a game or software package available on only one platform, or a piece of hardware that you need to use that is itself platform-specific either in terms of hardware or software – but the largest contributing factor boils down to what you like and feel the most comfortable with.
A friend recently told me that he absolutely couldn’t stand many of the ways that MacOS does certain things in its user interface. A long-time Windows user, he’s off to try a Linux distribution.
But those kind of gut reactions are really nothing new, and not even limited to cross-platform comparisons – many users of Windows XP feel the same way about Windows 7 – and are grumbling about changes in Windows 8.1 and 10
Personal taste matters. In fact, it may matter more now than it ever has, if only because we’re living in a world of technology options that often lets us choose what system we’d rather work with.
To many people, the MacOS interface feels supremely intuitive. To others, it doesn’t.
There is, of course, one catch 22 for many people that I’ll simply call “business standards”. Even if you’re a one-person operation, quite often you need to have all your computers be the same operating system; this influences investment not only in knowledge, but in software, hardware, ease of interoperability, and more.
If you show up to work and that business only uses Windows, then your ability to choose something else may be restricted.
With so many options available, one thing that it can pay to do is to be flexible.
If a Windows or Linux or a Mac might do, then being flexible and willing to work in any environment means you have greater choice.
Whether it is saving money by using free and open source software only, or going for the latest, best looking, and most powerful machine released by your favourite computer manufacturer or buying a machine because you want to run specific package – the more flexible you are, the more options you’ll have available to you.
A computer is nothing more than a tool – a tool that you can master.