The Intersection

I need a new computer.

So readers, Mac or PC?

The thing is Mac users sometimes scare me just a little… Really. It’s as if they’ve been converted to the Church of Macintosh. Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon? Now admittedly, my dad is a Mac user and mom’s set on her PC, so it’s possible that’s why I’m now at this crossroads questioning my faith over at Correlations

Mac users generally strike me akin to missionaries. I’ve recently dubbed them the ‘Cult of Apple‘. Why? Well, it’s not enough that they love the camera, the screen, the bubbly icons at the bottom of their desktop that pop up when scrolled over…but what troubles me most is that after a glorified demonstration – they’re convinced I too must love-borderline-worship ‘M-c‘. And if I don’t, they’ll make darn sure I’m converted before I leave. I’ve actually had to fake it one or two times just so I could go.

Which brings me back to the original question for readers… Mac or PC? And further, if I commit to Mac, will I too be Saved? Do I need to be? Will I become a Mac fundamentalist scorning the others at staff meetings? Will I begin to preach the gospel of Apple? I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of responsibility…

Read the full post on making this big life decision here

Basically, I’m looking for a lightweight, reliable, and compact laptop to, you know, use mainly for composing a blog, articles, and occasionally revisit a few years of sea cucumber data. Simple right?

So I encourage readers to share insight and advice in the comments. Let’s just keep it civil remembering to be tolerant of those wired from all faiths…


  1. #1 Skip Evans
    December 18, 2007

    As a Linux/Unix user I can appreciate Mac’s big move in the OS wars to base their OS X on FreeBSD Unix, one of the most stable and reliable operating systems in the world. That’s a huge plus.

    No viruses!!!

    We have one here in the office for testing Safari apps, so I’m a little familiar with the desktop, which, as a *nix user, I find too eye-candy-ish, much like Windows.

    Given a choice if I had to give up Linux, though, I’d take the Mac over Windows any day.

  2. #2 Jason Failes
    December 18, 2007

    I just got a Mac a year ago, and one thing I can say about it: It’s easy.

    Many computer programmers and others in the IT industry like their PCs, because they are infinitely customizable and they know how to protect and maintain them. If you are a computer expert, stick with PC.

    But, if you just want to use your computer, rather than learn to take care of it like some kind of virtual pet, get a Mac.

    Other than that, they are pretty much equal, with Mac pulling a little ahead with more graphical applications.

  3. #3 Ethan
    December 18, 2007

    Windows is not particularly stable and is a baroque operating system. It makes a handy target for viruses, which is a pain and occasionally a disaster. The only good reason for using it is that so many other people do. This means that commercial software is designed first for windows. In short, you can talk to everyone and share their problems.

    That said, I know very few scientists who use it regularly.

    I think the real choice is between Linux on a PC or a Mac. I use a Mac because I thought that Linux would require too much of my time, fiddling around with things to make sure that they were compatible and would work properly. I think others would argue that that’s not really the case. On the other hand, having bought a Mac, I’ve always been happy.

    And I’m not religious about it, but I know what you mean.

  4. #4 J. J. Ramsey
    December 18, 2007

    Probably the best thing about a Mac laptop would be the software. OS X is pretty nice, and I can switch-hit between a decent GUI and a command line that is much better integrated into the system than, say, Cygwin is integrated into Windows. That said, I remember looking for info on Macbooks and discovering nasty problems like random shutdown syndrome. AFAIK, these problems were in the first generation of Macbooks and ironed out in later generations, but that is one reason why I still have a Thinkpad rather than a Macbook. (That didn’t stop me from trying to sell my Thinkpad to pay for a later generation Macbook, but that’s another story. Hey, like I said, the software for the Mac is pretty good.)

  5. #5 SomeBeans
    December 18, 2007

    Platform isn’t really the point – it’s what you do with it. PC or Mac or Linux looks pretty close to a religious argument to me…

  6. #6 Julie
    December 18, 2007

    I’m a PC user in a Mac lab. The only reason I still get to use a PC is because upon committing to the lab, there was a lack of funding, so they decided to use me to set the rule that all new incoming Ph.D. students were required to provide their own computer, and I already had my PC laptop.
    As someone surrounded by Macs, this is what I have learned:
    PCs have more little annoying day-to-day problems. I’ve been using a PC long enough that I know how to fix them on my own, and they create no bigger problems. My computer gives me a warning when there is about to be an issue — if I’ve loaded so many images on it that the harddrive is full, it slows down drastically as a reminder to backup everything and create more free space. I, personally, appreciate this little warning ahead of time. The Macs in the lab work perfectly with no little glitches until one day they up and die. No problems, no warning, just shut themselves off and will not turn back on.
    It’s a personal decision, but I’d rather take the easily fixable day-to-day problems and a computer that continues to function day in and day out than one that runs perfectly and then calls it quits, eating all my data.
    At one point I considered getting a Mac, but after actually having to work with them… no way. I’ll be sticking with my trusty PC.

  7. #7 chezjake
    December 18, 2007

    I’m a veteran Mac user at home, but have also used PCs at work for years. I don’t consider myself at all religious about Mac, just a practical realist.

    Yes, the Mac is easy to learn and use. They basically don’t crash unless you are short on memory.
    Macs just plain don’t get viruses.
    I’ve had a couple minor hardware problems over better than 20 years with Mac — two power supplies and one motherboard that needed replacing (all under the Applecare warranty), but I’ve *never* had a Mac hard drive crash — never lost more than a few minutes work in an OS or application crash.

    I simply think that it is practical to pay a bit more for a Mac in exchange for the lack of the hassles and frustrations of Windows and of PC hardware.

  8. #8 Paddy McCluskey
    December 18, 2007

    Oh, YOU’VE recently dubbed them the cult of mac. I’ve got news for you sonny. Windoze fans have been throwing that phrase around for quite a few years now. Macs, like any good product, create enthusiasm in their users. Unlike the vast majority of pee cee users, Mac users have been on the other side, and know that the Mac OS is superior in every way, and want to share that information. It’s not an in your face, “mine is better than yours”, rather it’s “this is better than what you’re using, you’ve gotta try it”.

  9. #9 caerbannog
    December 18, 2007

    Just installed Ubuntu Linux on an HP laptop. Everything worked (almost) perfectly; ended up with a nice dual-boot Linux/Vista box. The installation would have passed the “12-pack” test — you could have downed a 12-pack of beer and still not screwed the installation up.

    Would I recommend Linux to everyone else? Well, “almost”.

    In terms of ease of use, configuration, etc… Ubuntu is 99 percent of the way there. But it’s that last 1 percent that could be a show-stopper for most folks. The one problem I had (easily fixed by editing an initialization script) involved getting the wireless card to wake up after a suspend/resume. Easily fixed by this old Unix user — but someone new to Unix/Linux would have been tearing his/her hair out.

    I’d recommend Linux in a heartbeat if you’ve got some tech-support handy (friends/family who are tech-savvy). Otherwise, stick to what you are most comfortable/familiar with (Mac/Windows/whatever)…

    Or try Linux on an old “throwaway” machine — if it doesn’t work out, then “no harm, no foul”. (Linux with all the fancy 3D desktop effects worked great on my old Dell laptop with 512K memory before the laptop up and died).

  10. #10 decrepitoldfool
    December 18, 2007

    I find the bubbly colorful interface annoying but after years of working in PC support, and experimenting with Vista, on balance I’ve begun recommending Macs. PC has gotten worse while Mac has gotten substantially better especially after the switch to a *nix base.

    Of course if you use any specialized software make sure it’s available on Mac, or that you can run it in Parallels. And no matter what platform you run, back up your data at regular intervals. Everything dies.

    If you’re a bit geeky, run Linux on a Lenovo. 🙂

  11. #11 dczar
    December 18, 2007

    The “Cult of Apple” should really be the “Cult of Mac” I suppose, but lets consider the history. That “Cult” arose for several reasons. The Mac just “gets out of the way” and thus users are passionate about their “tools” much like the finish carpenter who has a special low-angle block plane, chisels or other tool that works in a special manner to their productivity.

    Second,nearly since it’s birth in 1984, the Macintosh has been pounded on by Windows users and IT folks with a mix of FUD, marginilization, misinformation, and just plain vehement criticizm which of course, leads to a defensive attitude on the part of Mac users.

    All Mac users want is freedom of choice to use what they find as the best tool for their work and not be dictated to by some IT dweeb, who’s interested in making work to keep his job. As one IT guy told me in his best russian accent when I asked why not use more Macs since he had said, “They just work”…. his reply was “No…more work is ok!” Get the picture?

    Lots of folks don’t realize that IT departmets don’t exist for the “user”, but exist for the “organization” which is a blend of the company + IT department. Learning the Mac is thought of as distasteful since most often Windows is what they know. Then they often fall back on stuff about the Mac from 1991 as factual in todays world.

    Then there’s the software issue, where it’s said “there’s no Mac software” since it isn’t on the shelf at Best Buy or Wally-Mart, when no corporation buys software from those places.

    And so it goes, thus creating the perceived cult.

    Of course, Windows folks trumpet their platform, put down others, and all that is ok, but they’re not a cult but the “Standard” which of course was created by the MS marketing juggernaught, which is also disavowed.

    And so it goes.

    It’s really about the freedom of choice to use what each user thinks is their best tool and not be dictated to by someone who doesn’t even use the software they dictate to users and mandate to users.

  12. #12 Eric Aitala
    December 18, 2007

    Having worked in various areas – particle physics, web development, and computer programming – I have never needed to use/own a PC. Macs for traditional desktop computing and Unix/Linux boxes for work.

    The current generation of Intel / Mac OS X machines are the idea combination of the two. They do everything I need without the hassle of swapping between machines.

    Throw in Boot Camp to run XP (I use the odd PC app and EA’s FIFA soccer games) natively and you are set.

    Two things to remember – do not buy additional RAM from Apple – get it from Crucial or Ramjet, max out the RAM and install it yourself (very easy). OS X runs best with more.

    Second, if you get a laptop or an iMac, get a big hard drive. They are a pain (if not impossible) to replace yourself. Mac Pros are a snap to upgrade.

    Eric Aitala

  13. #13 Moopheus
    December 18, 2007

    I’ve used macs at home for about a dozen years now, and I had an Apple II+ in 1979. I’ve had to use Windows at work like everyone else. On the whole, macs are more hassle free than PCs, not that macs are completely hassle or problem free; nothing is. The thing that I learned to hate even more than Windows itself is Office, which is kludgy and full of bugs, especially Word. It’s a really unreliable piece of shit that gets actually worse with each version. It’s no surprise to me at all that people are starting to get into some of the alternatives like OpenOffice.

  14. #14 Paul Greatbatch
    December 18, 2007

    Not religious, but definitely a believer. 🙂

    I prefer Macs over Windows machines because OS X stays out of my way when I want to work. Windows has never felt like an end user product to me with its file system, excessive alerts, and clunky interface.

    You can get the best of both worlds on one machine: Leopard, arguably the most modern OS around, and Windows, if you find a vital application that just doesn’t run on the Mac. I prefer Parallels over Boot Camp, mainly because I’m too lazy to reboot and I usually only go into Windows to keep with the latest weekly security updates.

    If you’re used to MS Office, I would suggest going with NeoOffice. Free and easy. Otherwise, go with iWork. At $79 it’s a bargain and opens you up more creatively than Office ever will.

    From your description, a mid-range MacBook would probably work very well. I would suggest adding iWork ’08 and the AppleCare policy to any purchase.

    Additional RAM is easy to install, but should never be purchased from Apple.

    Good luck!

  15. #15 etbnc
    December 18, 2007

    In our commodity-product consumer culture, many brand (dis)loyalty decisions seem to involve doing the opposite of one’s most recent bad experience.

    The commodity computer market seems to have reached an equilibrium state of low price and high annoyance. So this purchase decision tends to reflect one’s preference for the kind of annoyance one tolerates. Julie’s comment above is consistent with my observations. Chezjake has been fortunate, I think, to experience the happier side of the computer product quality curve.

    The observation that people sometimes exhibit behaviors consistent with religious faith in regard to topics other than supernatural beings seems worth thinking about further. I’ve seen that pattern of behavior repeated many times, about many topics, and I find it helpful to keep in mind as I experience the rhetoric of politics, the rhetoric of economics, and even the rhetoric of ScienceBlogs.

    Buy whatever annoys you least, and keep on noticing these things, keep on thinking about them, and keep on writing.


  16. #16 15 year mac cultist
    December 18, 2007

    Having gone zomby eyed in testifying to the unenlightened, I appreciate your predicament. If you go Mac, will you ever go back? Worse yet, will you zomby your friends?

    Pretty scary possibility here. But, if you’re courageous, bold, fearless, (and crazy) you might take a serious look at the Mac. BUT WAIT! There’s a good chance that something new and really worth culting for is about to arrive!

    Wait for the SteveNote this Jan14th.

    (The suspense is killing us.)

  17. #17 Mark F.
    December 18, 2007

    I’m a scientist and I and the rest of the lab save one person, work on PC’s. As others have said, PC’s can have a number of little annoying mishaps on occasion, but by and large, we have few problems with them. I’ve had to work on a Mac for a couple of years in another lab, and unfortunately, I got a lemon of a Mac. Our IT people tried multiple times to fix it but it kept crashing on me at least 5 times a day. Give me a PC anytime over a Mac.

  18. #18 Wow!
    December 18, 2007


    What are you doing in Science? You are gorgeous!

  19. #19 rev_matt_y
    December 18, 2007

    I posted a longer comment on the Wired Science blog, suffice it to say that you should try out the Mac and see if it would be a good fit.

    There is definitely a Cult of Mac phenomenon, but I can tell you as someone who primarily uses a Mac that there is just as much a Cult of Windows phenomenon (let’s not mention the Linux zealots).

  20. #20 Jason Failes
    December 18, 2007


    I’m glad that you got into science. I don’t know what “wow!”‘s issue is, but there is no contradiction between gorgeous and smart or gorgeous and professional.

    I myself ran into the male equivalent of this kind of either/or conceptualization: being 6’6” and 300lbs, a lot of people assumed I was a “meathead”, and didn’t take the time to get to know my inner nerd….

  21. #21 calculusdude16
    December 18, 2007

    I grew up a DOS/Windows user, and started using Linux in ’04. Linux in ’04 needed more esoteric tweaking to make things work right. (I’ll second caerbannog: even now, you want to be/become/befriend a Unix user to get started with Linux.) After that, though, it would *keep* working, without the frequent reboots and occasional reinstalls I endured under Windows, so I stuck with it. I’ve recommended it to friends, with the understanding that I would be the Unix user to help them get started.

    I got a MacBook a year ago, and it’s great. For non-experimental day-to-day stuff, I find OS X even easier to deal with than Linux. I still use Linux for research because it’s infinitely more tweakable. Windows feels like a flaky, temperamental toy in comparison to either, so I don’t use it anymore.

  22. #22 Jennifer Ouellette
    December 18, 2007

    I was a PC user for years until switching over around 2003. I love my Macs and other Apple gear, although I’m not fanatical about it. Basically, though, it’s true that the design is far superior, as is the user-friendliness — it’s as close to plug and play as it’s possible to get. Apple’s tech support is better, too — oh, not the telephone hotline, which gets you the same untrained folks stationed in Bombay or something who are just following a script. I mean the Genius Bars located at Apple stores around the country, where you can make an appointment and have a trained professional walk you through any problems you might be having.

    The downside? The price. You’re going to pay a lot more for Apple products. Is it worth it to you? That question is purely subjective. If all you’re looking for is something that functions for a relatively low price, and you’re used to a PC, then by all means stick with a PC. I, for one, would not just you harshly for it. 🙂

    P.S. I LOVE my iPhone! I resisted when they first came out, because I am NOT some mindless Apple sycophant who must have the latest device at all costs. But having resisted Blackberries, PDAs, and everything save a basic functioning cell phone all these years, the iPhone sucked me in….

  23. #23 Matthew Nelson
    December 18, 2007

    I use macs, windows and linux everyday. My favorite is a mac, but I like some things the others can do that the mac can’t (and the other way around). I have found, over the years, that the best way to answer a mac or pc question is with 2 questions. What do you want to do with it and do you have to use a pc program that will not run natively in a OSX environment? Gaming goes to the PC. Needing to use a windows only program goes to the PC (yes I know about running windows in OSX with programs but it a hassle, complicating a simple system). Anything else is Mac. Less hassles, works longer (the mac laptop I am writing this on is 5 years old running 10.5) , and is much more intuitive.

    As to the zeal of Mac users, I think it comes from the personalization of the machine. I name them (hard drive name on this one is “Rocketman”), and decorate them with my choice of backgrounds and icons. They are like a good dog, doing what they are supposed to and then getting out of the way until you want them. They are always glad to see you and if you do something wrong they tend to forget what you did and just keep on going.

  24. #24 Left_Wing_Fox
    December 18, 2007

    Again, long-time user of Macs and PCs. I use Macs at home for most of the reasons mentioned here: less technical issues, easier and more intuitive ways of fixing it when if DOES do strange, little fear of viruses (Although trojans are an issue). I use Windows at work and have no trouble suggesting it where necessary.

    It sounds like a MacBook will do well for you; It’s a good system with quality components, so you don’t have to worry about cut corner that you might get with the cheapest available PC laptops. If you’re willing to spend extra, the Sony Vaio ultra portables are also really impressive, although you’ll pay extra for the tiny size.

    As to the “Cult of Mac”, I think most of the Apple stereotypes come out of the 90’s, where Apple was promising big and delivering little, charging massive premiums on their equipment (even the gutless Performas), and using proprietary and expensive components. A lot of Apple customers were looking at massive investments in their computers going down the tubes, and became highly defensive and combative regarding their decisions.

    These days, now that Apple is once again thriving as a company, delivering good systems that are competitive with the competition most Mac users are pretty relaxed. Most of the zeal these days is of the “born again” variety. You know the type: People that can’t merely change their beliefs, they also feel the need to actively reject their past. =/

  25. #25 Emily
    December 18, 2007

    Horror of horrors – I’m a bi-platform girl. I find that the differences between the two are minimal when you get right down to it – both have good and bad points. Macs are likely to run high in the price range, while a comparable PC could be found a bit cheaper. On the other hand, the people at the Apple store are a lot nicer and actually take the time to walk you through various features, options, trade-offs, etc. – which you are less likely to find at a box store or online/phone with a PC distributor. Plus Macs are so darn cute! I guess that isn’t very helpful, except to say go with your heart, don’t let PC or Mac folks bully you into their platform.

  26. #26 SLC
    December 18, 2007
  27. #27 NMTucson
    December 18, 2007

    Will we ever have one of these discussions without somebody tossing in the pointless and divisive baloney about “IT shops not existing for the user”? Talk about “falling back on info from 1991”! I spent more than 20 years supporting users, and much of that involved anticipating their needs and knowing enough about the bleeding edge to have solutions ready when they asked for new stuff after reading about it in the newspaper. My shop used PCs almost exclusively because we could afford the hardware, had lots of choice for add-ons and upgrades, they readily networked, and we never encountered a requested software product that didn’t run on PC. Yes, I did consider the “organization” when making recommendations–does that mean I didn’t consider the user too? We’re all in this together, no?

    I did have one board member who requested a Mac for his home office “because they were so much easier”, who then called me literally once a month in a screaming rage because the thing “just stopped” or “won’t open any files” or “says it can’t find the modem” or…etc. As one poster said, Macs tend to “suffer in silence” until they simply die. We replace the hard drive twice on this particular unit, and as far as I know, it never fully recovered–fortunately the fellow resigned from the board and I just put the unit in our “black hole” storage. Oddly enough, nobody else asked to inherit it in place of their PC.

    I don’t say Macs don’t have great features. I don’t claim PCs are perfect. Frankly, I try to recognize that we have different contexts and different purposes and different skill levels and different budgets. I wouldn’t listen to anyone that claimed that ALL people should use Macs NOR would I listen to someone who claimed that ALL people should use PCs.

    It has a lot more to do with budget, purpose, context and personal style. I prefer rational evaluation and a little humility to emotional appeals and chauvinistic slurs.

    And, as many have noted here, it’s really not EITHER-OR, given the rise of the *nix boxes.

  28. #28 Rich
    December 18, 2007

    Macs have lots of nice software for writing articles, and for reading and writing weblogs. For the former, I tend to use TextMate, which is the best editor I’ve ever used. (There’s good support for LaTeX too, if you need to use that.) For reading weblogs there’s NetNewsWire and for writing them MarsEdit. There are many, many alternatives to suit all needs too. In fact, the world of Mac software feels much more diverse and innovative than the Windows world does.

    And then there’s Quicksilver, which is almost impossible to describe but clearly awesomely clever and useful.

  29. #29 meerasedai
    December 18, 2007

    Wow!: What is that supposed to mean? Because she’s pretty she shouldn’t be in science? What sort of comments do you have for the rest of us girls in science? Oh thank goodness I’m not pretty, its ok for me to be in science I suppose. Further, I don’t see what this comment has to do with purchasing a computer.

    Sheril: I’ve had a ton of experience with both macs and pcs and overall I prefer macs, especially for work. Here in our lab, we have a good mix, but whenever a new analysis tool shows up its easier and cleaner to implement it on our os x machines. Of course a lot of my work involves programming and this is easier done on a mac as well.

  30. #30 Jimny
    December 18, 2007

    If it’s just writing blogs, surfing the Net and reviewing some data, you could probably get by with “just” the Eee laptop (and it is a laptop, unlike the MacBook, which runs so hot you’ll need bionic laps to use it comfortably). Plus, it’s low power, which means energy-saving, which means saving the oceans, kind of.

    Then again, I am of the opinion that for most general, office productivity tasks and multimedia viewing (not creation), the chip world could have stopped at the 1GHz Celeron and most of these general users wouldn’t miss anything. My father is still happily trotting by on his 1.3GHz Celeron laptop, producing multimedia slideshows and such on his newest grandchild.

    Give it another couple of years and a mobile phone will be all you need to get by in the office.

  31. #31 6EQUJ5
    December 18, 2007

    Mac allows whole-disk encryption, which is a big plus for security, and the encryption is 128-bit AES. You can back up what you want to external, removable drives (like USB drives) with unencrypted disks, simply by creating a disk image (also with 128-bit AES encryption) of the size you need, putting your stuff in it, then ‘ejecting’ the virtual drive, leaving you with the encrypted disk image, which you then copy to your backup drive (and then delete from your Mac). (You can also make encrypted disk images to keep stuff protected on the Mac.)

    The Mac also allows very, very, very long pass phrases — I think up to 256 characters. You’ll want ones that you will always remember, and can enter error-free (because characters are all echoed only by the same dots).

  32. #32 Michael Fischer
    December 18, 2007

    The new negative spin on the “cult of mac” is a recent reversal of the old negative spin. Mac users used to be like American smokers – left out in the cold. Only two or three years ago “Cult of Mac” was a taunt to marginalise someone. It had little other basis in fact. For every loud mouth Mac users there are 19 loud mouth PC users. Or were. Most Mac users simply used, and hoped to keep their head down. They did learn a litany of nearly true things to use as arguments when their line managed tried to force them on to a PC, but otherwise were silent.

    Having created the “Cult of Mac” as a means of bullying people, it appears that PC people now resent their creation. They suspect Apple of some kind of marketing sleight of hand or public relations or a pact with the devil or something to have transcended from outcast to centre stage. This is terribly unfair, after all they follow the “standard” and the “standard” should be in centre stage. In any case I find it very strange that users of the vastly dominant computing platform that Windows is feel compelled to attack mac people in the shadows or the sunshine.

    The point of this is that the Cult of Mac is a straw creation – it is no more existent than the Cult of PC. Sure there are noisy Mac users – but if you count you will find that each of these can be countered by more PC users.

    All of that aside, you’ll live whatever you choose. I would recommend a Mac, largely because the Unix underpinnings are the fastest path to the latest scientific software, while at the same time let you do the easy stuff easily, and the stuff you don’t want to think about transparently. I think the time tax for using Windows is down from about 18 days a year 5 years ago to probably less than a week now. But a week is a week.

    Since the advent of the Intel Mac my linux/xp laptops and workstations collect more and more dust. Because I do a bit of hardware development that Parallels can’t handle, I do roll them out from time to time, but this is a rarer and rarer event. I only buy Sun servers now, not Sun workstations. I didn’t plan any of this, it has simply emerged out of the usual far more to do than I have time for crunch. When push comes to shove for everyday one-off tasks, they’re generally fastest to do with a combination of scripting and GUI. Once the scripting could be done on the same account as the GUI, that was that.

    They were pressured by pretty nearly everyone to abandon their preferred platform. They were forced off of them in the workplace. I had to invoke academic freedom to keep my mac teaching lab, a stretch for even me. And this was in the days of MSDOS.

    This was pretty inexplicable to Mac users. In those days every study demonstrated TCO was much higher in an institutional setting up to 7 times more for DOS installations, and 3 times for Windows 95/98. With Windows NT near parity was achieved, and with XP was achieved. Unless you factor in the resale value. Macs hold far more value upon resale than PCs – you save a bit on one end but lose more on the other, at least with name brand gear.

  33. #33 Gerard Harbison
    December 18, 2007

    If you’re going to keep writing things like ‘The Republican War on Science’, I recommend a PC. It’ll reduce your productivity.


  34. #34
    December 18, 2007

    My experience: I have only used Macs. For years, my PC owning friends have unending complaints: they can’t download attachments, can’t open photos, can’t install software, their PCs crash often, that they hate to use it, etc. This has not been my experience.

    I would be called in to do tech support for these folks even though I did not do Windows. I had a better handle on fixing the problems and machines because I knew how computers should “really work” from using my Mac. My friends were too jaded or intimidated to know what to expect or how to approach the problem.

    I managed to get a couple of them to switch to Macs. The complaining phone calls stopped. Apparently, the computers were better. Maybe not perfect — but an improvement.

    Mac Evangelism comes a lot from being marginalized. This group of marginalized people eventually realize they have a lot in common with each other. And these people also realize that their computing experience is at LEAST as good as Windows and usually much better. This group becomes an unofficial club with an unofficial desire to share their experiences. But very few people in the “outside world” seems to respect or acknowledge the experiences. . You feel frustrated — a bit like the goddess Cassandra who was given the gift of prescience but nobody believed her. Here is a discussion of Cassandra from Wikipedia:

    While Cassandra foresaw the fall and destruction of the city of Troy (she warned the Trojans about the Trojan Horse, the death of Agamemnon, and her own demise), she was unable to do anything to forestall these tragedies. Her family believed she was mad, and according to some versions, kept her locked up. In versions where she was incarcerated, this was typically portrayed as driving her truly insane, although in versions where she was not, she is usually viewed as remaining simply misunderstood.

  35. #35 Gerard Harbison
    December 18, 2007

    Oops, sorry, I didn’t notice the question was from Sheril, not Chris. Sorry Sheril!

  36. #36 Armchair Dissident
    December 18, 2007

    Jennifer Ouellette:The downside? The price

    Whilst I am loathe to disagree with an author whose book I own and enjoyed – I don’t think that’s really a downside to macs when you start comparing like-for-like. Whilst you can certainly buy PC laptops and desktops for less than a bottom-of-the-range Mac, the BOTR Mac is much higher specced than the cheapest PC’s. I would argue that when you compare a similarly-priced PC and Mac computers, the mac holds its own in the price/feature war.

    At lot of the problems with the “PC or Mac” question is that – with the introduction of BootCamp, and the adaptation of intel processors by Apple – that’s no longer the right question to be asking. It now simply comes down to how much money you’re prepared to spend. If you’re happy with a relatively low-specced machine, then why not buy a Dell? If, however, you want a high-end machine, why not buy the Mac? You can run XP (and Vista?), Linux and OSX, so you can run your Windows programs natively when you want to, but can still take advantage of Mac OSX when you want that: you simply don’t have to make the choice between the two operating systems. Buy a high-end PC, though, and you can only choose Windows (or Linux).

  37. #37 Don
    December 18, 2007

    I use a Mac because I find that it simply gets out of my way. Using a PC by day and a Mac by night has left me with an appreciation for Apple’s attention to detail in designing user interfaces, and a frustration with Window’s mediocrity and, well, stubbornness to work the way I think it should.

    My mother and my inlaws (none of whom are tech savvy) now have Macs and I rarely need to administer them. My inlaws had a PC previous to the Mac and I spent a fair amount of time at each visit just clearing malware and spyware off their machine; now I just upload some of our photos and maybe install some upgrades. The system is also very “discoverable”, so it is quite simple to figure out how to do something; this too has saved me many support calls!

    If you do any sort of content creation, the Mac is simply better *out of the box* than a PC is; the bundled iLife package really has some quality bits. Certainly there is better software that can be purchased separately on both platforms, but iPhoto is a wonderful photo organizer and simple editor that works with any digital camera. iMovie easy to use and makes decent-looking movies *quickly*, and GarageBand is totally fun to noodle in with a cheap midi keyboard (or an electric guitar, which I don’t have).

    The easiest way I can think to summarize my feeling of Mac vs. PC is that Macs get me to my end result quicker and with less frustration than a PC does, and I generally prefer the quality of the result. The Maclot mantra is “It Just Works.” Well, it doesn’t *always* just work, but it does so more often than my PC.

  38. #38 Icanseeinthedark
    December 18, 2007

    Ok Sheril, let’s just explore the ‘Church of Macintosh’ cult thing that you say scares you a little…really?
    Take any large group of people who use one type of product. Everyone has problems. Some have lots and lots of problems. This group(lots of problems) shout and scream and complain long and loudly to anyone who will listen and even force those that aren’t interested, to listen to a relentless tirade of user disillusionment about ‘stupid this..’ ‘stupid that…’etc etc. Among this group are a hardcore few who can, with skill and intelligence, force the difficult machines to bend to their will and work – most of the time. A whole industry springs up to disseminate this hard won knowledge and to make the lives of the poor users suffering lots of problems, easier and more stable. Said group is generally satisfied since they reassured that it’s not just them suffering… everybody suffers so the smart thing is to pay up and get on with life.
    There is within the large group of users, a small section who choose to do things differently. They pay a little more, their machines looks a bit different, they work in a slightly different way but accomplish the same tasks as the larger majority group and even do a few extra things not seen as particularly important to the majority group. They too suffer problems but the machines they use are not difficult to figure out so the user fixes it on his/her own. No outside help needed, no expensive support team needed, no paid-for extra intelligence needed. They even consider themselves more productive since so little time is spent fixing their machines tho’ in truth they probably just spend the liberated time enjoying themselves. They are content not to have so much time swallowed up solving simple, yes… really really simple things, that are of no concern whatsoever with their machines. After all, they just work; they don’t need to get down and dirty to solve…
    “incredibly simple things thankyou, so just shaddup will you or just get the same machine as mine, I don’t want to listen to your endless complaints which are pitiably trifling. I’ve told you the simple way round your troubles; if you choose to ignore this advice, go and bend somebody else’s ear. Believe me, I’m sympathetic but I can’t make your wrongs right – it’s your machines that are the problem, not you. ”
    The larger group is outraged, how dare they tell us it’s so simple when we know it’s not. How arrogant. Just look at them in their smug cult with superior attitudes. How dare they believe differently?… they must be dangerous!
    For most users it’s oh so true….**sigh**

  39. #39 Ian
    December 18, 2007

    Didn’t PZ go thru this dilemma just recently? Ask him what he got!

  40. #40 Richard
    December 18, 2007

    Macs vs. PCs, PCs vs. Macs. I’ve used both. Both work. Macs work better, but in a pinch a PC would do fine. It really does come down to ‘fit and finish’. Macs have a better fit and finish. They’re more forgiving. They’re just as powerful as PCs, but they’re simpler to use. If I had thousands of dollars invested in PC software, I’d probably stay on a PC. I do have thousands invested in Mac software, and that’s where I’m staying.

    As for the ‘Cult of the Mac’ stuff, here’s Apple’s secret: Build a better product, then sell it. When Macs aren’t better than PCs, and then-PCs superiority exceeds the value of the software, I’m gone. I made the same decision more than twenty years ago when I dumped my IBM PC for a Mac, and I can do it again.

    Not yet, though.

  41. #41 pete
    December 18, 2007

    sheril. you’re a beautiful marine biologist. why not let me buy you a Mac and Pc so you can decide, which works better? (wink).

    i think the bottom line is that macs have all the advantages save for: 1) gaming, 2) proprietary company or university applications, and 3) certain networking environments.

    as a rule macs are easier to use and more self-maintaining, beyond that, it’s a matter of mere personal taste…

  42. #42 SMC
    December 18, 2007

    “So readers, Mac or PC?”

    It doesn’t really matter – you can put Linux on either one…

  43. #43 rev_matt_y
    December 18, 2007

    Just a quick note on price: Apple computers are comparably priced with *comparable* computers from other vendors. You can certainly get a computer much cheaper than the macbook or iMac (or even the mini), but you won’t get the same quality of machine. For a Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc etc computer that has comparable configuration the difference in price will amount to maybe tens of dollars.

    Sure, you can build your own computer with just the parts you want for cheaper than a Mac. But do you want to?

  44. #44 David Miller
    December 18, 2007

    A lot more action over here than your mirror post at the Wired Science blog. Make sure to take pictures of your new MacBook when you buy it 😉

  45. #45 Epistaxis
    December 18, 2007

    If Windows is the Catholic Church, the cult of Mac is the Southern Baptist Convention.

    The former is governed without popular input by a central cloister of authorities who are stodgy and out of touch, cluttered with arcane and counterproductive traditions that survive only because no one has the power to revoke them. The latter seems younger and more vibrant, simplistic even, but still has a dogmatic leadership that likes to loudly remind members and nonmembers alike that there’s one right way to do things.

    GNU/Linux, of course, is atheism in this analogy.

    As for practical advice, the modern Mac OS and Ubuntu are very user-friendly and functional, and can both be found pre-installed on retail systems along with a full suite of software. So those are both good options if you’re not into the DIY mindset, and that’s that.

    There are some special cases. If you do like to tinker, get Linux. Also, if you really need to use a certain bit of software that doesn’t work outside of Windows – not even in an emulator – set up a dual boot with Windows XP (not Vista, especially not if your only rationale is compatibility). If you have ethical qualms about Apple’s cultlike activity (or just the offensively cutesy eye candy), consider Ubuntu, or perhaps even a more hardcore Linux distribution if you really know what you’re doing.

  46. #46 Alun
    December 18, 2007

    I moved from a PC to a Mac in August. There’s no single knock-out punch that the Mac has, it’s just a variety of little improvements. Spotlight is a much better way of searching a computer than Finder. The sleep function works on a Mac in the way that Microsoft says the Windows sleep function should. Click sleep and the computer is off. Flip up the lid and it’s back on. If it takes longer than 40 seconds to go from completely off to usable then it’s a slow boot, while my friends (cheap) Windows machines can take five minutes. Network has been a cinch.

    The downsides. While Macs don’t get viruses, as SLC points out above that doesn’t mean they’re free from security issues. The .mac system is apparently difficult to log out from from a public computer. Also, contrary to the adverts, it’s a work machine not a fun machine. iLife, with the exception of iPhoto is a waste of time. It’s not a games machine. Keynote in iWorks in contrast is far better than PowerPoint, but if you want to give presentations you’ll need to remember to get a MiniDVI to VGA adaptor. All this is no help if you’re somewhere that insists you use their PC with PowerPoint on it.

    It can be a pain with some websites. If you have a Windows machine you can get a really cheap digital subscription to NewScientist which you can download to the laptop. The Mac version in contrast only lets you read online – which is no good for my train journey into work. BBC iPlayer is much better with XP than a Mac, and other television stations in the UK don’t support Macs. I don’t know what the USA situation is.

    You can see some of the nice things Macs can do at Apple Quick Tip of the Week. Why this kind of info isn’t in the manual is another issue.

  47. #47 Hank Roberts
    December 18, 2007

    Just tell them you’re joining the new conservatives, on advice of the Wall Street Journal’s Mossberg.

    Then go to Rixstep and read real programmers about the Mac (and about the fanboys from Apple who they hear from when they point out Apple’s mistakes and problems).

    Good software there too. You _can_ learn the command line, and a whole lot of the pricey software is just a pretty shell wrapped around a few simple commands.

    I bought Rixstep’s then somewhat less big box of tools years ago. They keep improving it, I know how to use a tenth of it, but it teaches me, rather than doing things for me.

    They take the “before teaching him to fish, throw him a rope and pull him out of the deep water before he drowns” approach to clueless nonprogrammers like me — that, I like.

    These folks deconfabulate:

  48. #48 Brian X
    December 18, 2007

    Go for the Mac. The hardware is usually more solid, and the OS is branded UNIX, so much of the open-source software out there will work fine, at least the stuff that isn’t completely dependent on Linux or some other platform. Linux is an excellent choice for a lot of things as well — OpenOffice isn’t up to the MSOffice standard, never mind iWork, but it’s perfectly sufficient for most purposes.

  49. #49 Chris H.
    December 18, 2007

    Rumor has it that Apple will release an ultra-light laptop in February 2008, after Macworld in January. I was a long time PC user, a linux user, and when OSX came out, I switched to Mac and haven’t looked back. Macs are less capable than PCs (there is less software), but they are elegant and lack a lot of the craziness that one needs to deal with in the windows world.

    And whatever you do, don’t buy a mac until you’ve read the mac buyer’s guide:

  50. #50 Jon H
    December 18, 2007


    “Then go to Rixstep and read real programmers about the Mac (and about the fanboys from Apple who they hear from when they point out Apple’s mistakes and problems).”

    Oh dear god, Rixstep is a loon who thinks the main factor in whether software is good or not is whether the image files are a few bytes bigger than is absolutely necessary. His software has been roundly mocked for having bad user interfaces and offering little useful functionality. Stay far away.

  51. #51 Bob
    December 18, 2007

    Hi Sheril,

    I’ve only known a handful of marine biologists (UCSD), but they all have one common trait; they love what they do. They put up with grant proposals and department memos because that lets them stay on/in/under the water for another bit of time. No one becomes a marine biologist just to put bread on the table.

    I’ve been an Apple user since 1980 (before the Mac came out) and have used PCs over the years as well. Over this time I’ve developed the opinion that people should like what they do, whenever possible.

    Apply that philosophy to your computer purchase. You won’t find a computer or OS available today from any vendor that can’t do what you want it to. Anything will get you online, let you write, or use a spreadsheet. Try some of these things on different machines. Think about what you like to do with a computer. Check out the software available for doing those things? For instance, if you want to make videos of dives, check out the video editing software available and see which one you enjoy using.

    In terms of reliability, any system you become familiar with will seem more reliable than one you’re not familiar with. The posters above you had “daily annoyances” and performed daily maintenance liked their machines over the ones they were familiar with and did no maintenance and eventually “suddenly died”. This is true for cars and animals too; never change your oil or take care of your health and see what happens. ;o)

    For me, using Windows has always just been too much trouble. I’d hardly say that Macs are perfect, but it’s been easier for me to figure out how to do things (even things I’ve never tried before) and discovering new things has been a lot of fun on my Mac. I like fun.

    When considering the fact that Mac users have a reputation for being zealots, doesn’t that beg the question of WHY they like their computers so much? While posting questions like this on a blog is great for page view numbers, a better strategy is to ask people you know if they like their computers, and if they do, ask them why. If their reasons sound like things you’d like in a computer too, buy what they have. Odds are, you’ll make the choice that’s right for you, too.

  52. #52 Jon H
    December 18, 2007

    Eric wrote: “Second, if you get a laptop or an iMac, get a big hard drive. They are a pain (if not impossible) to replace yourself.”

    Actually, it’s easy to replace the hard drive in a MacBook. It’s located in the side of the battery compartment. Step-by-step instructions are available.

    On the MacBook Pro, you have to do major disassembly to get at the hard disk. I keep hoping Apple will adopt the MacBook’s drive placement in the ‘Pros, but they haven’t yet.

  53. #53 Jon H
    December 18, 2007

    Alun wrote: ” All this is no help if you’re somewhere that insists you use their PC with PowerPoint on it.”

    I expect you could save a Keynote presentation as PDF, and open that on the PC in Acrobat, and show it full-screen to do the presentation.

  54. #54 Greg Laden
    December 18, 2007

    I personally can’t use a Mac because I just don’t like the paradigm … the interface does not work with me. But it is a much much better system than Windows for all the reasons cited above. So, Mac would be a good choice.

    Linux is a better system then either, but again referring to the above (and our off-public discussion) a Linux computer is a better match to someone who wants to play a bit.

    But let me tell you about Duane and Betsy. Duane is a long-time windows user who got tired of his windows machine not doing certain things that Mac users were telling him, again and again, the Mac would do easily (this is video processing mainly). So he went ahead and got a nice Mac. It so did not work for him that he now uses the Mac as a TV and is back to windows.

    Betsy was my student. She had previously not ever owned a computer and used whatever was in the ocmputer labs. We got a grant for her to work in S.A., and she chose a mac ibook or something to collect her data. The fact that our digital calipers would not work on the mac (they worked on the PC) was a bit of a pain, but she went ahead with it. Again, the Mac was simply not her computer. SHe did not like the way it worked, the way the software responded, etc. etc. and she was fairly miserable with it in the end, regretting that she got it rather than a PC (on which I would have talked her into running Ubuntu, most likely).

    My point is this: A Mac, in my view, is a really nice piece of hardware and software (these days) but it is a very, very stylized computer. The user interface is modally very very strong. If it works for you it will be fantastic, if it does not it will drive you nuts. Thus my earlier semi-joking suggestion of renting a computer!

    Rending is probably not a great idea, but you should somehow borrow a mac and see if you like System X and the software you would be using, etc.

    The price difference between a PC and a Mac should not be an issue for you. If you get comparable hardware, the Mac is still probably a bit more expensive, but you get what you pay for generally.

    SO, in the end, I recommend Linux, but I know you won’t do that. IF the Mac fits, get it. If not, don’t get a Windows computer anyway. They are evil.

  55. #55 someguy5395
    December 18, 2007

    Oh no someone was enthusiastic about some product! They must have deep seated character flaws! Brilliant.

    Of course this kind of complete lack of integrity is expected of brand loyalists, after all if you can’t paint other brand loyalists as losers then how can you be a winner?

    My advice is: find a way to write a blog that enriches the readers rather than garnering hits with lowest common denominator drivel like this. If you are actually looking for a system, which frankly I doubt, buy the cheapest system that will get the most approval from your conformist anti-intellectual pals, after all anything else would betray your plebian group and cause hardship. Costco regularly sells $299 laptops that fit your needs.

  56. #56 John S. Wilkins
    December 18, 2007

    The religion metaphor generates more heat than light, but it is true to one extent: people either are baptised into one OS, or convert. The baptised simply do not get the need for anything else, while the converted are dogmatic and evangelistic.

    But there’s a better, and more explanatory, metaphor: ecology. PCs are the early colonisers of the IT world, and as such there is a substantial amount of “trophic” or food web relationships, with peripherals, software developers, trainers, service, etc. So Macs and linux require of their users that they can do this when necessary. PCs will be very hard to dislodged from the ecosystem until they are simply no longer fit because the ecosystem has moved on.

    Moreover, arguments from design, just like their religious counterparts, make no difference to the fitness of any OS. You could have a rational and reliable OS that would still be less fit than Windows simply because the resources needed to run it are not available while they are for Windows.

    That said, if you are a user prepared to learn new ways, do your own troubleshooting (on Macs that generally means reinstalling the troublesome app after deleting its configuration files), a Mac is a very productive, nice and coherent machine. But I would not choose it in circumstances where the user has access to a helpdesk, needs consistency with Windows that goes beyond the occasional exchange of files, and is generally clueless about computers.

    It’s a good idea to avoid proprietary software from the getgo – especially Microsoft, who for 25 years have had a philosophy of “never leave the MS environment”. So OpenOffice (or NeoOffice on the Mac), Apple software like iWork (way cool presentation program in Keynote), or, depending on your needs a number of very good two byte word processors like Mellel or Nisus, are the way to go. Installing MS Office is a retrograde step to be undertaken only if you have lots of patience. LaTeX is very good on the Mac, and has equation setting, BibTeX, and various other useful tools if you like programming your documents.

    My $0.02.

  57. #57 Edrei
    December 18, 2007

    Keep things simple. If you want something light, cheap just for blogging, some data processing and moving about. Get the EeePC. It’s a 7 inch ultraportable that’s under $400 bucks. Small storage space though, 2-8 gigs depending on the model but if we’re just using it for all that, we don’t need that much space to begin with.

    It doesn’t have a optical disk drive but its meant as a secondary system in conjunction with people who already have PC’s.

    It runs on Linux, but I hear the new versions are coming out with a stripped down version of Windows Vista. I’d still stick with the Linux version simply because of its ease and smaller installation.

    As for all this browser wars, I’d say use what you need to use, when you want to use them. If you can get the same kind of requirements for a system you’re already familiar with. Then go ahead with it. We’re scientists. We want the most efficient want of handling what we want to handle with the least amount of complications. I use Windows and Linux because they allow me to do my job without running around looking for extra solutions. If a Mac works for you and what you want, then by all means, use that if you must.

  58. #58 Hank Roberts
    December 18, 2007

    > user interface

    Now _there’s_ a religious war beyond ‘PC or Mac’; if you want to participate in that one, start:

    In the Beginning was the Command Line
    by Neal Stephenson

  59. #59 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    December 18, 2007

    To tag with what Greg Laden said; he told me a few things and that was all it took to get me to switch to Linux on two of the computers here at the house. So, it doesn’t have to be an either or situation.

    One think you can try is to download a copy of Ubuntu Linux and run it on Live CD for a bit just to see if you like it. If you do, then you can install it. If money is a factor, buy an inexpensive Windows pc and then just load Ubuntu.

    On my birthday, I spent three hours cleaning out a nasty trojan horse virus. When I got that all cleaned up, two weeks later another virus disabled port 80. No internet on my Windows pc. That’s when I decided to leave Windows.

  60. #60 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    December 18, 2007

    Thanks to so many readers for taking the time to weigh in on this big decision–here and over at Correlations too. Mac has definitely received more praise in both threads so far, and I’ll keep these recommendations in mind as I make make the big decision this week.

    I’m also wondering whether anyone may know when Mac is expected to put out their next laptop? If I go Apple, might it be worth holding out?

  61. #61 Peter Hollo
    December 19, 2007

    Greg Laden is totally on the money here. Macs and OSX have a lot going for them, but if you’re used to certain things – like for instance using the keyboard in an intuitive fashion – it’s quite likely that you’ll be INSANELY annoyed at your new Mac, quite possibly permanently. There are certain things the Mac just won’t do (like cutting and pasting files from one folder to another with just the keyboard), and other things that it’s really hard to make them do.

    So, you can install Quicksilver and Witch, and go into the system settings to enable keyboard support, and so on, and end up with a beautiful and mostly very usable system.
    Or you can do the same in Windows.

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s a matter of aesthetics, and what you’re used to. I’ve found that PCs Just Work just as much as Macs do, and Macs Just Don’t Work if you try and do some things they Just Don’t Want To Do. (And you can crash a Mac, even an ultra-new one, about as easily as an ultra-new PC…)
    So it goes.

  62. #62 rcareaga
    December 19, 2007

    There are certain things the Mac just won’t do (like cutting and pasting files from one folder to another with just the keyboard)

    That’s not how I generally move files around on my Mac, but it certainly can be done without difficulty: I just performed this operation, keyboard only, and without recourse to third-party utilities.

    For the rest, I have a brother, now an attorney, whose computer experience goes back to college programming courses (FORTRAN) in the mid-sixties, and who for 21 years treated my Mac partisanship with amused condescension until 2005, when he purchased a Mac “Mini”–out of boredom, I think. Here’s what he wrote after two weeks: “I hereby retract any and all disparaging comments I have at any time in the past made, or may have been deemed to have made, about Apple and its products of any type or description whatsoever and freely and without reservation state and declare that such products are manifestly superior to the competitive products known as ‘Wintel’ in every respect.” He’s purchased three or four machines since, including a couple for work: “I can now run a query on a 256K record SQL db faster than the IT guys can get their middleware booted.”

  63. #63 Eric
    December 19, 2007

    I’m really tired of people ignorantly saying Macs don’t get viruses. While it’s true that Windows users are afflicted with the large majority of the viruses out there, that’s only because most everyone uses Windows. If Macs became the dominant computer on the market, people who create viruses would start writing them to work on Macs, and guess what, Windows virus rates will go down, and Mac will rise. It’s not as if Macs have some kind of immunity, it’s just it’s a rather dumb idea to make a virus for Macs in a Windows-dominated market.

  64. #64 catch22
    December 19, 2007

    After years of PC use, I bought a mac a year ago and I am very satisfied. Here are some of the reasons:

    Stability and security: It is liberating to browse the web without fear of viruses. If a program tries to change something significant on your system, it will require you to enter your password first. You aren’t asked for your password very often, so if you are asked, you will know it is important.

    Little user interface features: on Mac laptops, you can scroll windows up/down/left/right by dragging with two fingers. One finger moves the mouse. This is especially useful for scrolling large images; it becomes quite natural. Also, there is a feature to quickly shrink windows so that they are all visible at once. Imagine editing 15+ images at once in photoshop. On windows, it would be very difficult to navigate between different images, but on a mac, you can quickly and easily find windows you want by shrinking them.

    During my years of PC use, I have had a number of pet peeves. For instance, windows machines tend to get slower and slower over time. This is largely because of poor engineering choices by Microsoft. Specifically, windows (including Vista) has a feature called the registry. All software stores information in the registry so that the file gets larger and more fragmented over time. Eventually the file becomes an extreme bottleneck in the system, and the only way to fix it is to reinstall windows. There are no such issues on macs.

  65. #65 Alan Kellogg
    December 19, 2007

    Just to complicate your life, the OSX86 Project. That’s right, the Mac OS on PCs.

  66. #66 sunnygrrl
    December 19, 2007

    FYI Sheril-
    If you go with the mac, be warned that sending mac files to people using PCs (especially files containing pictures) doesn’t work all the time (my co-worker does this all the time, and I have to ask her to write everything to PDF before sending it for me to see graphics). Also, macs are difficult to upgrade. I have had a pc for many many years without any trouble, while during that same time my mac friends have had to buy new macs twice (once a mac is a few years old, the newer software can’t be installed on it and internet becomes impossible to use). I am sure all the mac-a-philes out there will slam me for my statements, proving the cult rumors true. Keep in mind, we have both in my home and the pc is vastly preferred by all.

  67. #67 matthew
    December 19, 2007

    For what you need it for, you can do everything you want with nearly any OS. The flame wars that follow these types of discussions are usually unwarrented for the typical computer user.

    Don’t get hung up on the OS, you can dual boot anything if you really want. Look for realiable hardware instead.

    I’m considering these ultra-portable lappys: and

  68. #68 gex
    December 19, 2007

    I was a PC user since Windows 3.1. Went through generations of PCs from the 386 to the new dual cores. And while I still enjoy Wintel running XP, my last hardware purchase was a MacBook.

    I’m not a fanboy, but your first Mac is an epiphany. I really, really enjoy it, and I would recommend it to everybody.

    As far as cost, Farhad Manjoo wrote an article recently on how PC users don’t comprehend the economics of Macs. When you are done with a PC, it is virtually worthless. You’re left wondering how to safely get rid of the thing usually. Macs have resale value of a couple hundred bucks.

  69. #69 David Miller
    December 19, 2007

    Sheril – one other thing…I believe there’s an Apple Store somewhere in Chapel Hill that I visited before moving back north. Worth a look to ask more questions.

  70. #70 Rich
    December 19, 2007

    I have at least one data point contradicting sunnygrrl’s theory on Macs not working after “a few years”. My sister has an Indigo iBook G3 from 2000 – it’s really cute! – and it runs OS X 10.4 Tiger perfectly happily and connects to the internet exactly as expected. I’m not sure if it’ll be possible to upgrade it to Leopard though.

    (I’m not a member of the Mac cult. I’ve never never enjoyed using Windows, having previously preferred AmigaOS and Solaris. Having said that, I’ve a lot of experience using Windows, and I very much disliked Macs prior to OS X.)

  71. #71 Tom
    December 19, 2007

    I have a Macbook. It’s pretty good. That said, if I had more money, I’d get a thinkpad and install Ubuntu on it. OS X ain’t perfect by any mean, but it is far, far better than Windows.

  72. #72 Jon H
    December 19, 2007

    Sheril wrote: “I’m also wondering whether anyone may know when Mac is expected to put out their next laptop? If I go Apple, might it be worth holding out?”

    Sheril, the most likely announcement date would be January 15, when Steve Jobs does the keynote at MacWorld Expo. The news would hit the internet probably around 1:30-2pm EST. The Apple online store is typically taken down before the keynote, comes back up shortly after the end of the keynote, and gets absolutely hammered into unusability for several hours.

    It’s hard to say when the announced product would actually start shipping to customers. Some times they ship that day and are already in the Apple Stores. Some times, the announcement comes several weeks before they start shipping. That’s usually when the product is different from prior machines (like the first Intel-based laptops).

  73. #73 sharon
    December 19, 2007

    Um, yep, I got my first Mac last year. I still use Windows every day at work, and I don’t have any real problems with it. But there’s something about Macs. (Let’s set aside stuff like the fact that I could simultaneously run OS X, Windows XP and Linux Ubuntu on my Macbook if I really wanted to. It wouldn’t be very fast, but I can do it…)

    The bouncing icons in the dock still cheer me up from day to day. The ‘breathing’ sleep light – why is that so appealing and comforting? I don’t know, it just is. Giving your computer a name. The way that it seeks out networks to talk to and just asks you if you want to join in – and often you feel as though you’re having a kind of conversation with the computer, whereas the only communications you get from Windows are bossy and interfering, or just incomprehensible. F9 (impossible to explain; I keep trying to use it on my work computer, just out of habit…). There’s a dynamic, ‘alive’ quality to what happens on the screen of a Mac as you interact with it which you never get in Windows. The result is that, whereas a Windows machine is a useful (sometimes annoying) object, you feel as though your Mac is your friend. And this is part of why Mac users get so passionate about their computers, I think.

  74. #74 Lucas
    December 19, 2007

    I’ve used Macs for the last 5 years, and I’ve been quite satisfied with them. I think if you’re already familiar with UNIX interfaces, it’s definitely the right thing to buy. If you plan to do any programming, it’s definitely the right thing to buy. I prefer its interface, stability (though it is not true that Macs *never* crash), and the availability of free software development tools. I don’t know what kind of scientific tools are available for Macs (outside of mathematics tools), so be sure to check that all your favorite programs run on OS X before going to a Mac.

  75. #75 ArtK
    December 20, 2007

    First off, the idea of a “cult” isn’t so far off. In the very early days of the Macintosh, some of the folks at Apple actually had the title “Evangelist,” Guy Kawasaki being the best known. I had one of the first Macintoshes and the Lisa that you needed to do software development.

    That said, I’m almost completely platform-agnostic. Actually, “antagonistic” might be better. Every platform, Mac, PC, Linux, Unix, mainframe or PDA has good features and bad features. The advantages of the Mac are better ease-of-use at the cost of some variety in software.

  76. #76 jfatz
    December 21, 2007

    I’m also wondering whether anyone may know when Mac is expected to put out their next laptop? If I go Apple, might it be worth holding out?

    It’s probably worth holding out until MacWorld ( ), just because it’s right around the corner (mid-Jan). The MacBook got a slight bump just recently, but that was mainly just CPU speed and the integrated graphics, so even though one shouldn’t expect anything major, there still might be something. The last MacBook Pro refresh was a bit more involved (CPU, GPU, hard drive, and even higher optional upgrades), but that was back in mid-07, so it still might get some lovin’ soon.

    There are a lot of rumors about an ultra-thin, ultra-portable MacBook Pro coming out (and whether it just might try to mix in some touch technology to become at least “tablet-like” as well), but that kind of rumor always flies around, and may not be what you’re looking for anyway.

    The biggest advantage, though, is just that you can see what’s coming up. If it’s big news for the MacBook lines, you’ll at least HEAR about it at Macworld Expo, and can plan accordingly.

  77. #77 Partners in Grime
    December 23, 2007

    Get a Mac; if you don’t like it you can run Windows on it. 🙂

  78. #78 kozmetik
    December 23, 2007

    All Mac users want is freedom of choice to use what they find as the best tool for their work and not be dictated to by some IT dweeb, who’s interested in making work to keep his job. As one IT guy told me in his best russian accent when I asked why not use more Macs since he had said, “They just work”…. his reply was “No…more work is ok!” Get the picture?

    Lots of folks don’t realize that IT departmets don’t exist for the “user”, but exist for the “organization” which is a blend of the company + IT department. Learning the Mac is thought of as distasteful since most often Windows is what they know. Then they often fall back on stuff about the Mac from 1991 as factual in todays world.

  79. #79 Greg Pugh
    December 30, 2007

    A note for Mark F.

    “………… I and the rest of the lab save one person, work on PC’s. ………. had to work on a Mac for a couple of years ……… got a lemon …… Our IT people tried multiple times to fix it but it kept crashing on me at least 5 times a day. ”

    The results yielded by having your IT people try to troubleshoot that Mac were as predictable as the sunrise. I’m not trying to say there’s anything conspiratorial about IT departments only supporting PCs. They’re just sticking with what they know. Would you take your PC to the Mac store if you needed help? You’d get the same result.

    If that Mac really WAS a lemon an Apple tech would have have replaced it. More likely he would have fixed it while you looked over his shoulder though.

    In the interest of disclosure, I’m Mac only. Prepress, when I started 25 years ago, couldn’t be done with DOS.

    My whole family runs PCs though, and I’ve used them. I have more difficulty with them than a Windows person has trying to figure out a Mac. I still can’t understand why dragging an icon on my mom’s PC to the trash failed to delete the document, but I’m sure a Windows user would know the right procedure to make it go away.

    I love finding machines like that one you abandoned and making them work.
    I’ve got more Macs running right now than I care to count, depend on them for my income, I’m computer illiterate and my only support on them comes from talking to friends in the graphic arts industry.


    Greg P.

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