• All Right Macs Are Slow and Expensive

    April 2nd, 2005

    Did I get your attention?

    All right, some of you are no doubt poised to pounce on me because of this outrageous statement, and I wouldn’t blame you if I believed it. But I don’t! Actually I believe quite the opposite, that the issues of performance and price are not relevant, and haven’t been in years. So why bring it up? Well, with Macs in fashion again, there are still holdouts who cling to the myths of the past.

    But first and foremost: Even if the claims were true, that’s not the point. When a computer runs more reliably, you get more work done, hence it’s more productive. So even if you pay a little more for it, and even if the raw benchmarks are somewhat inferior, it doesn’t matter, because in the end you still get a better value.

    This is particularly true when you compare a Mac to a Windows computer, any make or model. I’ve often mentioned those recent surveys, that 80% of all home PC boxes are infected by spyware, and a third are virus ridden. Even if you clean your computer, by running your anti-virus software regularly and keeping it up to date, you may indeed wake up one day to find that the massed pop-up windows and other annoyances have returned.

    This isn’t to say that Macs are perfect by any means. I’ve already made it clear that I believe Apple needs to do more to make Mac OS X more user friendly, to do more of the thinking for you, instead of the other way around. It’s also true, as I said in yesterday’s column, that troubleshooting our Unix-based operating system isn’t near as straightforward as the older, Classic, Mac OS. Of course the uptime, how long it can run without restarting (except for installing new software) is a lot longer on today’s Mac.

    But to return to our myths, there’s the perception, for example, that Mac Web browsers are slower than their Windows counterparts. I suppose that was true once, when Microsoft Internet Explorer ruled the roost on Macs. It never matched the Windows version in speed when it came to page rendering. Even when Apple was demonstrating over and over again how a high-end Mac can smoke a Windows PC in Photoshop and other resource hungry software, there was plenty of skepticism. After all, when the application was built by Microsoft, the reverse was usually the case.

    Apple built Safari largely to fill a gap. The other browsers didn’t work as well as they could. In those days, you could easily measure Safari’s performance advantage, most telling when you included the Mac version of Internet Explorer. When I had the change to compare Safari with the latest versions of Internet Explorer on a Windows XP box, sure enough Apple clearly delivered a comparable experience. Over time, other Mac browsers caught up and you can probably get similar or even superior performance from Firefox, although it takes a lot longer to launch.

    Now some of you may disagree with the above claim. I expect the fastest Windows browser might beat the Mac on some sites, and vice versa. It’s also true that a number of Web designers still insist on optimizing their sites for Windows users, and neglecting the Mac. Even if you can access that site, you may not be able to use all of its features, or you’ll find that page rendering is just plain awful. My approach in some cases is to just say no where I can, which means I won’t visit that site unless there is no choice, and I require what it offers. I’ve also been known to send some pointed letters to the Webmasters of said sites, suggesting they get their acts together; not that it helps, mind you.

    When it comes to price, what can I say? Consumer Reports, our largest product review publication, still doesn’t get the Mac. Even when a Mac gets a very positive review, and even though the magazine’s readers say Macs are more reliable and that Apple’s customer support is better, the wrongheaded approach sticks. In fact, Consumer Reports has used Macs in its art department for years, but I suppose the editors just stay away from that part of the building. After all, what do those crazy artists know anyway, right?

    So for the umpteenth time, let me tell them again that, no, Macs are not more expensive if you compare them fairly, which is to outfit a Windows PC with the same or similar options. Dell and others sell stripped down models, to keep prices low. Click Customize at Dell’s ordering page and start to pile on the missing features and you’ll see the price increases real fast. And, yes, there’s plenty of software for the Mac, some of which caters to the same vertical markets as a Windows product, such as running a legal or medical office.

    All right, it’s true that there are more titles for Windows, and this is particularly true for games. But in most cases, the Mac alternative is equal or superior. And if you must visit Windows on occasion to use a specific app, there’s always Virtual PC, although I sure wish Microsoft would work harder to make it run faster. It stalls out even on a dual processor G5, which is unfortunate.

    But you knew all of this already, right? It’s also true that many Windows users are just plain disgusted with the state of affairs on their platform and they are starting to see the light. The Mac mini continues to fly off the shelves, although I’ve visited dealers in recent days that seem to have an adequate supply. But other owners of Windows boxes still cling to their superstitions, that their computing platform is number one, so it has to be better.

    At least until the next malware infection breaks out.

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