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  • Those Mac Myths Just Won’t Go Away

    October 25th, 2006

    The other day, I got a letter from a long-time reader that, in part, disputed my contention that Macs were now priced similar to comparably-equipped Windows PCs. Why? Not because of any factual information, but because Consumer Reports magazine said so.

    This reaction is understandable, since Consumer Reports is supposed to be incorruptible. After all, it’s run by a non-profit organization, it buys all the products it tests and takes no advertising. However, that doesn’t mean its editors don’t have an agenda, and clearly they do when it comes to reviewing computers. Sure, Macs get high ratings, but there are always little nits in the articles that reflect myths rather than facts.

    Take, for example, the alleged higher price of a Mac, a real irritant in my book, since it’s so not true. Yes, I realize that the big box PC makers build cheap products that are often considered loss leaders, since they provide little or no profit. Those low prices, however, are just come-ons, designed to entice you to check out an online or brick and mortar store. Once you’re curious, they want to upsell you to something that’ll provide more profit opportunities. Click the Customize button at a PC store or manufacturer’s ordering center and get ready to get lost in option heaven, which is the real profit source.

    Although Apple lets you customize their computers too, you can’t strip them most of the basics, such as gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, iLife and all the rest. Yes, I realize some of you would rather have your Macs without certain features, but when it comes to a Mac mini, it’s definitely a bad idea to try to install something later on, something you forgot about when you placed the original order.

    But that’s not the real comparison. You have to equip the Mac and the PC as closely as possible to get the true price, and here Apple seems to fare better and better as time goes on. The newest MacBook Pros, for example, not only have faster processors for the very same price as the models they replace, but larger hard drives and more memory. The 15-inch models even get FireWire 800 and dual-layer SuperDrives.

    Then there is the Mac and viruses myth. No, I’m not talking about the Windows virus that shipped on some iPods last month. Aside from Apple’s cheeky comments on the subject, which brought lots of intense criticism from some quarters, it’s pretty much a dead issue. Stuff happens. No, instead I’m talking about the oft-repeated claim that, as Mac market share rises, more viruses will come to the platform.

    I don’t know about you, but isn’t an audience of twenty million enough to attract some Internet criminals to the party? After all, that’s surely enough computers to cause an awful amount of damage. Besides, being the first to author a virulent Mac infection ought to carry some sort of status among the criminal community, I suppose. But it’s not happening. Why?

    For one thing, it’s the simple fact that Mac OS X makes it difficult for a virus to spread. Oh, it’s not so terribly hard to do a one-off destructive infection, say invoking an AppleScript that, when launched, can launch a Terminal command that wipes out a bunch of your files. But it’s not something that spreads behind your back. It requires the conscious effort of launching the thing to do its nasty stuff. You can’t just open an email, as you do under present versions of Windows, and have things go awry.

    The fact that Mac OS X application installers generally require passwords and several clicks to do their thing provides another ounce of protection, or at least give you a chance to think before you act.

    This doesn’t mean that malware can’t possibly infect a Mac and spread into the wild, but it makes things more difficult than on the Windows platform. It’s an open question how well Windows Vista will fare in this regard, but how can you feel terribly confident when Microsoft itself feels the need to attempt to supplant third party security software vendors with a protection package of its own?

    In the meantime, Apple is clearly basking in the glow of booming sales of new Macs. If they can avoid some serious screw-ups, and certainly ignore certain sources of erroneous tech news, they might actually take the Mac to greater heights than ever before in their history.



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