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  • Mac Reality Check: More Myth Busting

    May 14th, 2009

    You’d think a company that’s been in the public eye since the 1970s would be pretty well known as far as products and strategy are concerned. But that doesn’t stop the myths and the FUD (short for Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) from being spread by people who may have vested interests that prevent fair treatment of Apple Inc.

    These days, the few media pundits who believe anything Microsoft says continue to repeat the claims without taking the time for critical thinking. The one that persists is the alleged “Apple Tax,” the supposedly higher price you pay for the privilege of owning a Mac.

    Now in the past, Apple really did charge excessive prices to get as much profit as they could for their gear. Certainly perceptions are slow to change. These days, Apple does exist at the higher end of the PC universe, but not because their products are overpriced. They simply provide a full-featured product, and avoid stripped down gear.

    Comparing the Mac versus the PC actually requires careful matching. First you have to make sure, as much as you can, that all the hardware is the same, from processor speed, to RAM speed and amount, to the size of the hard drive. The operating system is more troublesome, because Microsoft sells a load of versions of Windows Vista — and that greedy approach will continue with Windows 7.

    Apple sells but one full featured client version of Leopard. So you’d naturally want the full-featured version of Vista, which is called “Ultimate.” Now some of the folks who try to argue around this choice will tell us that you don’t need all the features of the highest priced version of Vista, so why buy it? Well, it’s a question of comparing Leopard with a non-crippled Vista, pure and simple! What you need for your particular purposes is besides the point. This is just a price comparison and nothing more, and we’re trying to be as fair as possible to both sides of the equation.

    Now I’ve done this sort of match-up on a number of occasions in recent years. When all is said and done, the price difference is usually very slight. I remember configuring the cheapest Dell desktop recently against the $799 Mac mini. The Dell reached $709 before I hit a brick wall. There was no available suite of applications to approach the quality and features of iLife ’09, nor could I add the 802.11n draft Wi-Fi capability to the Dell. My conclusion is that the cheaper Dell was a poorer value and that if it did came with the extras I couldn’t order, it would end up real close to the Mac mini.

    On the high-end, a Dell workstation that is equivalent, more or less, to a Mac Pro is often more expensive, and even Dell admitted that to me once, although they could not explain why.

    Unfortunately, once Apple developed the reputation for selling overpriced gear, it was hard to lose it. Since Microsoft seems to be living in the 1990s with their marketing schemes, you can imagine that Steve Ballmer never forgot the fact that Macs were once expensive, and so he continues to do his best to exploit something that is, as a matter of fact, simply not true.

    The other fallacy being perpetrated by the fear merchants is that malware will shortly overwhelm Mac OS X users. They’ve been saying that for over eight years now, ever since the initial release, 10.0. Yes, there have been proofs of concept, meaning stuff created in a test setting, and some limited outbreaks. But nothing that’s overwhelmed the Mac community and caused lots of damage, financial and otherwise. That compares to the Windows platform, where malware infections still cause losses estimated in the billions of dollars each and every year.

    In passing, you wonder how many people have lost their jobs and, worse, how many companies have gone out of business because issues with Windows have overwhelmed their system administrators and caused huge losses.

    Of course that hasn’t stopped some companies from releasing Mac-specific security software. Some of it may be useful, such as expanded firewall protection and enhanced methods to protect your kids from getting exploited online. However, I think it’s premature to recommend that you try out any anti-virus software — at least not yet.

    I’m not so foolish as to claim that Macs are invulnerable to malware, and that a major epidemic won’t come at some time in the future. The problem will be, of course, that the programs that protect you against such things will probably have to be updated before they can help. That, and watching the news as it develops, is one way to protect yourself. Another is to, as one security software developer said some years back, practice safe hex.” Don’t download a fils attached to an email message unless you expected it, even if it comes from someone you know. It doesn’t hurt to check, in case their system (particularly if that person is a Windows user) got compromised. If you get a letter purporting to be from one of a financial institution you deal with, asking you to reset your credentials by clicking a link, open your browser directly to check your account. Don’t assume anything.

    Of course, the myths about Macs will keep on coming. As The Night Owl nears its tenth anniversary, we’ll definitely be here to continue to set the record straight.

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