Despite the fact that Macs seem to get high ratings in Consumer Reports, and these results are praised to the skies in the Mac community, I have long considered the publication’s coverage of the personal computer market pathetic. In large part, based on my own sources, this is the result of the fact that some of the key people who handle their computer tests are really Windows fans. This despite the fact that the magazine is published by a non-profit corporation that does not accept retail advertising.
The biggest problem is that CR fails to draw distinctions between the Mac OS and Windows. To them, they are just two operating systems from two companies that otherwise seem to possess no meaningful differences, or at least differences that they deign to mention. So such issues as ease of use and stability are not addressed, although CR does grudgingly concede that the Mac is less susceptible to computer viruses. On the other hand, when they reported that billions of dollars were lost as the result of malware a few years ago, they failed to add that the entire loss was tallied on the Windows platform.
In the December 2009 issue, CR’s roundup of consumer electronics again addresses personal computers. This time, they recognize the fact that both Windows 7 and Snow Leopard have been released, and they actually make a modest effort to address performance considerations.
CR concludes that startup and shutdown times for Windows 7 are better, but adds that the level of improvement “was minimal.” Overall performance is regarded as “slightly faster,” without any description as to just what “minimal” and “slightly” mean, although one assumes that most of you won’t notice. This pretty much confirms what the PC publications have already concluded.
For Snow Leopard, CR makes a point of praising Apple’s latest and greatest as booting up to 15 percent faster on a 17-inch MacBook Pro. Overall performance, according to their undefined “speed benchmarks” is five percent faster, and “complex Web pages” were rendered “noticeably faster” in Safari.
The obvious question, which is how Windows 7 compares to Snow Leopard in the performance department, is never addressed, nor is there any other meaningful comparison between the two. Once again, in their efforts to distill and simplify technical information for a general audience, CR ends up doing a great disservice to their readers when covering this material.
When it commodes to technical support, once again Apple smokes all of their competitors in the desktop and note-book space. Apple’s note-books lead the pack in product ratings, but desktop Macs, all older models, are dinged for inferior performance compared to the various and sundry PC boxes they tested. In most of the matchups, Macs are generally more expensive, but it doesn’t seem CR is capable of understanding that choosing comparable Macs versus PCs requires more than just selecting similar processor speeds and hard drive capacities. You know, for example, that Snow Leopard can only be properly compared to Windows 7 Ultimate, since that’s the only non-crippled version. But that also means the price of the PC will be at least $100 higher, perhaps more.
In any case, the more I read about Windows 7, the more it becomes apparent to me that it really is somewhat better than Vista, but not a game changer by any means. Indeed, CR is recommending that XP users avoid the upgrade, because of the need to do a clean install, meaning wiping the drive after backing up your stuff, and then reinstalling everything. One of the biggest problems Microsoft confronted during the Vista era was to convince people to upgrade, or at least stop downgrading to XP. In large part, many of those people will probably end up buying a new PC rather than performing the upgrade from hell. That assumes they can afford to buy a new computer, of course.
When it comes to the potential of Windows 7, it does look like the tens of millions of dollars in ad money and those house parties may have truly paid off, because a lot more upgrade kits have been sold compared to Vista. Whether that’ll also mean a larger number of PCs will be sold this holiday season is anyone’s guess. Right now, the major success story in PC-land remains the netbook, which is certainly not the best platform on which to display any perceived advantages for Windows 7.
True to form, the market share for the Mac OS actually increased during the early days of Windows 7’s availability. That is nothing unusual. Mac sales have also improved during the release of a number of earlier Windows upgrades. I think about that cute Mac Versus PC ad, where the PC guy is telling the Mac that Windows 7 doesn’t suffer from the problems of Windows Vista. Then he morphs into earlier, younger versions of himself, making similar claims for earlier versions of Windows compared to their predecessors.
So Windows 7 sucks less. Whether that’ll be enough to reverse Microsoft’s declining fortunes is anyone’s guess.