Thursday, July 21, 2005

Whah ah lurrrve mah Mah-ac

Thursday, July 21, 2005

When I tell people I've detracted to the light side of computing (aka buying an Apple Mac) people tend to react in the same way. They squint at me in bemused wonderment as though I'd just suggested that volunteering to be chased down a narrow, cobbled street by a 3600kg herd of raging, blood-thirsty bulls is an amusing way to while away a Saturday night. For Spanish readers: they think I've lost the plot, gone gaga, am a sandwich short of a picnic.

By listing below some of the main advantages Macs offer over PCs I aim to, in future, be able to more efficiently harangue them into accepting my point of view - the only sane perspective. It's not that I'm a Mac zealot; far from it. I just happen to know for certain that every single project Apple undertake represents the epitome of pioneering ingenuity, while Microsoft is a lame duck with absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Even Steve Jobs' jumpers are nicer than Bill Gates'. Look Bill, tell your gran you don't like her homespun knitwear and be done with it. See, I'm a reasonable chap. Who could argue otherwise?

So with a deep breath I'll begin...

- While there are well over 97,000 known viruses, worms and trojans for the Windows platform, there are virtually none for OS X. Furthermore, the Mac OS is virtually a spyware-free zone. These are primarily Windows problems because its 'security' model leaves it wide open to attack.

One reason for this is that most Windows setups are configured by default to run in administrator mode, and this means that you are able to make high-level, system-wide changes (you can install applications for instance) without being asked to confirm your identity. Microsoft designed Windows this way so as not to inconvenience users by repeatedly asking them for their administrator password - they wanted people to be able to hit 'yes, yes, yes, yes' and get on with their work with minimal fuss.

This may save time, but it's a false economy. Because no safeguards are in place to protect your Windows system, maliciously coded web sites or inadvertently executed email attachments are able to install and run applications which can seriously foul up your computer. These could be trojans which aspire to turn your computer into a spam-generating zombie, back-door exploits, data-mangling viruses, key-logging software capable of transmitting your passwords to hackers behind your back or much less troublesome, but still infuriating, ad-ware and habit-monitoring spyware.

OS X, on the other hand, uses identity verification procedures as standard before granting the user 'root access', so even if an exploit found its way onto your Mac, it wouldn't be able to do much damage without cracking your password first.

I know what you're thinking - you've used Windows for years and your system has never been seriously compromised by any of the above. That may be true if you're a wary, clued-up technophile, but what about the computers of the novices you support? How often has a relative, friend, partner or colleague called upon you to fix their malware-infested computer because they've been running Windows without taking the necessary precautions? Every couple of weeks if my experiences are representative of the wider community. Some people never learn from their mistakes. You can spend hours getting their systems up and running again following a virus meltdown, and then go on to explain to them how to avoid falling victim to similar attacks in future, and your advice will be deflected like water off a ducks back. If they were using a Mac they could be, by and large, as foolhardy as they like and still remain safe - and you wouldn't have to give up your free time to bail them out.

Passwords aside, securing a Windows system requires a tonne of work, whereas OS X, which is based on the extremely robust UNIX-like Darwin core, is relatively secure out of the box.

- Low-end Macs such as the iBook and Mac Mini are virtually silent, making them perfect companions for serenity-seeking techies and anyone wanting to create an intrusion-free media centre. On a related note, they consume far less electricity than your average PC.

- All the best, can't-live-without-it software has already been ported to the Mac platform. Mac users benefit from an impressive array of exclusive software besides. If PC software X isn't available, it's because the Mac community have developed an equivalent which is as good if not better, so feel no compunction to badger the developers to support them.

Apple computers are supplied fully-equipped with an impressive array of top-notch software, so very often it's unnecessary to scour the plethora of third-party alternatives available from Mac software database stalwarts such as www.versiontracker.com or www.macupdate.com.

There's no denying that there is less software available for the Mac, but this isn't to say that Mac users are missing out in any way. Having one hundred extra mediocre Windows programs at your disposal to carry out the same task is neither here nor there. People will home in on the most exceptional software in each category and stick with it regardless of the platform they favour. For example, the VLC media player is available for Linux, Windows and OS X. Quality beats quantity every time.

- In OS X you are able to 'print' any document to a PDF file without the need for third-party applications or plugins. This is especially useful for distributing standardised documents that retain their formatting no matter which platform or application they are viewed with. Did you know that Word re-formats your documents from one computer to the next depending on the specifications of the printer you have installed? This can break your carefully constructed page boundaries, tables, diagrams and so on. Also, to be able to display non-standard fonts within a Word document on a client's/friend's computer you would first have to email the fonts to them and explain how to install them. With PDF files all fonts are embedded and transmitted by default.

OS X is replete with such examples. Windows freebies compensate for these deficiencies, but nothing beats having everything included in a ready-to-roll, single package.

- Mac users dote upon their computers much like they would with an adored family pet. This shared passion creates a cosy community cohesion last experienced between Amiga fanatics in the early 90s. Being part of the Cult of Mac is not simply a matter of using the same tool to accomplish one mundane task or another - Mac users feel an affinity towards the hardware because using it is a pleasure, rather than a daily, unavoidable chore. Faced with the prevaricating, intangible alternatives; scientology, the Moonies and so on, what do you have to lose? ;)

- OS X allows you to install most programs by throwing a single file in the applications folder (or running it from a location of your choice). Uninstalling applications is just as simple - chuck the file in the bin and your system is as fresh and clean as it was before you installed it. Some applications require supporting preference files, but as they are stored in a single location and named appropriately, they are just as easy to remove.

- Hard drive defragmentation isn't necessary in OS X. Similarly, clean-up programs are superfluous seeing as the Mac OS does such a superb job of keeping everything neatly organised; hurling random - and often duplicate - DLLs all over the show when installing applications is unheard of. OS X is virtually self-maintaining.

- Mac software is less bug-prone as programmers are coding for a limited number of hardware configurations. Windows programmers are fighting an uphill battle by trying to take into account each and every motherboard, video/sound card, RAM, optical drive etc combination. Sometimes less is more. Even so, if you wish to swap the peripherals in your Mac tower, you are able to do so using generic PC hardware.

- The Mac OS and hardware is aesthetically stunning. While this shouldn't be a be-all and end-all factor, it's a welcome bonus, all else being equal. Some people are willing to pay through the nose (whatever that means) for a visually appealing car and few onlookers find that strange, yet they spend a tenth of the time using them as they do their computers. Why then is it considered unreasonable for Mac users to refuse to settle for an ugly, beige box?

- Granted, major game releases are ported to the Mac long after they appear on the PC, if at all. Personally I couldn't care less - I'd rather read a book, watch a movie or surf the net than play some cookie-cutter FPS, RTS or sim knock-off.

- Yes, it's true; Macs are intentionally designed to ease the metamorphosis of technophobes into competent computer users in a matter of minutes, but that isn't to say they don't have much to offer geniuses like myself. :| I know my way around Windows thank you very much - I've used Microsoft operating systems since I was knee high to a vertically challenged grasshopper. I know perfectly well how to troubleshoot its inherent flaws and incompatibilities, but if it's all the same to you, I'd rather not have to bother. Using OS X instead affords me this option. As cheesy as it sounds, Apple are right; it does 'just work'.

- Windows XP was spawned by melding together layer upon layer of jumbled legacy code, some of it dating back to ye olde DOS days. Consequently it is a horrendously inefficient, bloated, insecure and unreliable, interbred monstrosity. When Apple began developing OS X they decided that merely slapping a plaster over the flawed OS 9 code and re-releasing it as an entirely new operating system was a dirty trick they weren't prepared to pull on their loyal followers. Instead they had the foresight and resoluteness to set about re-writing it from the ground up. The result? OS X is the anti-thesis to all that is wrong with Windows.

- One charge commonly leveled at Apple is that their hardware is unjustly expensive. It's true that you pay a premium initially for high-end Macs, but this doesn't account for the total cost of ownership. When TCO is factored in, many people believe a totally different picture emerges. This, of course, remains a contentious issue. I'm still making my mind up too.

More clear-cut is the price distinction between low-end Macs such as the Mac Mini, and its PC counterpart, the Dell 2400. Comparing Apples and oranges only serves to obscure the matter.

I'm delighted with my Mac Mini and feel I got a very good deal, but even if I had paid more than I would for a PC, I'd consider it money well spent. If you get more (see my list above) you expect to have to pay more.

Even Bill Gates is a starry-eyed Mac disciple. That's a wrap then; Macs good, PCs bad. If you hurry you may be able to get to your local Apple retailer before they close up for the night. Meanwhile I'm off to provoke an especially savage, and already seriously miffed bull into making a human kebab out of me.

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