For years and years, we've debated the differences between Windows and Macintosh.
The narrative we’re used to hearing usually goes something like “PCs are better for doing work-related tasks, and Macs are better for more creative endeavors.”
So where do we stand today – Mac or PC? Is this narrative still true in the new world of work? And are there still enough gaps between the two to drive someone to choose one over the other?
WHAT’S THE CORE STRATEGY FOR MICROSOFT AND APPLE?
During a recent meeting with journalists in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella spoke about Microsoft’s Office strategy and its focus on productivity. In short, he says that Microsoft’s value proposition to customers is that they make products that empower others in their work and personal lives.
“From the creator of a document to a developer writing an app, to anyone else, we want to be the tools provider, the platform provider,” Nadella said. “That’s the core identity.”
He then describes Apple as a hardware company — which, of course, is only part of their story.
“To me Apple’s very, very clear, and, in fact, I think Tim Cook did a great job of even describing that very recently where he said they sell devices. That’s what Apple is all about.”
It’s an interesting way of defining yourself as a company. Unfortunately for Nadella, as The New York Times points out, making tools for productivity is everyone’s strategy these days. And as we’ve discussed, our personal and work experiences are converging faster than ever.
So what can you extrapolate from each company’s positioning and strategy?
DOES MAC HARDWARE COST TOO MUCH?
One of the main points of differentiation in the Mac or PC debate is the costs and upgradability of hardware. And if you buy into at least part of Nadella’s assessment of Apple, it’s easy to see why Mac hardware and its ecosystem could be pricier than your standard PC.
If that much R&D flows into building better machines, it’s no stretch to think that higher-quality hardware and better support wouldn’t be a part of the mix. Apple’s strong ecosystem — of developers, the app store, support and partners — is also often cited as a reason for potential price premiums.
But as good as it might be, Mac hardware does have limitations when it comes to configurations. If you want to upgrade things besides the RAM or hard drive, you’ll likely have to move down to find a cheaper Mac, sacrificing upgrade options and performance.
But remember, some hardware upgrades aren’t officially recognized by Apple, so you’re responsible for repairs and compatibility. When it comes to having hardware flexibility, Windows gets the nod. Building high-performance frankenmachines is a lot easier with Windows than with Hackintoshes.
WHAT ABOUT COMPATIBILITY AND MAINTENANCE?
On the software side, there are some other areas of the Mac or PC question IT managers and decision-makers need to consider. Take legacy software as an example.
Apple’s tendency is to end the support of older applications much faster than Windows. Anyone who spends time supporting older applications in the enterprise can certainly attest to this. It’s not unusual to see (sometimes much) older HR, engineering or payroll applications still running on Windows machines — Microsoft only ended supportfor Windows XP this year, 13 years after XP’s release.
That said, with as many configurations as there are with Windows, the gap isn’t as large as you’d think in terms of flexibility. Why? Maintenance.
All these configurations bring new things into the mix. Bloatware, drivers and older software all need to be updated and maintained. That’s the benefit of Apple’s more closed system. (It’s a similar story with Android versus iOS.)
DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO SOFTWARE
Another metric to look at when you’re considering a Mac or PC are the app totals. WinBeta says there are more than 175,000 apps in the Windows Store, compared to almost 20,000 in the Mac store. That presents a clear advantage for Windows — but it’s important to mention the 800lbs gorilla in the room: Apple’s mobile ecosystem, based on the iPhone and iPad, and the more than 1.1 million downloadable apps for iOS. But outside the mobile space is Windows has more options, with apps for music, video and communication tools like IM and chat.
Of course, quality is really the issue when it comes to any tally of apps. And since Apple’s Mac Store is geared for workstations, it brings some different dynamics to the software debate. (It’s where you’ll find the business software to do all that “real work” on Macs.) And when both stores are compared in that regard, the gap is much smaller than the overall numbers indicate.
VIRUSES AND MAINTENANCE
Macs do have viruses, but not as many as Windows users. That’s a big lift when it comes to OS X, because users don’t have to keep track of driver updates, security patches and anti-virus software. But Windows is making strides to catch up. Microsoft now has tools like Microsoft Security Essentials (Windows Defender in Win 8) that make protection a point-and-click process.
Though Windows users still have significantly more to fear, viruses are becoming more and more platform-agnostic — not to mention increasingly focused on the mobile sector. While this has been a traditionally strong area for Apple, the gap here, again, is not as large as it once was.
DESIGNERS ARE NOW AT HOME ON BOTH PLATFORMS
In the Mac or PC battle, designers have traditionally rallied on the Mac side. But now, compatibility between the two platforms isn’t a struggle. Creatives and designers have lots of applications to choose from on both Windows and OS X. While Apple’s legacy in this area gives it a built-in advantage with creatives and quality of experience, Windows has been attempting to catch up with boosts in processing speed, support for multiple monitors and better support for peripherals and device compatibility. All that adds up to a marginal advantage, if any, for Apple.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s about usage and personal choice. All platforms and devices are tools, and all of us have to pick the right combinations for what we do. The good news is that the companies that make our tools are competing hard to be the tool of choice. That usually means we all win.
Author George Dearing
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