Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Macs and PCs: Jumping to Conclusions

Written by johnleemk on 2:05:04 am Oct 19, 2007.

One of the oldest debates around — at least among computer enthusiasts — is which is better: the Apple Macintosh, or the Windows-based personal computer?

University students of course have more reason than others to be concerned about this issue. It is now practically impossible to accomplish much at a university without a computer.

At my university, the main student newspaper recently published a story indicating that over half of the incoming freshmen had purchased a Mac from the school. A number of reasons have been cited for this preference; the supposedly superior stability and computing performance of the Mac, the greater variety of useful software available, and so forth.

While obviously this accounts at least in part for the Mac's popularity — nobody would buy it if it meant they could not use their favourite programmes or if it crashed regularly — I have a feeling that the comparisons drawn to Windows computers in general are not necessarily founded in fact.

The university offers only two brands to its students: Dell and Apple. Dell is not exactly known for its well-performing computers (certainly, no self-respecting PC enthusiast would buy one if he was expecting stability and speed). At the same time, it made the foolhardy mistake of bundling Windows Vista with its new products.

I strongly suspect that Vista is responsible for a lot of issues people have with their computers. A new release of Windows is often unstable, as various brands of hardware do not have drivers available for it; neither is Microsoft known for its ability to fix most bugs before launching. (If anything, they tend to announce a product before it is even off the drawing board — vapourware was one tactic they utilised effectively during the 1990s.)

But, of course, most students could not know of these issues before they bought their Macs. So why the strong demand for Apple computers?

I suspect the answer lies in one word: iPod. Apple bundled a free iPod with its computers, making them an attractive deal for many students. Moreover, until the mid-2000s, Apple was a dying brand — what revitalised it was the iPod, with its uncanny popularity amongst the teenage demographic. It's not surprising that those who buy iPods one day are buying iMacs the next.

I am skeptical of the argument that Macs have overtaken PCs in terms of performance and functionality. While this may be true, I think there is a sufficient amount of evidence to argue that the primary cause of this trend is simply branding and packaging.

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