On Thursday, December 23rd, the Roanoke paper published an article on computer called Computer Battlefield.
The article compared Macintoshes to Windows machines. This has been an on-going debate for years, and many of the article's points were on target. At least that was the case until the end of the article. Unfortunately some of the last quotes about the Macintosh came from Ron Turcotte, a senior system consultant at Entre, a PC reseller which does not sell Macs.
There is one great lesson in a consumer's life, never pay too much attention to the negative comments on one product from someone trying to sell you another product.
A related thought is that good products stand on their own without knocking down someone else's product. Finally, convincing someone to buy your product by using negative comments on the competition is far too much like politics to be a good way to do business.
The other challenge with the article is that picture displayed in the newspaper was of the iMac G5 which is a whole computer attached to the back of a flat panel. The picture of the PC was just the PC flat panel, a more telling picture would have shown the whole PC computer with its CPU and collection of wires compared to the iMac G5 which is in effect a complete computer.
Don't get me wrong, this is not your typical Apple flame message. I am a very unlikely person to be standing up for Apple Computer, their hardware or software. This past summer Apple decided they no longer needed my services as Director of Federal Sales. This came after nineteen years and eight months of a very successful career with Apple in the United States and Canada, working with education, government, and business customers. To say that I was unhappy about the decision is a great understatement.
In fact I spend most of my non-graphic related time on a Dell Dimension 4700 that I purchased early this fall. Having spent a lot of time on the latest Windows hardware and software, Linux, and Mac OS X, not to mention Apple DOS, SOS, CP/M, DOS, and earlier versions of Windows in the dawn of computer history, I feel that I probably qualify as someone who knows enough to know what he does not know.
That is saying a lot in the computer world. I have gotten over Apple, but there are more problems with this article than just Apple. It completely ignores the whole world of Open Source. Of course Apple and Open Source are very related these days though you would not know it from the comments in the article. Since we live in the shadow of one of the world fastest supercomputers, I think we have the right to expect a little more from our technology writers, but so far I have received no response back from the author of the article.
Mr. Turcotte states, "The main weakness of the Mac computer and operating system is that it is a more closed system than the PC," he explained. "The success of the PC rests in the open nature of the environment - encouraging independent development of options and software."
Now let me understand this, Mr. Turcotte is saying the Windows environment is more open than the current Mac environment. Where has he been for the last five years? Apple's OSX is based on Open Source. Windows is the proprietary world out there these days.
The whole kernel of OSX is based on a Darwin kernel which the last time I checked, can actually be run on an Intel machine.
To quote from Apple's web page "Major components of Mac OS X, including the Unix-based core, are made available under Apple's Open Source license, allowing developers and students to view source code, learn from it, and submit suggestions and modifications. "
Then there is the statement from Mr. Turcotte that is even farther from the truth.
"If Apple could and would design and market around both innovation and open standards, they could have taken over the market from the beginning."
If I wanted to, I could give you a whole book of reasons why Apple is not the market leader, but lack of commitment to open standards is not one of them.
For the last five years, the one thing you can safely say about OSX is that it is all about adherence to standards. It is UNIX based so it has to adhere to standards or you would not be able to move so many apps from the UNIX and LINUX worlds to OSX.
Here is a link to a press release from 1999 talking about Apple's commitment to Open Source.
Apple actually gives back to the Open Source community. Apple's Safari browser is based on an Open Source project. The community behind that project has benefited from Apple's imaging model in Safari.
In addition, the following are Open Source projects that have either seen support from Apple or been created by Apple and given to the Open Source community, CDSA, Rendezvous, Open Directory, and QuickTime Streaming Server. "CDSA" the Common Data Security Architecture is at the heart of security within OSX. Apple's has had a positive influence on this standard which provides a much needed abstraction in the world of security so that software application modifications do not screw up the underlying security of the OS.
To say that Mac OSX is not standards-based and that Windows XP is shows a basic misunderstanding of computer standards. Just because of majority of people use something does not mean that the product is standards based. Many of Microsoft's products are proprietary and anything but "standards" based. That does not mean they are bad products. It does mean that they are open to no one other than Microsoft except for a very few specific exceptions. Did you ever wonder why there are so few e-mail clients that can talk to an MS Exchange server and deliver all the services that a MS product does? It is because of the proprietary standards used.
An industry standard is something approved, not surprisingly, by a standards body. It is not just something used by the majority. Majorities can make mistakes especially when expediency gets into the mix.
A good place to learn about standards is
There you will find information about such standards as 802 and 1394. The 1394 standard came from Apple and is found on everything from Sony Video Cameras and computers to Macintoshes. I even have a 1394 card in my Dell PC. I guess that piece of Apple innovation somehow slipped out.
I could go on and on, after all technology has been my life since I gave up farming in 1982, but the reality is that if you want serious information about buying a PC or a Macintosh, check out some sources that are not trying to sell you anything. "Consumer Reports" is a good place to start.
Their December issue features the same G5 iMac on the cover as was in the Roanoke Times. One of their comments makes a lot of sense.
"Consider a Macintosh. Using one is the surest way to get top-notch reliability and support while minimizing exposure to viruses and spyware. But converting from a Windows PC will cost you: The computer costs more than a similarly featured Windows PC, and you’ll likely need new software and spend time converting your existing data files. Mac users also have fewer choices in software."
That additional cost is probably in the $200 to $300 range depending on how you value features which you may or may not need. The difference in price might be a cheap sum to pay for the piece of mind which comes with an inherently more secure system. If anyone wants to challenge me technically on this, there is plenty of evidence to support this, so do not go there. You might want to read some of my blog before arguing the point with me.
Of course the Roanoke Times article really skips Linux, which may be the best choice of all if you want most of the flexibility of PC hardware with some price advantage over the Mac. You also get security which is much closer to what is provided on the Mac. Currently the way the Mac treats root access and administrative software updates is the best in the industry. That is especially true when you are looking for something that makes you secure without imposing a lot of complicated steps.
Since I spend my time on all three operating systems, my advice is pretty simple and might even make sense to those of you looking for advice from someone has actually used all of the operating systems which is more than at least one Roanoke Times expert .
If graphics, digital photography and either web or print design is important. Get a Mac. You will not regret it.
If you want to do just word processing and spreadsheets with a minimal time on the web and are willing to put with a lot of security hassles, get a Windows machine and save some money.
It you want a great buy in machine, a robust operating system that can stand a lot of Internet use without getting seriously attacked, and you enjoy getting most of your software for free, get an Intel box and install Linux on it.
I'm using SUSE Linux from Novell, it came with everything I need as a normal user. In some ways the user interface is ahead of OSX.
I believe Linux does a better job of supporting new hardware than Windows XP does. The firewire drives and USB memory sticks from my Mac all work fine on my Linux Dell Dimension 4700. The same devices running off a different hard drive on the same Dell Dimension 4700 have problems with Windows XP. Neither Windows not Linux provides the sophistication of the driver support that OSX does. If you want to use Bluetooth, it works better on a Mac as far as I can tell so far.
As for file compatibility, OpenOffice on Linux, MS Office on Windows, and MS Office on OSX do very well at passing files around. My Windows machine, my Linux machine, and my Mac all share a printer and file server without any real challenges. E-mail attachments seem to open relatively flawlessly on all three machines.
Right now Mac OSX is the best choice for most folks if you want a secure operating system that can safely spent lots of time on the Internet and have no problems with typical MS e-mail worms and viruses. A Mac and OSX will cost you a little more, and you will have to put with Apple which as many Apple users will admit is not always easy.
Windows XP is a fine operating system with a target on its back. The number of attacks on XP are not going to decrease. It is not as modern as either OSX or Linux but there are many specialized applications available, one of which may be just what you need. You have to be more careful with Windows XP when it comes to the Internet and mail, but it is not an insurmountable challenge. If you love the latest games though I hate to think of that as a reason to choose, go Windows.
However, there is so much hardware variety out there, that it can give you a headache, so take a Windows friend or read Consumer Reports. Be prepared to be confused, even I was. That said, I am very pleased with my Dell. It was a good value and so far has been very reliable. I have not had to use their support. One surprise is that there still seems to be a need for a floppy on a Windows machine, but trust me, just order the floppy option in case you need it. OSX and Linux are very happy without floppies.
Linux may well be the ultimate winner. For under $80 at Best Buy, SUSE Linux delivered all that I needed in a computer operating system, including my office productivity suite. Of course I could have gotten Linux for free, but I needed the manuals and a support lifeline. Apple's OSX is more expensive and when it comes to major upgrades, the only choice is to buy a whole new product which has typically been priced at $129. Microsoft has a reasonable upgrade program, but if I have my numbers right the upgrades for XP Pro are practically the same price as OSX. I do not know what the feature trade off is for going with XP home edition, but the upgrades are substantially less expensive for the home edition.
The graphical user interface on SUSE rises above OSX at times and has more flexibility. There are a few dangers in that it is easy if you remember your root password to do some damage to your system if you do not pay attention to the warnings which come when an opportunity to repartition your hard drive shows up. Non-adventurous types will never see the message.
The good news is that the SUSE Linux recovery and repair tools are exceptional, especially when compared to Windows XP. I have used them several times while experimenting and continued to be impressed. I have lost zero data in all my adventures.
Right now I am spending 40% of my time on Linux, 40% of my time on Mac OSX and 20% of my time on Windows. Aside from making a couple of keystroke mistakes when I switch computers or operating systems, I am pretty happy on all three operating systems. The casual user might need a little help setting up Linux but the time is close for Linux becoming a mainstream operating system that can challenge OSX on security, ease of use, reliability, and stability. At the same time Linux will soon be challenging Windows on price performance and the additional capabilities that open source and a very modern operating system can bring to play.
That does not mean Windows will disappear. I suspect it will thrive, but so will Linux and OSX.
If you are happy with Windows, stay with it. If you are curious about alternatives, do not be afraid to take the plunge into the Linux or Mac OSX world, there are some substantial benefits.
You might not find someone at a cocktail party to answer your OSX question, but chances are very good you will not need them anyway. Help in the Linux world is only an e-mail away, and you probably will not need much help there either.
Update November 2017
You can jump forward to a more up to date view on computers at this link, Technology Still Needs Humans.