Barney's Rubble

Why I Bought a Mac

Microsoft's desktop monopoly may not last forever, at least not for <i>Redmond</i>'s editor in chief.

I have six PCs and laptops running everything from DOS and Windows 95 to Windows XP. That is exactly why I bought my son an iBook for his twelfth birthday.

Faithful readers know the stress my family's PCs have caused. Viruses, spyware and other inexplicable phenomenon have hit us hard. Troubleshooting my own machines is bad enough. I don't want the burden of keeping my kids' boxes running as well. Those hassles led me to shell out $1,075 for a low-end Mac laptop. That's roughly double the best deals you can get from HP and Toshiba.

Frustration is only one reason I bought the Mac for my son. Exposing him to new things is another. David already has a pretty slick, late-model HP desktop with all the bells and some of the whistles. He's using it to learn about encryption, scripting and programming—and to play lots of games. He's already embarrassing me by asking technical questions I can't answer. Why get him another XP machine so he can lug it around on vacation and over to friends' houses? Besides, the Mac—loaded with Tiger, the latest OS—is new and very cool.

This experience has shown me that Microsoft's desktop monopoly, while incredibly solid, may not last forever. There are alternatives. Linux will eventually get there—although I'm certainly not eager to replace my XP frustrations with what could be a bigger dose of Linux headaches. I'm also not too keen on the Scott McNealy terminal style of computing in which you're dead in the water without a high-speed connection. (However, I've got to admit that having a single identity and set of files I can easily get to from a number of devices is pretty neat.)

Doug Barney The Mac has none of these shortcomings. What it does have is a Ferrari-like price tag. That's easy to justify for the occasional birthday present, but it would make me gag if I was running a 10,000-seat enterprise. It's going to take more than a few television commercials touting XP to keep the Mac and Linux forces at bay. Redmond desperately needs a new OS to keep its rivals from nipping at its monstrous market share.

Longhorn will have to be insanely great, remarkably stable and better at defending against viruses and other hacks than XP and IE—the Swiss cheese of software. Despite its problems, I happen to like XP a lot. If the rivals keep getting better, though, I might just have to buy another non-Microsoft box.

What Would Make You Switch?
For the enterprise, moving from Windows clients is a tall order. For one, you have to be able to handle common file formats like .DOC and .XLS, and continue working with Active Directory and other common tools.

All the Linux companies are eating their own desktop dog food, and Sun seems to be doing fine running SunRay terminals, but Windows is woven deeply into the fabric of corporate computing. So what would it really take for you and your shop to switch? Tell me at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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Reader Comments:

Tue, Feb 28, 2006 James WI

I don't care for Tigers GUI. Also why should I pay 200 for XP and then $100 a year on software to protect that OS when it should already come secured? Not sure how you can ever justify using Windows, but regardless Linux actually has lots of programs and games for children. If you had ever used it you would know that.

Thu, Sep 1, 2005 William Texas

Securing an XP box isn’t rocket science for anyone with a modicum of technical expertise – Turn on XP’s default firewall (present but not on by default in OSX), only login with administrator privileges when necessary (default in OSX), and run an antivirus program (at additional cost, but marginal when compared to total purchase price of PC vs. Mac), and enable automatic updates (on by default in OSX). Do these four things and you will prevent most if not all malware from reaching your PC – as for spyware, if you choose to install it that’s your fault, not Microsoft’s. Antivirus vendors such as McAfee are starting to include antispyware technology in their products and McAfee’s seems to work well.

As for your desire to avoid the burden of supporting your kids PCs, based on your description of him, I suspect your son is more than smart enough to secure his own PC. Perhaps some user education is in order to prevent him from downloading malware and spyware – while Windows is far more susceptible, this guidance is correct regardless of the platform he uses given the variety of malware on the net.

You mention exposing your son to new things as reason for getting him a Mac. If you really wanted to challenge him you could have gotten him an old PC, a Linux distribution, and turned him loose – that would be challenging for him and a lot cheaper for you. Perhaps this is not as cool as getting a Mac, but then again using a criteria of “very cool” as justification for buying something strikes me as a bit silly.

I find your statement that Macs have none of the shortcomings of PCs puzzling. Wait until you have to solve a font issue with a Mac – you will wish you were running, God forbid, Windows 98 instead. You might also check the Mac support boards to see the trouble users are having upgrading to Tiger. Also, don’t forget to download the latest security update for OSX with its 30 plus fixes for your new iBook.

Assuming no technical expertise on the part of the user, then I agree the Mac is a safer choice in terms of security out of the box. It will be interesting to see if Vista levels the playing field for the average user – I suspect it will.

Wed, Aug 31, 2005 Mark Charlotte

Matt, I am a PC house at work and at home, but I know a few Mac users. If you are worried about your daughters not being able to play their games, the Mac OS has a PC emulation mode that lets it run any Windows style program just fine. That doesn't fix the cheaper. If Apple would just open up the hardware monopoly the prices could come down.

Tue, Aug 30, 2005 Matt Huntsville

I can't argue with your logic. Just this evening I was complaining to my wife about how much I dislike doing admin chores on our girls' PC... it's too much like work! But, Windows is pervasive, all the educational games for our kids are for Windows... it's hard to kick the habit. Until something better and cheaper comes along, it's pretty much a lock for me.

Tue, Aug 16, 2005 Paul Palo Alto

I'm a Windows guy but I have to admit a Mac is probably a safer choice for your average home user. Sure we can secure our PCs just fine but the average Joe can't. As a user gets bombarded with Spam and security holes they simultaneously can't resist that nifty download from Russia. At the moment the Mac avoids the whole problem by simply being different. Using a Mac helps simply because the malware is almost all Windows oriented. If Apple marketshare rises this may well change and perhaps Vista will change this situation on the Windows side but until then we IT Pros should sympathize with the home user.

Tue, Aug 16, 2005 Rob Oregon

I agree with many of the above arguments. I don’t like the fact that Apple is a software and hardware dictatorship. And the fact that they have few or no tools (or support) for running in a managed environment keep corporations away from their systems. But for the 12-year old son, or maybe someone like my Mom, that wants only e-mail, Web browsing/shopping, and the ability to print greeting cards and digital photos, an Apple is a reasonable choice (Especially with iLife installed). I have worked on many computers for friends and family over the years. Anyone worked on a Windows 98 computer lately? How about one connected to a cable modem with no router or software firewall installed? I bet it was riddled with spyware, and probably a virus or two. Most people reading redmondmag.com know people that do this. The clueless computer user that doesn’t want to install a firewall, anti-spyware, anti-virus, or any other security program, but does want blazing-fast internet connectivity, so they can check their auction bids in quick fashion. For those folks, there is the Apple. Forget Linux for someone like that. They wouldn’t be able to install the digital camera or printer, so they’d quickly get stuck. At any rate, this is not a political debate, so don’t get frothy over it. There is a lot wrong with both Apple and Microsoft from my viewpoint. But for a 12-year old student, there is nothing wrong with using a Mac.

Mon, Aug 15, 2005 Jared M. Dallas

Riddle of the day: What do 10,000 corporate users and one little boy have in common? Give up yet? The answer is: Absolutely nothing. And as far as I can tell, Doug hasn't sold out to the "dark side." He gave his child something *different* to check out. A desired side-effect will hopefully be that Doug spends more time writing informative and entertaining articles for us rather than fixing his son's computer. Let us hope. Ultimately, little Dougie Junior will decide what's best for little Dougie Junior. Until then, he'll probably enjoy having a computer that works seemlessly with his musical toy. He'll probably also get a real kick out of the full suite of killer amateur multimedia-authoring apps that are included with every iBook. I also won't condemn Apple for its proprietary tactics. As long as the Mac can communicate with the rest of the world via industry standards, that's all that matters. Last time I checked, TCP/IP was available in MacOS. I myself do not own a Mac nor do I use one. I'm an MCSA who administers a 100% Microsoft-based network. I'm only advocating choice and competition. (I also don't have a crystal ball that shows Apple's imminent demise.)

Mon, Aug 15, 2005 Sun Tsu China

There are sufficient protections available to secure and protect your Windows systems. Not to mention that the PC outperforms the Mac in nearly every scenario including the once famed Apple strength: graphical arts. Throwing your hands up and fleeing to the dark side is simply an admission of technical incompetance. Sorry.

Wed, Aug 10, 2005 Doug Barney Anonymous

Hey Mike, would you like to be interviewed for an article on this subject, if so shoot me some mail at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Mon, Aug 8, 2005 Mike Modesto

I fully understand being frustrated with Microsoft, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind - first, as the article clearly demonstrates, Microsoft does not have a monopoly - choices do exist, but most people, when given the choice, choose Microsoft for the bulk of their computing needs. Why? Because Microsoft offers the best mix of performance, functionality, and availability - maybe not the best in any one area, but the best overall. Second, a simple look at the *nix security model shows that it has some inherent flaws, and anyone who has had to support it will attest to how limiting it is in the modern computing environment. Microsoft gets hit with spyware, viruses, exploits, etc., not because their code is inherently inferior, but because they are the biggest game in town. If you are a hacker wanting to make a name for yourself, do you research and code an exploit for 5% of the computers out there, or for the 95%? The security concerns are going to exist in any dominant OS - that will become the new target. Mac has given up - they have finally admitted that they cannot support in the OS arena, and they are now simply a *nix front-end - it is just a matter of appearance whether you run Tiger or KDE (yeah, I know there are some apps...how long until Gnome or KDE runs everything MacLinux does? 6 months...maybe?) After supporting Windows, Mac, and *nix for years, I would much rather support an environment of 10,000 Windows machines than 10% of that number of other OS's. Microsoft has been masterful at providing what users, administrators, and executives want and need - no one else has made a real effort, unless you count a half-hearted stab by Novell after they already admitted they could not or would not compete. Microsoft has no monopoly to end - their dominance will, no doubt, end someday - but not until a serious contender arises. Apple will be gone long before then, relegated to selling nifty musical toys; Linux may grow up into a contender, but not before it sheds the limitations of its Unix heritage.

Sat, Aug 6, 2005 Chris Quirke Anonymous

I don't like Apple because I don't like monopolies.

Ever wonder why folks care about who a US president sleeps with, but care less about how many people a tin-pot dictator shoots in a week? While the dictator's grip is tighter, his fishbowl is so small that no-one cares.

And so it is with Apple. Having near-monopolies at the OS and processor levels is one thing; having the same entity with an iron hand on both OS and the entire hardware platform is a throwback to the feuding home computer tribes of the 1980s.

Apple may look sleek and sharp, but they are survivors from that earlier age. That they've survived attests well to their quality, but they've ruthlessly exploited their tin-pot dictatorship.

Do you remember when MacOS was going to opened up to 3rd-party computers? How many of Apple's most loyal value-adders started up production lines and the big marketing push, and had to scrap the lot when Jobs changed his mind?

Can you imagine the impact and outrage if Microsoft pulled a stunt like that?

Disclosure: I'm an MVP, though it's debatable if I could be called a blind MS advocate. My blog and site are a Google(cquirke) away, so you decide.

The blog's "timeless" rather than "oudated" (yeah, right) in that looks at background issues rather than the crises of the day that inevitably follow such issues

Wed, Aug 3, 2005 tired of microdick Anonymous

sir douglas,
it would take very little more prodding to move me from the mess that is microsoft. with the need for drivers for any hardware to be "digitally signed" to the now insane GWV for updates i see it as the same as having a one world government. apple is cool but is short on a lot of what we have been weaned on while moving on up through the assorted windows platforms. when asked to GWV my $$$ software my eyes glazed over because i can't see how much further that greedy bastid will push until it goes over the edge. unfortunately, too many will go over with him. i think it best if the updates continued for even the "illegal chinese pirated versions" if it will ensure that internet poison in the forms of worms, trojans and viruses are kept at bay. what i want to know - where does one purchase chinese pirated software and howw much is it?

Wed, Aug 3, 2005 James Tokyo

$1075 for a laptop is "a Ferrari-like price tag"? You're making an issue of something that really isn't. Consider putting a price tag on the time you would need to spend supporting a pc laptop.

I'm mostly a PC person, not a Mac zealot, but the "Mac is too expensive" argument is getting very old and tired.

Tue, Aug 2, 2005 fagtar texas

great editing software and garage band

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