Windows versus Mac, is it just a matter of price?

Mark Stammers's picture

Microsoft's new operating system Vista is causing problems for PC World, Currys and my mother.

My Mum has recently switched her Internet provider at home to Sky, and as the proud new owner of a wireless router she was keen to buy a laptop so she could begin to enjoy her newfound freedom to go online from whichever room she so desired.

Naturally as her first-born (and always handy pseudo-computer expert) she sought my advice as to what make to buy.

My first piece of advice was ‘Don’t get anything with Microsoft Vista on it’.

If you wander into PC World or Currys in January you are likely to come face to face with a wall of PC laptops being sold off at bargain prices.

DSG International, the owner of the two high street retailers, has seen its profits slide 25% due to much lower than expected sales of laptops pre-loaded with Microsoft’s long awaited new operating system Vista.

Though Microsoft themselves remain bullish, it has to be said that generally Vista is not loved by PC users. This is in part due to a mixture of early compatibility problems with add-on items like printers and scanners and also because Vista is reportedly causing all but the highest spec laptops to run much more slowly than it’s predecessor XP.

In fact according to my Mum’s other computer expert (the chap who runs the local computer service shop) there is a booming market for laptops with XP pre-loaded and that these machines are selling at a premium compared to their Vista counterparts.

My Mum decided to wait awhile before purchasing, in the hope that Microsoft can clear up the confusion surrounding Vista. She also chose to not act on my second piece of advice. ‘Buy a Mac’.

Now I will admit to being a bit of a mac-ophile, aided by the fact I have spent most of my professional life as a designer sitting in front of one. My Mum of course cited the reasons most people give for not considering Apple’s range of computers:

‘I know Windows and don’t want to learn everything again.’

‘I would have to replace my printer and other add-ons like digital cameras’

‘Macs cost more than PCs’

While I understand why leaving behind the familiarity of Windows might seem scary, Apples’ recently launched Leopard operating system is one of the easiest systems to learn I have ever seen, and I doubt whether it would take the average person more than a couple of days to get comfortable using it. Also, if you just can’t live with Leopard or need to use a PC-only application Macs can also run Windows. In fact in the US recently tested how fast Vista could run on a number of laptops, and discovered it ran fastest on Apple’s Mac Book Pro.

Contrary to common belief Macs will work just as well with almost all printers and other common computer peripherals as they do with Windows machines.

Finally, price. Yes its true, with the entry level Mac book starting at £699 there are a lot cheaper PC laptops on the market. But you get what you pay for and the Mac Book comes with a fast processor, lots of bundled software and relatively little need for the kinds of expensive virus software that is essential on PCs. Virtually all computer viruses are created to attack Windows machines, leaving Mac users unscathed so far. This has proved a major boon to users who have made the switch. It is also interesting to note that despite the difference in cost, Apple’s share of the computer operating system market has grown to 6.8% in November up from 5.3% a year ago. The rise of 1.4% is almost exactly the amount Windows had declined by.

So what to buy? PC laptops with Vista are going to be very cheap to pick up after Christmas. PC World is going to hope to entice you with unbeatable bargains, and help clear its backlog of stock. My heart still says buy a Mac because you will never be sorry you did, but with cheap deals and the need to buy a new machine for my kids to do their homework on, my head could just be tempted.


Related articles