Mac vs PC: Does it matter anymore?

By C.K. Sample III
August 15, 2008 | Comments: 19

Anyone who's read what I've written in the past knows that I've always been a die hard Mac user. I've noticed a change recently, however, in my own approach to computers that I think may reflect a larger ongoing trend. Last year, I bought an Asus Eee PC, largely because it was cheap, small, and very hackable. I added a touchscreen, an extra flash drive, and installed both Ubuntu and XP on the Eee. Suddenly, I was finding this small laptop, running on hardware that reflected more closely a computer I'd had several years before, an appealing platform. Why?

Partially because of its hackability, of course.

After using my Eee for close to a year alongside a Mac Pro and a Macbook at work, I realized that besides the size of the screens and keyboards I was using, there wasn't fundamentally anything drastically different between the 3 computers. So much of what I do day in and day out on my computer has migrated to the cloud. I'm a Google Apps junkie, I love Google Reader, I use Evernote religiously, I have Sitebar hosted alongside my blog for all my bookmarks, I have the majority of my pictures floating on Flickr, I have all my media backed up on Amazon S3, and, for the most part, if all my computers suddenly exploded / melted / were stolen, I'd still have most of the things I use floating out there online.

Besides moving so much of my workflow to the cloud, I've also moved a lot of it off of the computer and onto my iPhone. The iPhone, much like the Eee, has trained me over the past year to make do with a small screen, less processing power, a browser, and email. Less is more.

Today, I took another step towards being platform independent. I recently left my job and had to leave my Mac Pro and Macbook with the company. For the last week, I've been using my Eee for the majority of my computing and stealing my wife's Macbook from time to time. I like to draw and had been saving up money to purchase a Modbook computer, but $2400 for such a specialty computer wouldn't be the best choice given that I *will* need a keyboard. Suddenly it hit me: why not get a regular Tablet PC on the cheap? Dealnews happened to have a coupon to get the already reasonably priced HP Pavilion tx2500z AMD Dual Core 2.2GHz 12" Touchscreen Tablet Laptop for less than a grand with a bunch of upgrades thrown in. So I ordered it. My first tablet PC, my first machine with Vista, and my first computer running on an AMD chip.

Apple is gaining market share, they passed Google in net worth this week, and I think aside from the success of the iPod and the iPhone and their consumer brands pulling interest towards their platform, Apple is actually benefiting from the same phenomenon that made me realize I could move away from being an Apple only type of guy. People aren't as concerned with the OS their computers are running anymore because they're more concerned with being able to connect to that killer app: the Internet. Whether your killer app is Facebook, Digg, delicious, Flickr, AIM, Gmail, Mahalo, or Pandora, chances are that it's part of the internet and it's online and you can get to it from any computer, no matter if it is a Mac or a PC.

That being said, when I do get my HP tablet, I already know that I will miss Skitch, since it's currently Mac only.

What do you think? Am I on to something here? Is Mac vs. PC becoming irrelevant because of the maturing of the internet as a platform and cloud computing?


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19 Comments

Yeah, I definitely think you're on to something. Over a year ago some Google Apps guys asked me and Scott "what's your favorite app?" and we were a little dumbfounded. Living in a CMS, email and IM, it was basically the browser.

The only trouble is that there's still a large swath of the American populace who see the internet as this freaky weird tech offshoot thing and it scares them. Not in a "OMG my kids are having sex on the internet" but more "I have no idea what I can do on the internet."

Of course, this is changing. As many folks have pointed out (Fred Wilson among them), mobile, like *really* mobile computing is the Next Wave. Stuff like the iPhone, HTC and N95 are already connected to a network, just like your home phone. As speeds continue to improve you'll see even more services and adoption.

Just like when the iMac made connecting to the internet super-easy (there's no step 3!), "smart" phones are making the plethora of services in the cloud easier to fathom. Partly because they are slimmed-down versions of their elder siblings. Less does indeed seem to be more, and there will be more of this less to come.

I think the large swath of people that Victor references still equate the stability of the internet (and hence the cloud, if they realize it is there yet) with the stability of their connection/computer.

Until we get to a point where the cloud can be trusted with your data like a bank can be trusted with your money, people won't move to it en masse. This will finally allow us to give most people highly reliable machines because the browser-only PC just doesn't crash very much.

(Obviously we will never solve the edge cases in the cloud, just like the bank will occasionally have a problem and act in a decidedly untrustworthy manner. However society has shown itself to be very resilient when dealing with edge cases. But the simple fact remains that most cloud providers simply don't guarantee data being there, let alone privacy, security, etc.)

I think you've completely missed the point in this post. To me, there is still a huge difference in usability and aesthetics which means that I could never use Windows. I guess if you personally are comfortable using Windows, then that's fine, more power to you in switching back and forth.

Here's a way to test the validity of your post: Ask yourself "Command-line terminal vs. Windowing System: Does it matter any more?" If you really believe that the fact that all your data is in the cloud makes it possible to use *any* UI to access it, then using a green screen with a command line should be just as adequate. (Ability to display media notwithstanding.)

Yes, it's great that you can store your stuff in the cloud and that there are richer and richer Internet applications. But I'm still not ever going to use a Windows machine if I can help it to access that cloud.

Between Acrobat.com/Google Docs and the rest of my online stuff, most managed and synced by the iPhone, I've been moving towards a platform-independent and paperless office. O/S doesn't matter anymore; maybe only to the hardcores and loyalists.

Also, backing up my offline data remotely or online is now replaced with using my home computer to backup my online data.

Some consider me as an early adopter and since we may be going this way anyways, I might as well educate myself now for my friends and family.

Dan, I think you're oversimplifying my argument and taking it to an unnecessarily extreme counterpoint. Don't get me wrong: I still prefer OS X day in and day out and I'm not planning on abandoning OS X or Apple anytime soon. However, given how many of the tools that I use on my Mac are, thanks to Apple's market penetration, cross-platform, I can with a modicum of effort use a Windows machine without being put out too much. Firefox, Gmail, Flickr, and Twhirl are my killer apps and they're on every platform.

If you put everything in the cloud, then it doesn't matter. My connection went down for one day. My entire business stalled. Since then, I'm not terribly interested in keeping stuff in the cloud. The cost of failure is too great, and the number of failure points outside my control is too great.

I've seen 30 years worth of see-sawing between "no one cares about the box in front of them" and "everyone wants stuff on the local box." Time-sharing/dumb terminal gave way to PCs, then to client/server models, then back to desktops, then to the first set of "thin-client" web sites, then back to desktop rich applications, and now we're talking about the "cloud."

If the pattern continues, in two or three years we'll once again be extolling the virtues of the desktop machine.

Steve,

I don't see how having no internet connection is a workable computer scenario these days, cloud or no. In my world, not having connectivity is like a big blue screen of death across my day.

Cheers,

C.K.

There's really two arguments in what you're saying. The first is about platforms, and whether there's anything unique about any of them anymore. The second is about whether the existence of web tools like Google Docs/Cal/Reader makes desktop tools redundant.

To deal with the second one first, the idea of placing all my trust in a single corporation to hold and look after my data for me pushes my heart rate up to an unhealthy level. I'd much rather be responsible for my own data - because at the end of the day, it's the most valuable thing on my computer. The idea of someone at Google being able to accidentally (or otherwise) flick a switch and me no longer have access to all of my word processing and spreadsheet documents leaves me very, very unhappy.

Of course, I could take backups of everything I write on Google Docs (and when I use it, that's exactly what I do). But that means remembering to do so when I'm back at my "base" machine, and like everyone, I'd forget.

So coming back to the first point, is there actually anything which makes platforms unique? The answer, even now in a web-centric world, is yes. For example, on the Mac, I couldn't live without two applications which are Mac-only: Scrivener, and OmniFocus. Both offer unique perspectives on solving two problems which I have to deal with, writing long documents and managing to-do lists. Neither has anything comparible on Windows, Linux, or as a web-app. This makes the Mac the right platform for me.

Ian, great points. I especially like: "Of course, I could take backups of everything I write on Google Docs (and when I use it, that's exactly what I do)." Yes, just because you're in the cloud, it doesn't mean that you can shrug the responsibility of backing up your data as you normally would anywhere.

Also, I agree with your last point. As I mentioned, I'll miss Skitch on the tablet I ordered, BUT the key factor here is that I'll still have a Mac. Upon further reflection, I don't think I'm arguing for a position where you can have either a Mac or a PC and it doesn't matter at all. Everyone will always have a preference. However, because of the move to the cloud, I'm not as opposed to using the other platform. I'll make the compromise to use a PC to gain a cost efficient tablet interface, while still maintaining an iMac for other stationary computing. It's like being ambidextrous... you can use both, but you'll always favor one.

Stever,

"...My connection went down for one day. My entire business stalled. Since then, I'm not terribly interested in keeping stuff in the cloud...."

Isn't that the same as saying, I would rather keep my landline phone than use a cell if my cell service was down for a day?

Don't you think you would be in the same situation if keeping stuff on your local machines were to have issues as well?

No matter if you are in the cloud or local, doing business without connectivity is a difficult process AND ALL data should be backed up with a regular schedule in place.

If Adobe supports Linux, the war between Linux and Mac will finish sooner. Internet is only part of what we do on computers.

I find having a broadband card at the ready is crucial these days.

I took the title/jist of your article to mean, if we're just using the 'net for everything we do anyway, does the way we get there even matter anymore? The answer is no.

The overall debate about the functionality of one platform over another hardware-wise, or Linux/MacOSX/Windows in the great OS wars, separate from the cloud, is so dead it's glue, IMHO. I was a die-hard PC nut (more DIY in terms of building my own) for years until I had to support some Mac users, and then I realized that as long as I was just tweaking software, the hardware just didn't matter.

As for operating system preference, I don't care anymore. I was pro-Windows a decade ago, changed faiths to Linux later, and as of late, I work with 3 or 4 different operating systems in a given week. As long as I can get to the web, it really *doesn't* matter. I tend to stick with cross-platform apps so that I've got some uniformity no matter where I'm working, and back up the crucial stuff in multiple locations.

Which means I'm *always* up and running, no matter what system I use. Isn't that the point?

Software and OS choices are out there for everybody. What matters to most buyers is the price tag. Apple seems to pander to the elite crowd. Their products seem more of a status symbol than a gadget to get the job done. For now, "Mac vs PC" is like "Porsche vs Toyota".

less is more is a hilarious statement to make about using an iphone to browse websites. That statement isnt always true and Im sorry but websites are not meant to be 2 inchs in size, especially not media rich ones. There not designed for the internet and neither are tiny screened e pcs. They are just made to cover a market of email readers and people browsing the internet whilst disregarding the quality of the experience by having ridiculously small screens that, no matter which way you look at it, are never going to give you a pleasurable experience unless your just checking mail and reading newspaper websites online.

Iphones are not web browsers and even eee pcs are a marketing ploy, just because there called e machines doesnt meant there great for the net, infact there not at all because the screens are so small!

-annoyed web designer.

Also you sound too dependent of internet fluff. I doubt you have anything of worth that needs backing up, no offence. Try printing out your photos and what do you really need backing up if your just viewing fluff apps?

One thing that makes me want to get rid of my mac is the pretentious owners! Im not saying you are one, but there are plenty about.

The macs good points are pointless things like the workbench and pointless annoyingly named apps. There like some game you download and play for 2 seconds. There almost like a substitute for browsing in a shop. Its a wasteland of rubbish things you don't really need and a lot of mac stuff is heading that way.

Apple invent problems to fix them, such as the rubbish time machine device to buy. Totally pointless, if I want to backup my stuff Ill put it on a DVD or a hard drive not use a load of marketing called a time machine!

A ideal OS would be something in-between the PC and MAC. An operating system without the trash and with logical setup (mac has a logical system prefs area whereas windows has things dotted all over the place)

And for me linux is just too much of a mess about. Theres lots of talk of ubuntu but its not mainstream enough to use if youre a designer.

Last time I used linux,

1) right, lets install the graphics drivers
2) oh I have to type in commands, ok ill try
3) oh I have to install another driver before the graphics one
4) oh before this one i need another one
5) oh the 1st driver wont work and needs lots of coding
6) goodbye linux

Although that was an old fashioned version, its obviously got more user friendly otherwise no one would be going on about ubuntu or whatever its called.

Anyway, we use too much technology today.

Desktop applications are not going away, and browser-based apps are only an option for users who are not very demanding. Just to give a few examples, applications like Apple Aperture, Ableton Live or Final Cut Pro will certainly not be replaceable by a browser-based app in the next decade - the bandwidth requirements alone make this a ridiculous idea.
I also don't see myself writing a book online. First of all, I don't trust the Internet. Secondly, I want to be able to work in offline mode. I even use a desktop application - namely: ecto - to write and edit my blog entries.
Maybe it's that I just don't like browser based applications. As much as they try to imitate the features and the behavior of real desktop applications, they're still only second class when it comes to usability and comfort.
The answer to the question whether the operating system still matters... I think this has only changed for consumers and home users. In corporate world, OS X won't get you far - there's just too much software in use that's Windows only and using an alternate platform only makes your life harder.
At home, where most people only need a web browser and a game console and something to keep their photos organized, it really doesn't matter anymore which system they use. OS X is (most of the time) more user friendly and looks much nicer than Windows, but the Microsoft platform also gets the job done just fine.

Lol? Your joking right? macs have been behind the curve since the 80's. Every INDEPENDENT benchmark test proves it hands down. google it yourself for proof. and as for the iphone? let's call it am ijoke. everything the ijoke can do my flip phone can do aside from the touch screen, and the internet on my flip is faster. go figure. and now with the touch pro and upcoming palm pre, which is regarded as the most advanced handset to date, the ijoke is losing it's steam. steve jobs is a joke and it's funny, if it wasnt for microsoft apple would have bankrupted twice already. the only thing apple has done right to this date is the ipod, and other media players are closing the gap quite quickly, so it looks like apple will need a new flagship device.

Well there is really one way to find out: geting the peoples input on the subject. http://fotoll.com/Mac_or_PC

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