Quantity vs. Quality? The old Mac/PC debate

Mac or PC?I’ve convinced many people to buy a Mac over the years, but there’s one person I cannot convert. My mother refuses to go Mac. To put this in proper context, you should know that she is not a computer novice. She has no problem fixing driver problems or troubleshooting a PC. She runs several web sites. You should also know that she is not hostile to the idea of using a Mac.

So, she’s computer-saavy and open minded about trying the Mac OS. So why doesn’t she buy one?

I have to admit that I was disappointed when she recently purchased an HP Pavilion DV740US laptop for $1149. This model came with a 1.67GHz Centrino Core Duo processor, 3GB DDR2 RAM, Windows Vista Premium, a DVD±RW/CD-RW drive with Blu-Ray read support, a 5-in-1 digital media reader, a 320GB hard drive, a TV tuner and a 17-inch screen. It has a built-in camera and wireless capability. In short, it’s designed to be an full-featured entertainment center. It weights in at 7.7 pounds.

She did take a look at the Mac options, but only considered the MacBook Pro — the 17-inch screen was a minimum requirement. But at a starting price of $1,999, the MacBook Pro was just too expensive. It also didn’t have as many features. For her, the HP model was the obvious choice. The primary user of this machine, my father, is happy with it. What’s he doing with it? Primarily surfing the web and checking emails. While he might not use a lot of the power and features of the HP, he gets a zippy machine with a big keyboard and large screen. And when he’s not using it, my mother has access to a powerful second computer in the house (her primary is a Gateway desktop).

I’ve tried to convince her to buy a Mac for years. My main points on why I feel the Mac is the best choice will be familiar to most readers of this site:

You may pay more upfront for a Mac but it’ll generally last longer. I think that most low-cost PCs are designed to be disposable, and they are generally made with cheap components. My second generation iBook G3, though, is seven years old and still going strong. Macs are generally well-crafted machines. Also note that Windows may be much more expensive than the Mac OS in the long run.

I also believe that the Mac user experience is superior thanks to the OS and the aesthetics of the hardware design (and apparently just thinking about Apple makes one more creative, which is kind of scary).

Next, I say that the extra bells and whistles of entertainment machines like the HP DV740US don’t add up to much. I think the Mac excels at honing in on the essentials that people need while steadfastly avoiding feature bloat. This is just my personal choice, but I’m wary of everything-and-the-kitchen sink PCs. In my experience, the base capabilities may appear to be great, but in reality they just don’t work that well. And they generally don’t work well together. We Mac users like to say that our machines ‘just work.’ Well, that’s because Macs just work.

Security is generally considered to be much stronger on the Mac. The main counter-argument I hear on this point is ‘Sure, but just wait until the Mac gets more popular.’ Actually, I think that’s a valid point. We shouldn’t take our relative security for granted. The Mac OS is fairly secure, but it’s far from perfect. It is, however, vastly more secure than a machine on Windows. I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

I also think that Mac software (both Apple and third-party software) is vastly superior in terms of quality, user experience, and OS integration to what you can get on a PC. This is subjective, I know. But it’s true!

Finally, the Mac is the only platform today that can (legally) run the Mac OS along with Windows and most other operating systems. And Macs Run Windows Vista Better Than PCs according to just-released Popular Mechanics test.

In the end, my arguments lost out. Here were the main points behind her HP decision:

1. She would love to try out the Mac OS, but she is quite content with Vista
2. The 17-inch screen is a must — and the Mac only offers costly options in this category
3. The HP offers many more features for much less money

I have to say that I understand the decision to go with HP, but I think the cost benefit of the cheaper HP will decline over time. I think you get what you pay for. However, I have nothing but anecdotal evidence to back this up. Perhaps the HP will stand the test of time just as well as a Mac, or perhaps it doesn’t matter because it’s cheap enough to be replaced without much concern in two or three years.

Despite the fact that I still haven’t persuaded her to switch, she remains very interested in the Mac OS. She noted that she would like the option to install the Mac OS on a Windows machine so she could test it out. She’s not the only one. This happens to be a current hot topic in the Mac community. For more on this, see the April 17 Macworld article, Frankenmac! What’s in a Mac clone?.

Personally, I would love to have the option to legally install Mac OS X on a PC. In fact, I would be tempted to build my own PC tower if I could run Mac OS X on it. Will Apple ever license the Mac OS to run on non-Apple computers? I doubt it, but then again I never thought I’d see Apple switch to Intel. While I’m interested in installing Mac OS X on non-Apple machines, I fear what this might do to the the OS over time. Apple’s decision to lock the Mac OS to Apple computers no doubt helps to maintain control, security and compatibility.

Of course, Apple could also add more products to their line to compete with low and mid-range PC desktops and laptops. While this would surely increase market share, would this be the beginning of the end of Apple’s distinctive quality? I think it might: these cheaper machines would logically need to integrate cheaper components to get the price down, right?

At any rate, Macs today cost a bit more. And they are not as fully-loaded as many PC offerings out on the market. For your money, you get higher-quality, well-integrated components. You get the only machine that (legally) runs the Mac OS. You get more security. You get better software. And, most importantly, you get the Mac user experience — it’s hard to explain this to PC users, but it’s an experience that is worth the price of admission.


  1. Unfortunately, the only way to convey the experience is to actually experience it. So what you could do is lend her a mac for a couple weeks. Or even sneakier: lend your dad a mac for a couple weeks, being sure to be around to guide him the first few days.

    And if you’re desperate, offer her an ipod touch … 😉

  2. I’m the aforementioned mom in this article and I would like to respond. I have been a pc user since the late 80’s and generally they have worked well for me. Has there been frustrations with Windows at times…you bet! Can all of the Mac users out there say that they have NEVER been frustrated with thier operating system?…I doubt it!

    If I were new to computing, I would probably be more open to buying a Mac but I have over 20 years of pc knowledge in my head. In the last year, I have purchased a Gateway desktop with a 24″ monitor and the HP laptop with a 17″ screen (BTW, all for just a bit more than than one Mac laptop would have cost). If I had changed even one of those to a Mac, the expense would not only be in a more expensive computer but also in the software, because most software is made for one or the other of the operating systems.

    Do I get new computers on a fairly regular basis? Yes. Did I really need to have a new computer to do what I am doing? In most cases, no (don’t tell my hubby tho). I am somewhat of a techno-geek and I just like the newer features – MORE POWER!!

    I must strongly disagree with the quality vs quanity statement. Chezfugu says “You may pay more upfront for a Mac but it’ll generally last longer”. So what about my older computers that the chezfugu evidently thinks that I have thrown in the scrap pile. My daughter is now using the computer that I had before I purchased the Gateway. Her husband is a graphic artist and for the most part, it runs well for what they need. My sister is using a computer that I purchased in the 90’s. Is it slow? Yes it is, but she is still able to use it for selling on eBay and doing her photo’s for eBay. Another of my old computers was donated to Caring Connections, a non-profit organization that helps women to get mammograms and other care when they can’t afford it. And last but not least is the laptop (another HP) that was replaced by the HP Pavilion DV740US. It will either be sold on eBay or we may just give it to our eleven year old granddaughter. It would make an excellent computer for a young user.

    The next thing that I disagree on is the statement “Next, I say that the extra bells and whistles of entertainment Machines like the HP DV740US don’t add up to much”. Bells and whistles may not be for all but they work for some of us (and since I know the writer of this blog, I know that sometimes he can be a bells and whistles kind of guy 😉 In the case of the Gateway, it is a great fast computer and an additional TV for at home. With the new HP laptop, we have a fast computer with a large screen that we can take to camp and watch a movie on a rainy day with the nifty Blue-Ray drive. If we weren’t so far away from civilization, we could even use it as a TV at camp. Yes, both machines have a lot of “stuff” and while we don’t that “stuff” all the time, it sure is nice to have it there when we want it.

    I do agree that security is generally considered to be much stronger on the Mac but I am one of those folks that thinks that if the popularity of the Mac were to soar, so would the security problems.

    Software, for the most part, runs well on most pc’s, as long as you use the right version for the computer. I use Adobe CS3, Word Perfect, Word 2007, Quicken 2008, and many other programs on my Vista Machines and I have had very little trouble. I happen to be one of the folks that likes Vista (gasp).

    So it comes to this. I will probably never purchase a Mac but I would jump at the chance to be able to dual boot my pc and use either Mac or Windows operating system. Seems like if you Mac folks can use Windows, turn about is fair play. Who knows, if ever that were to happen, it might be the best way to get me to use and ultimately maybe even purchase a Mac.

    I guess for now, chezfugu, we will just have to agree to disagree about our computer preferences. It’s okay tho, I love you anyway!

  3. Hey brab, if he was lending his dad a mac he would need to move back home for about a year to train him to use it 🙂 I doubt that either chezfugu or we are up to that so I guess dad will have to continue on with the pc.

    Now… you suggested that he get me an ipod touch. Whooo Hooo Sounds like an excellent idea! 😉

  4. Well, this was just a suggestion to have a way to convey the “experience”…

    I was a PC user for most of my life, first a windows user then Linux. A little more than 3 years ago I switched to Macs, because I wanted a Unix system that works out of the box. Since then I’ve been “contaminated” by the Mac experience, and I sure am not going back. I think the best way to describe it is from an old commercial: the computer should be a bicycle for the mind. Simple enough it gets out of the way, but letting you go farther, faster, without breaking a sweat. The time I used to tweak my machine is now spent tweaking my pictures and my music. And writing blog posts and posting comments as well 😉

  5. Wow. I came home after a day out to find all of these comments! Well, you make very good points about my article and your PC experience. Maybe it all does boil down to the experience factor, which brab summarized very well. I guess this means I won’t get to play with the HP laptop when I come home to visit.

  6. Coming into this a little late, obviously, but I can’t resist to leave a comment! Perhaps both of you are approaching this the wrong way. The Mac doesn’t have to be the main computer at all. Perhaps a used Mac Mini would serve your wishes. There’s several great things about this machine: it’s not expensive, it’s a good low-power server, and it satisfies a techie’s desire for a taste of all tech! Your Mom wants to try the Mac OS and do websites afterall…

  7. A used Mac Mini as a second machine and server is a great idea, but would you believe my Mom decided to get a 20″ iMac as her primary machine just a couple of weeks ago! The main selling point: she can run Win 7 via VMWare Fusion, so she can have the best of both on one machine.

  8. Yep, I did get a brand new iMac and I am loving it. It started with really liking the new iPod Touch that I got a few months back and came to a head when my PC stopped working.

    Just for the record tho, it has a 21.5″ screen. I actually downsized from my 24″ screen that I was using on the PC (and Troy’s Dad is loving that screen now that it is hooked up to his laptop).

    For those PC folks out there that are considering a switch—the way that I did it with the VMWare is awesome! Now I have the best of both worlds!

    You can teach an old dog new tricks! It sure doesn’t hurt to have a techie die-hard Mac fan for a son either. 🙂

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