Mac Vs Windows For The Self Employed

One of the challenges when you're starting out on your self-employment journey is that many of the things you take for granted when you've worked in a larger organisation aren't there anymore. And one of those things is access to software and technical support. If you're out on your own and buying computer gear for work for the first time, one of the decisions you'll face is whether to go for a Mac or Windows system.

OK - I know that there are many folks out there who will say some flavour of Linux or other is best and that there's plenty of FOSS out there that will cover the needs of just about anyone. However, I'd argue that there is plenty of free and cheap software out there for every major platform. So, what I'm really concentrating on are the hardware options and the operating systems.

Windows Pros and Cons Windows is the most installed desktop operating system on the planet. The current iteration, Windows 7, is secure, reliable and is supported with a mass of software.

One of the great things about Windows is that you can buy a system at almost any budget from $300 and up. There are hundreds of different vendors you can buy from and the range of form factors and manufacturing materials means that you'll be able to find a computer that fits your needs.

However, with that openness comes one of the more annoying parts of the Windows experience. Manufacturers tend to install extra software with each machine. While decent anti-virus and security software is welcome, the obsession with adding toolbars and extra utilities can make a decent mid-range computer feel sluggish.

If you're buying a Windows system, spend some time after the initial set up to remove any unneeded software.

Where the Windows platform shines is application availability. Apple might boast that its App Store has hundreds of thousands of apps for the iOS platform but that would be a small portion of the total pool of Windows applications.

Support for Windows systems depends greatly on who made your computer and where it was purchased. For business users, we'd suggest considering onsite warranties - particularly if you're based outside a major city.

Mac Pros and Cons Apple's approach to computing is very different to the Microsoft way. Whereas Windows is licensed to hundreds of manufacturers and can even be bought off the shelf if you prefer to build your own systems, Apple makes its own hardware and installs its own software. Occassionally, they will add a third party application to the build but we've never encountered a situation where Apple has compromised the out-of-the-box experience for users.

Apple ships its systems with a copy of the iLife suite so you get image management, video editing and music creation software as part of the system.

Apple does not make computers at bargain prices. There are no $300 Macs. So, if you're on a strict budget then your path to a Mac is likely through the second-hand market.

One of the criticisms often leveled against the Mac is compatibility. There are a couple of layers to this.

Firstly, if you have a Windows version of an application you can't run the same software on your Mac. So, if you've procured the Windows version of Photoshop, you can't run it on your Mac. You'll need the Mac version.

The other, and more important, element of compatibility is the capacity to share files between Mac and Windows users. This used to be a significant issue - more than ten years ago. It is no longer a major issue. If you take a memory stick formatted as FAT it can be read and written to by both Macs and PCs. Memory sticks formatted as NTFS can be read by Macs.

File formats across both platforms are compatible. Many of the popular files formats used such as PDF and Office are now official ISO standards. As well as meaning files can be read across platforms, they can also be opened, read and edited by different applications.

One thing we will say is that Mac users tend to think that they are not likely to be affected by malware. Apple's own advertising [YouTube] highlights this. However, we'd strongly advise that you buy security software from a reputable vendor for your Mac.

With support, Apple's reputation is mixed. If you can get to an Apple store then you're likely to be well looked after. Phone support is usually OK although many people we've spoken to recommend escalating issues pretty early on if the first line support isn't helping.

Summary

In general, we find that most people say that the Mac is easier to use than Windows. However, don't think there's reallly much difference. Both platforms have their own specific way of doing things.

There's very little difference as far as application support goes. All the major software developers release Mac and Windows versions of their software and both platforms are well supported by smaller developers. The recent versions of OS X come with access to an App Store that makes buying and updating software easy. That's a feature that will come to Windows when Windows 8 is released later this year.

There are certainly more virus and malware threats that affect Windows but the recent Flashback trojan [Lifehacker] highlights that the Mac is not invulnerable.

There's no doubt that Apple's hardware has a higher cost of entry but if you compare like for like Windows and OS X gear then the prices aren't all that different. By that, we mean hardware specification, build materials and support.

In our view, there really isn't a lot of difference between the two platforms. A well maintained Windows system will perform as well as a Mac. Apple's entry cost is higher but that's because they don't play at the cheaper end of the market. Software differences between the two are negligible and usability comes down to past experience and personal preferences.


Comments

    As someone who just started using Macs at TAFE while being a Windows user at home, I will add... if you know Windows already, Mac is NOT easier to use.
    If you grew up on Mac, then Windows won't be too easy to learn.

    ...If you haven't had experience with either... where have you been? Under a rock?

    So this covers desktops but self employed often use laptops, yeah?

    Windows laptops are so much harder to get parts for once they get a couple of years of but maybe not ready for an upgrade. A MacBook pro on the other hand, easy. In my experience with both options this leads to longer time between upgrade and can absorb the extra cost of the MBP. Also the parts from places like ifixit are pretty reasonable too.

      Lol you kidding me right?
      walk in to any hardware shop and you can pick up pretty much anything for 3-5 years old laptop
      (the replaceable bits anyway) and no one fixes anything this days ones its out of warranty

      Rubbish! Go to eBay and you'll get any parts you need. I just did an eBay search on my 4 year old Dell M4400 and I get 7 pages of results for parts for it. Better still, you'll have no trouble finding step-by-step instructions for replacing/upgrading anything you need to.
      What's really stupid about this comment, though, is that your MacBook Pro has exactly the same guts as a dozen different PC laptops, so if you can get parts for your MBPro, then those same parts will work in someone else's PC laptop. It is yet another BS excuse that bears no relation to reality.

    I think it's funny that the Con of buying a Windows Machine is the bloat ware it comes with. This is harely a pro v con arguement. Do you think you might detail why one os is better than the other. Windows without bloat ware is just as fast (if not faster than) a IOS.

      I'm guessing that as you're calling it IOS, you've not actually used Mac OS X. The OS X setup is so much more uncluttered and un-junk filled, which is one of Windows most serious problems. Function wise, if you just need a way to be able to get to Microsoft word ASAP, then it really doesn't matter all that much either way.

        Not in my experience. I sit in front of a MacPro 30 hours a week and it is every bit as cluttered as any PC I have ever bought. Seriously, I often read these accusations of PCs being filled with useless applications but I have never experienced it myself. It must be at the low end of the market because even my Core i7 Asus Zenbook came with none of it, just a couple of truly useful additions like widgets to switch between "High Performance" and "Battery Saving" modes and a couple of diagnositc tools. The only thing I had to uninstall was the McAfee krap (I don't use anti-malware, beyond what comes with Windows).

      Yes, Windows without bloatware is fast. I have three Windows machines (all on VIsta) - the desktop is fast, stable, and responsive. One laptop is pretty fast and responsive. And then there's the other laptop. It's slow, and sometimes gets almost unusable. Part of it is the hardware, Linux on that machine is also not so speedy. But a lot of it is the bloatware that came pre-installed on the machine. I removed some of it, and it's now better, though still slow.

      And I think this is one reason why people buy Macs - you generally don't need to worry about getting that third "other" laptop that is as slow as a dog. I really think Microsoft would create some sort of Windows "Platinum" brand, or something, where they guarantee that you have decent hardware and not too much random crap pre-installed. Ultrabooks are kind of like that, but that's only a small subset of the Windows world. And Android could probably benefit from the same sort of "Platinum" branding.

    Start from the software you want or need, and work back to the OS needed to run that. Both OSs work reliably. Both are (in practical terms) secure if you use them with reasonable care. Apple make great hardware, but buying it doesn't force you to live in OS X (macs make great Windows machines).

    Upshot: If the software you need for your business runs on only one platform, then you don't have a choice. If you do have a choice, it's a truly free one that you may as well make on any basis you want, because there's really no objective reason to go for one or the other.

      Totally agree with this comment. A little bit of commonsense!

      Totally agree. I couldn't live without Coda for mac - which doesn't come for Windows (more and more software out there like that these days). So it's a no brainer for me. :)

      Like Luke, totally agree.
      Moved from Windows late last year after 10+ years Win user. The main reason was to become more familiar with OSX but it was easy as 85% of my work is done in a browser which is for the most part the same on both platforms.
      A lot of generic business apps have OSX/Win varieties so for some lucky ones (like me!) it's really down to non-business usage and hardware choice that drives the decision to choose one or the other.

      I've been saying this for years. A computer is just a tool to do a job. The constant argument about which is better is like arguing what kind of hammer is better. Both on their own are useless. The software you need to do your job is what matters. Each have their strengths and weaknesses.

      And for all you "experts" that work in the computer industry, if you're any good at your job you should be able to do your job using either platform. Sure you'll be more comfortable with one over the other due to familiarity, but these days you can do anything from either platform unless it's platform specific (obviously windows application development is best done on a windows machine, but these days I use a virtualised desktop for that and the client I have in front of me can be mac or windows, or even a tablet if it has to be).

        I totally agree with you. Considering the direction that computing is going at the moment, with super light weight touch type interfaces, if an IT professional is only able to function on one system, they're very limited. Specialised technologies may require this, but in general, IT professionals need to be able to diversify and work in varying environments, rather than just ones they are comfortable in.

        Alex, that will not always be true. Many applications run much better on one platform than another. e.g. most professional 3D applications, like Maya, Motionbuilder or SoftImage, will work much, much better with DirectX than with OpenGL, so their performance on PC is generally much better than on Mac, even though you can run them on either. Apple don't even write very compliant OpenGL drivers, so high-end applications like Autodesk Combustion run like dogs on Mac, whereas using nVidia's QuadroFX drivers on PC gives brilliant performance. SO there are plenty of professions where even though there seems to be a choice, choosing Mac is a poor one.

    Can't wait till i get a raspberry pi, it should replace my work computer as all i do is web coding, word processing and proof reading

    The issue is always hardware. After Apple switched to the AMD64 architecture, there's now no real difference between a MacBook and anything else, except Apple tend to be a lot better at supporting the hardware. Choosing rugged, long-life hardware is always a challenge, and I've found that consumer-grade hardware is slowly declining in quality, meaning more replacements. I've found that my Compaq Presario from 4-5 years ago and my second-hand Compaq Armada of almost a decade ago are both as rugged as my new MacBook Pro, but this argument can't be made for my Lenovo ThinkPad, which is already disintegrating after about a year.

      When did Apple switch to AMD64? Last time I looked, they were spruiking Intel's Sandy Bridge like all the PC vendors.

    I am a self employed Electrical Engineer Consultant. have tries lots of solutions and OS'es to help run my business as efficient as possible. Found MacBook Air, IPad and IPhone with DropBox and iCloud the best solution. Tried google and microsoft solutions but found them combersome.

      Really? So which CAD software runs half-decently on your MBAir? I'm running 3DS Max on my Ultrabook it goes like stink, as I'm sure AutoCAD or Revit would.

    Brought to you by Microsoft.

    That is all.

      I believe you mean "cumbersome"...

    This is a weird article. Firstly the real issues with Windows are barely touched on, yet you make a huge deal out of file-system compatibility which virtually doesn't exist these days.

    It seems that you've been struggling to find cons with the Mac OS, while ignoring some of the ongoing flaws with the windows system (wanna talk about drivers? Lets talk about drivers).

    I'm feel that this article almost seemed entirely written for the sake of saying that 'Windows these days is stable', which is something that probably should need to have been said, but would more accurately be a 'Pro' in the Mac camp.

    People starting out their own business are less interested in the platform specifics, as they are about how friendly that platform is going to be to them, and will the easiest and quickest platform to use have the software that suits their needs?

    So to that end, how about you talk about things like MYOB/QUICKEN, or How iLife comes with software that allows quick and easy Web-page authoring. Maybe talk about the differences, advantages and disadvantages of the most commonly used office suite - Microsoft office - running on each system. Because here the greatest differences are formed. Mac's smoothness and friendly GUI capacity, as opposed to Office on Windows having a greater functionality. That's the kind of thing businesses want to talk about.

    And you're a bit off the mark with the Apple support. There's plenty of data to indicate that Apple lead the field in both in store and over the phone support.... by a LONG way.

      I agree with Scott K.
      The article alleges to highlight the differences between Windows and Macs based computers .
      I agree the Mac is easier to use ,but that’s hardly what makes it a better computer . No mention of right click on a word anywhere on display in the Mac to invoke (the built in) dictionary ,hence correction, what about Automator ,or Appplescript etc.... these are the things that would help a self starter to repeat a million tedious similar tasks in a few minutes. Windows does not even come close. talking about the need for virus software doesn’t do it either , sure there is always a risk , but after 8 years or so using unprotected 4 Macs I don’t think i’ll bother . for the sake of objectivity ,the writer should talk about the number of times one has to reformat or reinstall Windows and the dreaded drivers. another important factor is the branding and pricing of windows , from the ultimate to home and everything in between costing several hundred dollars , where as the OSX full and only version is a mere $100 , not to mention some upgrades which is only $20-$30. All in all the PC (laptop) isn’t cheaper ,after all comparison only work when you take everything in consideration . is the specification of a $300 Win. laptop really comparable to the cheapest mac.? of course NOT.

        The reasonable answer of course is to use whichever platform you are comfortable with and is the best tool for the job.

        "writer should talk about the number of times one has to reformat or reinstall Windows and the dreaded drivers..." Yes, let's talk about that. I've been using Windows for maybe 15 years and not once have I had to reformat or reinstall Windows. Except when the hard drive completely died on one machine. Drivers are usually not a problem, but when they are it's generally because you're using a third-party device that isn't available on the Mac to begin with.

        I finally used a Mac at work (ironically), and found that no, it's not generally any easier to use. Different, but not easier. I have no problem using a Mac, but I still prefer using Windows. Stability is good these days on both Windows and Macs. My Mac required forced reboots (with the power button) slightly more often than my Windows Vista machines, but we'll call that a tie.

        Is Mac really easier to use?
        Everyone keeps saying this but whenever I use it I find it WAYYYY harder. I know all the Windows shortcuts and tweaks and stuff and none of the Mac ones so obviously that plays into it a lot.

      OK Scott, let's talk about drivers. Specifically, let's talk about graphics drivers. OS X has zero support for DirectX, far and away the most highly developed graphics libraries available. And Apple write graphics drivers for multi-monitor support, so they aren't very good at supporting graphics-intensive applications at all.

      In the end it comes down to a simple choice - would you rather get your hardware drivers from the company who designed, engineered and manufactured the device or from a 3rd party? Apple are a 3rd party whose needs may or may not coincide with your own (they certainly don't coincide with mine). OTOH, the hardware vendor's only interest is in making his device perform as well as it possibly can and they work really hard with many different software developers to ensure the highest level of compatibility with top-end software applications.

      I will agree with you, however, that they have not put any emphasis on the many, many cons to MacOS. I assume that is why they have kept the article as shallow as possible, because the deeper you dig, the worse it gets for MacOS. Throwaway line like "most people say that the Mac is easier to use than Windows" are easy to make when you don't bother delving beyond the surface, although even simple, often required things like decent window management is beyond OS X.

    Comparing these two OS's never ends well. Windows, currently, is the best OS for graphically intensive gaming. Apart from this point they are virtually the same for someone just looking for a means to the end.

    This article is well written and very reasonable. It reflects my experience with both platforms nicely: always the most massive difference between the two is user perception, either based on past experience, advertising, word of mouth or just simple prejudice.

    There are differences, but in reality they're pretty minor and superficial- Get a computer and do your work on it, the OS and brand isn't that important.
    The FAR, far bigger divide is the computing experience on mobile devices VS full fledged operating system machines. Weather ios, Android, or Windows phone, they're all much of a muchness but working on them has a LOT of pluses and many minuses when compared to Full OS machines (Windows and Mac).

    I think the main difference here is the price between the two.

    I would much rather spend 50% less on a windows machine (that i would build myself without bloatware) the differences between the two os's are moot and its not the fact that Apple are not playing at the cheaper end of the market. They are simply charging what the market will allow them too.

    Its called product perceived value people.

    my design business uses both mac's & PC's. Right now i'm incredibly frustrated with my PC, for some reason it refuses to allow folders to be shared on my network & it seems the only way to fix is to reinstall my win OS. My Mac never suffers such issues, so i'm left feeling that mac's are that little bit more reliable & stable than its PC counterparts.

      Mark, perahps you should consider engaging the services of those that specialise in delivering solutions to the problems you are having in the same way that you provide services to those that do not have the neccessary skills that you possess to achieve their target goals?

      Yeah I would say user error as obviously this can be done as evident by countless business that already perform a identical task.

      Really? My experience is quite the opposite. My MacPro at work is hugely temperamental when accessing our server if I use OS X - it drops out and stops copying files - but has no problems at all under Windows on the same machine. It is probably a driver issue, as it is a high-speed SAN that requires specialist drivers under both OSes and they probably put all their effort into the Windows drivers, but that is often my experience.

    I will personally stay with Windows (for my personal use) for at least the next 5 years for these reasons:
    -I can set up my own hardware, customize the system, etc. Windows will still take care of the changes.
    -The files system, architecture of Data/OS is naturally intuitive. I don't think any other OS will do better at least in a close future.
    -I need to read/modify/setup/fix something I will just do it by following my intuition (and a little experience I agree) and rarely just Google it.
    -The advantage of windows is its maturity, complexity (in a sense that you can do almost everything with it). And we know that this Maturity was gained after years and years of work and energy.
    -With windows I feel almost free. I am talking about Price, Drivers availability, support, documentation, applications, computing, developing, resources, etc.

    "I know what I have to know" Mac is better looking and provide full support for its "very limited" hardware. Ubuntu is Free! unfortunately need some time to gain maturity (in term of applications availability). Now, if you just need to read PDF files, web browsing and sending email, just go for Mac (if you can afford it) because of its fancy design (I am imagining someone buying an iMac and just staring at Desktop screen for a hour. As I did myself). If not, buy or build your custom PC with your preferred hardware and go for Windows or Linux because you will save $$$. BTW. I've been working with Windows/Ubuntu/Mac for a couple of years now. Hardware = Processor, RAM, Hard drive, Power Supply, Motherboard, Tower, TV! Mouse and Keyboard.

    I've just bought myself a macbook pro after using windows my entire life. I am a self employed graphic designer, and the two OS's basically do the same thing that I need them to do. I have found since using OSX Lion that is such a better user experience, everything moves so smoothly, and I really cant find a fault in it except the price. For me, it was definitely worth what I paid for it. I really appreciate the detail apple put into the design and they have great support for their products.
    As far as gaming goes, if I feel like playing BF3, I will just go play it on my Win 7 PC...
    I suggest using both platforms... don't be boxed in to your own little OS world, try and explore a bit :)

    I prefer mac as a small business owner, but accounting software is limited in range. Once you take the time to learn the mac keyboard shortcuts, and spotlight, navigation is so fast and easy.

    I use all three major OS. Mostly Mac OSX now though. I find windows 7 generally faster than osx, but not by much. Windows explorer is nicer than finder, folders at the top is better than alphabetical IMO. Osx is more polished user experience, and many more features to enhance productivity e.g. Different screen grabs, quick look etc. apple laptops generally more reliable, spare parts waaaay over priced. Ubuntu doesn't know if it wants to be like apple or windows and it uni suffers. It's ugly. But apt-get rules.

      How does that work? You just give a perfect example of Windows being "more polished", then say the exact opposite. How is OS X's pathetic, convoluted, ever more complex window management, for example, "more polished" than the simple elegance of Windows' Taskbar? I was about to compare the stupid "Apps" folder on the Dock to Windows' Start Menu, but then I realised that MS screwed it badly with Vista/Win7, so it is no longer the massive advantage it once was. Win8 will fix that, though.

    This article is incredibly shallow, looking only at the kinds of things anyone could find out for themselves by spending half-an-hour comparing things at JB Hi-Fi. However, I don't know how anyone can find MacOS easier to use than Windows. The simple frustration of minimising an application window and having it completely disappear from the screen is surely enough to put anyone off? And the idiotic Dock gets in the way of the Status Bar on most of the applications I use, or a toolbar or something else if you try to relocate it. Sure, you can spend ages customising a lot of things away but a Windows machine just works out of the box in a way no Mac ever has for me.

    I remember being so excited at the prospect of working on Mac, after several years on PC in my first graphics job, but the reality was that MacOS isn't better in any way at all. The expectation I had built up, based on all the usual things you hear about Mac, was massive but the reality was crushing. The only thing I like about it is the nifty Preview application that works in Finder at the press of the spacebar. The rest of it is completely unremarkable in my experience.

    But as someone else has already stated, you shouldn't choose your OS, you should choose your applications and they will dictate which OS you need to be running. For me it is a very simple choice because if I made list of the 5 most important applications I use, only one of them runs on Mac (After Effects). Of the others, Xara Designer Pro (Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign/Dreamweaver/Word all in one), 3DS Max (world's best selling 3D animation software) and Synapse-Audio Orion (pro music software) are all Windows-only and the last, Autodesk Combustion (digital compositing and motion graphics), runs so badly on MacOS that it is almost unusable. In fact, under OS 9.x on a G3 Mac it was literally unusable, as the stupid Mac couldn't even draw its UI without running out of memory, so there would be missing buttons and widgets in dialogue boxes.

    Then there is hardware. It is easy to say that Macs are good value for high-end machines but the fact is that even a MacPro is a pro-sumer level machine, at best. If you want a proper workstation, you don't buy it from JB or Harvey Norman, you go to a reseller and get a pro machine, like an HP XW workstation, where you will get a much better machine with proper pro support anywhere in the world. Same with Dell - buy a $500 Inspiron and you get what you pay for. Buy a Precision workstation, laptop or tower, and you get next-day, on-site support second to none. For a few hundred extra, you can extend it worldwide if you travel for your job.

    Even at the consumer/pro-sumer level, Apple is overpriced. e.g. Last November I bought a new Asus Zenbook. I was just idly checking it out at JB and the sales guy came over and, without me having to haggle at all, offered me a price that was simply too good to pass up (especially as I was going overseas the following week and could get my GST back). I got a machine that had only been on the market for two weeks for $350 less than RRP, it cost me $1350, and $450 cheaper than the equivalent MacBook Air, which the guy said he could only give me about $100 off. I'd also argue that the Zenbook is more stylish and feels more solid. It definitely performs much better - its Sandforce SSD is phenomenal and the HD3000 graphics are surprisingly capable. Bottom line -I got a better PC laptop for almost 30% less than an equivalent MB Air.

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