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.
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.