PC Versus Mac: Whoever Wins, We Lose

PC Versus Mac: Whoever Wins, We Lose

The release of Windows 10 is imminent, and the hype machine is in full flow. Meanwhile, Apple’s busy beavering away on Mac OS X El Capitan. Queue up the tribal camps for the latest round of Apple vs Microsoft bashing. Here are two cents from someone who has seen it all before…

Image: Brett Jordan

Windows 10 is only days away from deployment as I write this. The actual release date for OS X El Capitan is still a little unknown, but it’s quite safe to say that it’ll be before the end of the year. Either that, or a whole bunch of Apple OS devs will be in the market for new backsides, having had theirs comprehensively chewed off by Tim Cook.

What’s unique here is that for the majority of users of either operating system, they’ll be able to score an upgrade from their existing OS for absolutely nothing. Apple’s been offering OS upgrades for qualifying Mac hardware for a few generations now, but Microsoft’s a new entrant in this category, at least in the first year of Windows 10’s release. Yes, you will still be able to “buy” Windows 10 if you really want to, but there aren’t too many usage cases beyond pure system builders where I could see anyone doing so.

Which means that for most people, updating will be either a matter of upgrading what they’ve already got, or when they go to buy a new laptop or PC, finding that it comes with Windows 10 or El Capitan preinstalled.

Upgraders and buyers

The first wave is likely to be mostly the upgraders, with the obvious caveat being that the closer you get to the minimum specifications for either OS the fewer features are likely to run properly, if at all. Upgrading in either case may not be advisable if it’s your primary machine, because bugs aren’t always apparent on day one, but a few months down the track it’s not a bad idea simply to keep onboard with any ongoing or emergent security issues.

Yes, Macs can and do get malware, identity theft problems and the whole nasty world of online security to deal with. Pretending they don’t is simply sticking your head in the sand.

It’s tough to breathe sand.

Then there’s the folks who are only likely to hit a new operating system when they buy a new machine. That could be next week if you’re unlucky with that cup of coffee, or a year down the track when your gracefully ageing but now entirely decrepit PC or Mac finally gives up the ghost. Sure, you’re not really getting either OS for “free” in this case, because you’ve had to invest in the qualifying hardware for anything from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on your requirements. Still, it’s hardly a line item, and a hardware upgrade could be an excuse to “jump camps” into either the Mac OS X or Windows worlds.

Battle formations

I’m more than certain that the release of Windows 10 and El Capitan will further fuel the endless waves of “PCs are better than Macs” arguments (and the reverse) online. The Internet, was, after all, invented for military purposes (AKA, a fight of some sort), so arguing online is essentially written into its DNA.

The thing is, I reckon we’re much better off with solid competition from both camps. There are impressive elements in Windows 10 that have been in Mac OS X for some time, and equally, elements in Mac OS that have or were cribbed from the Windows playbook as well. The dividing line between the two in an age of Internet-connected apps is incredibly thin outside of some very specific application areas.

I’ve been a tech journalist long enough to interview hundreds of different IT professionals working across both camps, all with some very solid reasons for their decisions that go beyond simple tribalism, from special effects people using Macs because they could happily rely on parts and warranties being both global and easy to source to finance wizards using Windows because the Mac market wasn’t large enough for them to properly run software. In pretty much every case, outside the tribalism, it’s usually a case of finding the right tool for the job and getting on with the work at hand, rather than fussing about whether you’re in the Redmond or Cupertino camps.

As for me, I work primarily off a Mac, having made that particular jump about eight years ago. That’s less to do with any particular OS love or hate, however; I have to keep myself up to date with Windows as well to do my particular job, and there’s no huge gap in the Windows world that would mean I couldn’t work on a Windows box.

(Or a Linux, one, now that I think about it. Just putting that in there to keep the Open Source crowd happy.)

Best of both worlds

I jumped because I found that the Macs I was using tended to last a little longer than the comparable PCs of the time. That’s not a hard and fast rule; just anecdotal data, really, but I’m comfortable enough and happy enough working within the Mac sphere for what I do in the most part. Equally, though, throw me in front of a nice Windows laptop like the Surface Pro 3, and I’ll simply get down to work.

Apple loves presenting a very controlled experience within its own design rules, and playing in the Mac OS X camp is largely a matter of doing things Apple’s way. That has some benefits when it comes to optimisations, but equally annoyances when (not if) things go wrong. Microsoft’s more open with Windows, but that brings with it the annoyance loop of being shifted from a given software vendor to Microsoft and back again if things go wrong. Equally, Microsoft’s not above having its own power plays if it decides that a certain bit of its inhouse software should have prevalence over another way of managing a task.

That’s why while I think it’s interesting to have two “new” operating systems on the very immediate horizon, I’m hopeful that both will survive and thrive. Microsoft wants Windows 10 “everywhere”, and while Apple hasn’t made that exact declaration, it’s not hard to see that this is also its aim.

That would be a poor result for us as IT consumers and professionals, because it would inevitably stagnate innovation and even smoothed out emulation of features across operating systems. I don’t much care for the boring and tired “Mac vs PC” arguments, but I do hope the war continues on. Windows 10 looks really good, and so does El Capitan, but only continuing pressure to improve will ensure that improvements continue to be made.

Now, if you really must, you can argue below about why I’m wrong and your PC is better than a Mac, or vice versa. I’ve been around the Internet long enough to know that this is what it always boils down to.


  • I had the chance to beta test both systems and reviewed each

    El Cap:
    Initial testing of el Capitan, OS X 10.11 dp1.
    Nice build. Metal is a welcome improvement. Finally smooth multi desktop 4K.
    Look forward seeing the 10.11 update for Premier and Final cut.
    Additional note. The graphics improvements should make the whole ui a lot better especially on Mac books and Mac book pros.
    Yosemite was pretty clunky even on the latest full Mac pros so I’m sure a lot of users will be pleased .

    Win 10:
    Windows 10 Beta Testing: Here are my notes:
    Fast, Fast, Fast. Super fucking fast. Multitasking over win 8 is much improved but is no better than windows 7. Some new features like native mounting of iso, time machine and system reset are nice but we have also lost features like network map.
    It feels nice to use but once you get into the underlying system you quickly realize it is just window xp with a fresh coat of paint and some updated code. Which means windows still has all the same vulnerabilities. Even though you have a system reset function it does not matter because a well written virus can subvert the reset system and imprint itself on the original base system.
    For MS to remain relevant they must build a new OS system code base built on Unix. Call it Windows Pro and leave the old windows code base for consumer level whatsits.
    Without a Unix code base windows will eventually become irrelevant because it’s inherent weakness in preventing malicious attacks. And the world filling up with awesome programmers, it won’t be long before someone writes a virus that simply destroys the whole windows code base. It is just too fucking fragile!
    The only reason to continue with the existing code is ego. Any business that is built on ego, ignores history and refuses to see the obvious future right in front of it is doomed to epic failure.

    Additionally still missing from W10 are; ssh, dd, a proper partitioning tool, RW hfs, RW ext… All of these are everyday tools on both Linux and OSX. Windows is talking about adding a native ssh client but come on aim a little higher than the lowest possible rung, please. Oh and the one that makes me laugh the hardest is if you have a bilingual office or family you must pay an additional 300 dollars for the OS. To be honest I thin this could easily be called racism.

    • I can’t comment on OSX but there’s some errors or mistaken impressions in your Windows 10 assessment.

      You say it’s just WinXP with a coat of paint. This isn’t at all true. Windows Vista was a full kernel update versioned 6.0, which Windows 7 and 8 were both iterative updates on. Windows 10 has another significant kernel update, albeit less significant than the one from XP to Vista. You also say the same vulnerabilities are there but this seems misleading. Some vulnerabilities are in common but there has been a steady run of fixes since Vista first released. The operating system itself has few actual vulnerabilities, the majority are in application software (for the love of god, Macromedia Flash, please die in a fire).

      The reset system can’t really be infected as easily as you suggest. Because it runs in kernel space, it can only be compromised by rootkit malware, which is fairly uncommon. Unfortunately, rootkits exist for all the major operating systems (Windows, Linux, MacOS), the only real defense against them is antivirus software with good rootkit detection algorithms. Maybe you were thinking of the refresh system, not the reset system? Refresh leaves all your files and programs intact, which would include any viruses you have.

      Your view on Linux as a basis for secure software is well off the mark. It’s been a consistent occurrence at Black Hat conferences that OSX is the first to fall in penetration contests, with Windows and Linux usually fairly close to each other, despite the fact OSX is based on a Linux core.

      Your last paragraph is just strange. Windows 10 does have SSH, its partition tool is full-featured. It doesn’t have native support for read/write HFS but then neither does Ubuntu and some other Linux distros, and Apple themselves dropped write support for HFS in 10.6. EXT support would be nice but it doesn’t offer any advantages over NTFS, which is what any tech will tell you is the best partition for external media.

      Your last two sentences are just flat out wrong. Multilingual support with free language packs have been in Windows for years.

      • On checking, it looks like OSX doesn’t have native support for the EXT file system either.

      • I agree with most of this, just chipping in to say that OSX isn’t based off linux – it’s based off Darwin, which is a BSD.

        • You’re right, my apologies. It’s force of habit that I sometimes call it Linux because the people I’m talking to at least understand that but have no idea what BSD is and think Unix is something that died in the 70s. Functionally they’re pretty similar at least, and security-wise Unix and Linux are on similar levels.

          As an aside, I saw an interesting set of statistics at DEFCON a few years back that had RedHat Enterprise at 32% more high severity vulnerabilities than Windows Server 2003, and double the number of days at risk. Linux has something of a reputation for high security but it’s really down to the distribution and whether the ‘many eyes’ philosophy they have towards software development will actually catch the problems it does have. I’ve always found it interesting that at Black Hat and DEFCON, Windows and Linux perform about on par with each other on penetration tests, but public perception is that one is super-secure and the other is Swiss cheese.

  • I can only say this. I’ve used both, they both get the job done for me….but as a scientist, Macs can be a pain in the ass purely because most scientific equipment and analysis software are built for PCs with no mac clients. More intensive work I do usually require supercomputer clusters anyway and they don’t care if I access from a PC or mac…

    BUT I saw the headline and I made popcorn….Anyone want popcorn?

    • I’m not really fussed either way personally, but like I personally cannot do as much on a Mac as I can on a Windows Pc without using some third party emulation stuff. Also, why would I want to pay like a 200% markup to get a mac over something that is just as good ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  • It’s legitimately called El Capitan? what the hell sort of naming convention is that?

    • I would say it’s a follow-up name from the current release, Yosemite.

      “El Capitan is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, located on the north side of Yosemite Valley, near its western end. The granite monolith extends about 3,000 feet (900 m) from base to summit along its tallest face, and is one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbers and BASE jumpers.”

      • Huh, Thanks!
        I couldn’t draw any connection at all, but it seems there is some method to the madness 🙂

  • In my dreams, people finally realise the potential of Linux and stop using iOS and Windows

  • My son has kind of taken over my PC, so I’ve resurrected a box with Ubuntu – it really does everything I want, except Flash – but Flash doesn’t work well with anything, does it? I do work with Apples both in my job and for the son and ex, and they are pretty good for what they are. If you aren’t worried about your rights or paying for everything, Apples work really well 95% of the time. If you are a Mac user you should give up on the other 5%, or pay someone like me. MS are giving them some serious competition in the areas where they excel (and fail,) but I’ll upgrade the PCs to 10 when it arrives.

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