Windows vs Mac: A not unbiased showdown! ~ Ask The Admin

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Windows vs Mac: A not unbiased showdown!

I’m Abhi Garg and this is my first post on

Most of us have already read numerous articles on how Windows OS and Mac OS X fare against each other, and it’s unfair to pick one as the winner unless you’ve been to both camps i.e. worked on a Mac and a PC with the same agenda. This blog will not announce a winner but will focus on my experience with Mac OS X (having been a Windows user for over 12 years).

Since it’s possible to run Mac OS X on non-Apple hardware (Apple despises hates this), and the fact that Apple machines (now) run on the Intel platform, the hardware differences and that whole discussion can be safely ignored.

1. Let’s start with the pricing and versions.

To run Windows, you can either buy a pre-assembled PC (Gateway, HP etc.), custom build it (Dell) or DIY (gather the parts, get your hands dirty and put them together).

If you buy a PC from a reputable hardware vendor, then your machine will arrive pre-loaded with a version of Windows that you chose while ordering. You may also opt to build a PC yourself and buy Windows off-the-shelf/online.

The latest version of Windows, Vista, has many flavors – Basic, Home, Business and Ultimate. The previous Windows version, Xp, had multiple flavors as well. This is the where Mac OS X draws first blood. With Mac OS X, there are no versions; you get a single OS release with all the features (Leopard is the latest). Why should a user have to make a choice between networking and media center capabilities?

Yeah, our lives are so simple, we really need this version complexity.

Max OS X Leopard retails at US $129.00.
Windows Vista starts at US $146.00 (for the Basic version). Windows Vista Ultimate costs around $279.00

From a direct cost comparison perspective, it would appear that Windows is more expensive than Mac OS X but there’s a catch to this.

Two things:

  1. These are full version prices; if you are already running legitimate Windows Xp, you can go with the upgrade route, which knocks down the price.
  2. You can run Windows on pretty much any kind of hardware that meets the minimum requirements of Windows OS. With Mac OS X, you need to buy Apple hardware unless you are an expert user, and can make a patched copy of OS X run on any PC hardware. That, of course, would be a pirated version of OS X.

Apple computers, as we know, are expensive so that offsets the cheaper OS X price. Windows scores here. It’s cheaper to own (not necessarily cheaper to run though. Don't worry I'm getting there).

2. Reliability and software installation.

Without going into a lot of detail about kernels and platforms, I’d like to highlight that Windows and Mac OS X are inherently different. OS X is based on Unix kernel, which, unlike Windows, does not have any registries or COM/DCOM libraries. It relies on common file paths, copy/unzip to install and delete to uninstall. Yes, that’s how simple it is with Mac OS X. To install a software, all you have to do is unzip the package (if it’s an archive) or mount the image (if it’s a .dmg file) and just drag drop the software folder in /Applications. All applications on Mac OS X reside in Applications folder under / (root)

With Windows, it’s the install shield, registry, COM, COM+ and what not.

Mac OS X does not understand an .exe file, which may sound like a limitation but in practice, that’s a huge plus. No .exe means No viruses, No spy ware and No unauthorized activity. In fact, you do NOT need a virus scanner on Mac OS X.

Unlike Windows, you don’t have to patch Mac OS X every few days. The applications that run on Mac OS X like iTunes, FireFox etc. may need updates but the OS X itself is pretty stable.

Mac OS X scores.

Historical insight: Windows shifted to pre-emptive scheduling** starting with Windows 2000 but Mac OS X has always been on this model.

**Pre-emptive scheduling – when an application runs on an OS, it requires resources (RAM, processor, network etc.). Under a pre-emptive scheduling model, the OS can forcefully withdraw the resources allocated to an application (Ctrl + Alt + Del -> End Process in Windows and Force Quit in Mac OS X). Users who’ve had to live through Windows 95 and Windows 98 would know the difference. In Windows 95 and Windows 98, the applications ran under non pre-emptive scheduling system i.e. the OS could not force an application to free the system resources.

3. Third party applications requirement and misc. items

Mac OS X comes bundles with almost everything you would need to get going immediately. Professional users may need to purchase software per their field of specialty but other than that, you are set. From a decent text editor to Terminal that fires a SSH connection, from a brilliant inbuilt iSight camera that comes with Photo Booth software for conferencing, chats and photos to Time Machine that automatically backs up everything on your hard drive to an external drive, from an inbuilt firewall to block unwanted incoming connections to iMail, iCal and Address Book – you get everything.

Windows comes bundled with Media Player, Games, NotePad (oh my god, I hate myself for mentioning notepad), a patch hungry Internet Explorer and other goodies. However, quality wise they do not meet Apple’s standard.

Plus, Windows DEFINITELY needs an anti-virus scanner, anti spy ware tool and probably an external firewall to protect itself. I think more resources are spent on protecting Windows systems than the queen of England.

Add this cost of additional software to the base OS.

Finally, the cost of Apple hardware: Apple charges a lot of money for a Mac. However, the quality is super good. The mighty mouse, the keyboard and the displays are excellent. When you get OS X (with a Macbook or iMac etc.), you are not just getting an OS but a whole new experience in the form of hardware + software.

Mac OS X scores.

Everyone should work on an Apple machine. At least once. You may not want to return to the Windows' patch-y world.

Begin the comment war now!