The debate over which PC operating system is better, Mac or Windows, has passionate followers on both sides. While there's no single answer, you can find a computer with the right characteristics to meet your computing needs. Here's the lowdown on the matchup between Mac and Windows.
Mac and Windows are equal in:
-- Usability. You may have heard that Macs are more intuitive than Windows. In reality, neither system is fundamentally easier to learn. Novice computer users will face challenges learning to navigate either a Mac or a Windows system, and users experienced with one platform will experience frustrations if they switch.
-- Design capabilities. Although Macs ruled the design world in the 1980s and '90s, both operations have equal design applications and abilities today. Both Macs and Windows systems support a large variety of file types, offering cross-platform compatibility so designers can exchange ideas between Mac and Windows PCs with ease.
Mac and Windows are not equal in terms of:
-- Viruses and maintenance. While Macs no longer are virus-free, malware remains far less prevalent in them. Windows users are plagued with driver updates, security patches and a need for regular antivirus/anti-malware scanning, which can lead to clutter within the system and speed issues because of higher memory consumption. But because Windows is experienced with combating malware, it is better suited to quickly address new security issues. Apple tends to struggle with rapid response to new attacks.
-- Software and gaming. Windows is the big winner here; it offers a much larger library of compatible software options and nearly three times as many applications in its app store as the Mac app store. While you'll have no trouble finding Mac versions of big-name games or programs such as Quicken or Photoshop, if you run a specific software application that isn't as widely used you may find that it's a Windows-only program. Graphics cards and compatible gaming hardware options also are limited for Macs, meaning gamers should stick to Windows.
-- Hardware. Almost all hardware is designed to work with Windows, a huge advantage when you need to upgrade or replace a malfunctioning part. Mac users have more limited upgrade capabilities if a key piece of hardware breaks or no longer supports computing needs.
-- Cost. Apple sells high-quality systems for top dollar; it doesn't offer budget models. It doesn't sell a less-reliable motherboard or a slower processor at a discount. Alternatively, there's a huge variance in the quality and price of Windows-based PCs. A Windows PC with similarly reliable hardware wouldn't be dramatically less expensive, but Windows systems are typically cheaper because of competition among manufacturers.
Apple doesn't sell custom machines, so if you want a larger hard drive in your new Mac, you'll have to get a more expensive model that likely includes additional upgrades for which you otherwise wouldn't choose to pay.
Overall, Windows PCs offer a lower purchase price, but they may require more time and money to maintain (malware removal, the replacement of cheaper hardware, etc.) than a Mac. While Windows systems aren't inherently easier to use, the platform's popularity means that you'll more easily find people to help you if you encounter a problem. You'll also likely have fewer compatibility issues with peripheral hardware or when sharing data with others. On the other hand, Apple products work well together. If you already have other Apple gadgets, a Mac may be a great fit in your electronics family.
(Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, a company based in Redding, Calif.)