The question of “Mac vs. PC” has started holy wars on computer forums. It also led to the notion of platform bigotry, the condition where people are so gung-ho about their platform of choice that they actively disparage anyone who doesn’t use it. (This also causes certain users to blindly accuse publications of being biased against a certain platform, even though four out of five current Videomaker editors happen to be invested in both platforms.)
Luckily, the question of which platform to buy into is now easier to approach, as a result of Apple’s recent shift to Intel processors. This allows you to use Mac OS, Windows or Linux on the Mac, when used with software like Apple’s Boot Camp beta, VMware Fusion, or SWsoft’s Parallels Desktop (among others; this is not a complete list). Boot Camp operates as a simple boot manager, giving you the choice of operating systems upon boot. The other tools allow Windows applications to run alongside Mac applications.
On the PC side, the choice of Windows XP and Windows Vista also figures into the equation. We are not yet comfortable recommending Windows Vista at this point, but Microsoft is working more kinks out of that operating system every day. However, it’s notable that Dell is again offering Windows XP for sale with certain systems as a result of customer demand. Windows Vista does have its charms, though – the Aero Glass interface is indisputably beautiful to look at, and Vista will probably become the most mainstream path to 64-bit computing. (You can, indeed, get 64-bit versions of Vista now, but unless signed 64-bit drivers are available for all of your hardware and all of your software, including installers, is either 32- or 64-bit, the 64-bit version of Vista won’t help you much today.)
Apple hardware has historically commanded a premium price (though that seems less the case now), and Apple’s pricing policies make it unlikely that the prices between retailers will be much different. However, the standardization of Apple SKUs also makes it easy to find a machine you like on Apple’s Web site and buy it at your local dealer or an online shop. Compare this to the wildly-differing prices and specs you’ll find for other manufacturers’ hardware, which can make comparison shopping for pre-configured systems somewhere between very difficult and nigh impossible.
One thing to keep in mind, though – choosing Windows also allows you to build your own system from parts that you select yourself, if you’re into that. (See our story in the August 2006 issue for more details.)
Doesn’t Work That Way
So, you ask, since I could boot my Mac into Windows, why can’t I boot my Windows box into Mac OS? Two problems: first off, an Intel-based Mac uses a different type of firmware. Practically all PCs in the wild use BIOS (Basic Input/Output System), a type of firmware which has existed since the original (circa 1981) IBM PC. Intel Macs (and a few high-end workstations and servers) use EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface), a newer type of firmware. Mac OS X can’t deal with BIOS, and 32-bit versions of Windows don’t know how to work with EFI, though 64-bit versions do. (This is one of the functions of Boot Camp – providing a bridge for booting into Windows.)
The second issue is that Apple would rather sell you their hardware to run their software. Apple enforces this with a somewhat controversial technology called TPM, or Trusted Platform Module. This is a chip on the Mac’s logic board that must be present in order to use Mac OS X.
No One Said It Would Be Easy
While platform choices have definitely gotten a bit more cut and dried over the course of the past year and a half, it’s still not an easy decision to make. You still have to consider how much the machine conforms to your concept of “ideal” when you purchase it, such as how easy it is to perform any upgrades you might want down the road (particularly hard drives, disc burners and memory), whether all the ports you need are present, and so on.
Until the day when we can seamlessly run any application on any computer, we’ll still have friendly jabs from fanatical users every once in a while. That’s just the gauntlet we run.
Charles Fulton is Videomaker‘s Associate Editor and one of the aforementioned dual-platform members of the Editorial team.