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The Mac vs. PC Battle (And Why It Almost Doesn’t Matter Anymore)

Column: Tricks & Tips


From the Nov. 2009 Issue

Over the past 20+ years, American technology users have had essentially two
choices when it comes to their personal computer or workstation: PC or Mac.
And although this scenario has led to some entertaining and memorable television
commercials (“Hi, I’m a Mac,” and “Dude, you’re
getting a Dell!”), the issue has always been somewhat polarizing. Mac
users are ardently (feverously even) devoted to their computers. PC users are
much less so, at least in my opinion.

PC & Mac: The Differences
I’m a PC user. I currently have a Dell, but not out of brand loyalty or
any particular reason other than the price they wanted for the features I wanted.
I’ve owned several brands and even built a few myself back in the 1990s
when it could be more affordable to do so. After all, what’s inside a
Dell is essentially the same exact thing that’s inside an HP, Compaq,
Sony, eMachines and most other brands of PC.

There are a few different brands of processors, hard drives, video cards and
other components, and the motherboards they fit into are not all interchangeable.
But for the most part, PCs are made from parts produced by other technology
companies, then assembled and bundled with other hardware and software by companies
with the brand names we recognize. Furthermore, PCs can run any operating system
that is available for installation (there are really only two on the market,
Windows and Unix/Linux). The Apple OS can actually be run on PCs also, but Apple
is pretty serious in enforcement of its license agreement, which reads, “You
agree not to install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-branded

Macs, on the other hand, are produced and pretty much completely built by
Apple using components that they produce or at least control the production
of. And until recently they were only available at a few very select locations.
While this may offer better quality control, it also affects the price, which
is why Macs, whether laptop or desktop, are more expensive than their generally
equivalent PC counterparts.

Apple’s control over all of the components, its own self-developed operating
systems and stricter compliance rules for software have also made its Mac systems
more stable. It is not because the programs or the computer are inherently better,
it’s just that they interoperate more smoothly.

The term crash has different definitions. The worst case is a system failure
where all data is lost. This would most likely be hard drive failure. The least
severe (more of a nuisance) is just needing to reboot the computer. I haven’t
had to unexpectedly reboot any of my PCs in several years. Instances of total
drive failure are very rare and usually give ample warning; I have never lost
files or programs due to a system crash. Both types of crash were more common
before the early part of this decade, but improvements in the Windows operating
system have mostly eliminated such problems and provided additional data protection
tools such as the “restore” function.

Likewise, Macs are not more secure than PCs for any reason other than the
bad guys who make viruses are less likely to take the time to create a version
for the less than 10 percent of computer users who use Macs. They target the
bigger audience of PC users. If Apple, however, were to attain a larger market
share, the risk of viruses would go up. As with my experience involving crashes,
I’ve never had a virus on my home PC because I practice skepticism with
email, browse safely, use a firewall and take other preventive measures.

The Mac Chic
All that defensiveness aside, I will give Macs the benefit of the doubt and
state that they are probably more user-friendly. It starts with the buying process:
PC buyers think about what they want a new computer to offer in terms of processor
speed, hard drive storage, RAM and connectivity with other devices. Mac users
simply think: “I want a Mac. Do I want a desktop or mobile version?”

There is also the Mac chic aspect. Largely due to Apple providing the first
wide range of design/color options, Macs have acquired somewhat of a fashion
status, especially with younger computer users. The popularity of Apple’s
iPod and iPhone lines have also triggered a renewed interest in the Mac. At
the beginning of this decade, only about 3 percent of desktop computers were
Macs, but by 2008, data from Global Market Share Statistics showed that this
had risen to more than 8 percent. These overall numbers include Apple’s
MacBook line, which is nearing 15 percent of the U.S. laptop market.

Incompatibility Issues
A great barrier to Mac in the professional marketplace has been the result of
server technology, largely built on Windows systems, which, until recently,
essentially mandated that workstations also run on Windows. And while Macs now
offer the ability to run the Windows operating system along with its own (the
most recent Apple OS version being OS X Snow Leopard), there is still a dearth
of programs available in Mac versions, especially for tax and accounting professionals.
This is why professionals like our own Executive Editor, M. Darren Root, CPA.CITP,
often have “double lives,” using Windows in the office and doing
everything else with his MacBook Pro, iMac and iPhone. He recently wrote about
this on our blog at

The Battle May Be Over Soon
The continuing evolution of web-based programs, storage and other tools may
make this dichotomy a thing of the past. As more and more of the applications
that professional users rely on to do their jobs move to an online format, including
tax and accounting systems, the operating system will be of less and less significance.
It will be more a matter of browser compatibility since users will log into
their programs, enabling them to not only work from any location, but also from
any type of computer.

With this newfound freedom from operating system restrictions, younger professionals
will be more able to keep their personal preference as they transition into
the workforce. For many, this will mean bringing Macs along with them, but I
doubt there will be an overwhelming wave of transition to Macs, other than those
already wanting Mac but restricted by their professional technology requirements.

For the most part then, Windows proponents will lose part of their argument
about Macs being unsuited for professional use. But at the same time, the managers
and firm owners who make technology purchasing decisions are likely to continue
to be swayed by the lower cost of PCs that results from increased competition.

PC or Mac?
With cloud computing and SaaS, this once volatile question will primarily just
be a matter of user preference and economics. As reader Byron Patrick, CPA.CITP
replied to Darren’s blog post at,
when it comes down to the future of PC vs. Mac in the workplace: It won’t

So what do you think? Do you think Apple will find greater market share success
with the transition to web-based programs and cloud computing? You can add your
voice to the discussion at
or send me an email at

See inside November 2009 issue

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