PC, Mac or Linux?



Tuesday 16th January 2018

Clients, friends and family are always asking for our opinion about which is better - a Windows-based PC, an Apple Mac or a computer running Linux. 

 

PCs are cheaper

We've used PCs since Windows 95 came out, and we'll most likely be using them for many years to come. The main reason is that they're cheaper. Our computers take a real hammering at work and don't last that long.

We're currently using custom-built 15" laptop computers from PC Specialist running Windows 10 with external 26 inch screens and keyboards to make them more comfortable to use for a long time. They have quad-core Intel i7 3.6GHz processors, 8GB of RAM and 500GB solid state hard drives (a box of chips instead of a spinning magnetic disk). They cost about £850 and an equivalent Macbook Pro would be well over £2,000. We don't expect these computers to last more than five years before we replace them, so we'd be spending a lot extra to run Apple computers instead.

The other reason we use Windows is that most of our clients also use Windows, so it's easier to test websites, but this is definitely changing as Apple get more market share.

 

Macs are prettier

Macs are undeniably more beautiful to look at, and most people find them easier to use and more intuitive. Apple owners certainly tend to be more loyal, whereas you're more likely to hear a Windows user swearing at their computer - especially in the old Windows 8 days :(

It's true that Windows is cumbersome, more susceptible to viruses and requires a reasonable amount of technical knowledge to run properly. As any Apple owner will tell you, Macs just work - they never ask you complicated questions, get viruses or break. (Except of course they do, read why everyone should protect against malware and viruses.) 

Actually, that last one isn't quite true; when they go wrong they really go wrong. If your PC breaks there are many companies who can fix them and the spare parts are cheap. You should only get your Mac fixed by approved Apple Service Centre, and it can be expensive. For this reason alone, we wouldn't recommend ever buying a second hand Mac, we've heard horror stories of people getting what seemed like a bargain, and then forking out the same again when it soon broke.

At the end of the day, it's entirely up to you. Apple make beautiful products and if you've got the cash and love their style then go for it. 

 

Linux is more complex

Unless you're a techie, you've probably never even considered having a computer that runs Linux. Maybe you didn't know that you can even get home computers that run it! But if you've got a mobile phone that runs Android, you've already got a Linux computer.

Most often, people who want to run Linux on a home computer will install it themselves, but a few companies offer it pre-loaded like System 76, or Dell. There are literally hundreds of different versions of Linux, from ones that are optimised to run straight from USB sticks with no installation up to the enterprise-scale system that runs this website. 

Our web servers use Linux and we own a Linux file server in our office.

Linux computers are very powerful and give you complete flexibility for your computing requirements. But it can be a steep learning curve - you can have a nice pretty interface for a Linux computer, but expect to have to get your hands dirty at some point, typing commands into a black-and-white terminal window. 

 

So which is right for me?

In a book by the American Sci-Fi author Neal Stephenson, he uses a car analogy to compare operating systems:

  • A Mac is a luxury European car, sleek and beautiful but with a high price tag - and you have to visit their dealership to get it fixed or upgraded.
  • Windows is a utilitarian estate car which is reliable if a little dull, but has cheap parts and any garage can fix it
  • Linux is compared to a free tank.

From the book:

These are not old-fashioned, cast-iron Soviet tanks; these are more like the M1 tanks of the U.S. Army, made of space-age materials and jammed with sophisticated technology from one end to the other. But they are better than Army tanks. They've been modified in such a way that they never, ever break down, are light and maneuverable enough to use on ordinary streets, and use no more fuel than a subcompact car.

Stephenson says everyone still buys the estate car because although you can have a free tank, it's daunting and no-one wants to learn how to operate it. 

We're sticking with our Windows computers for now, but that tank looks really appealing. 



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