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Microsoft Takes Shots at Macs

August 13th, 2010

Microsoft has recently posted a list of supposed advantages over the Mac–revisiting the eternal “Mac vs. PC” comparison debate. So, how do they rate? Some hits, some misses, some rather laughable claims. One way the list tries to pad itself out is by comparing hardware–which Microsoft does not produce–in addition to the OS, and because there are a large number of companies making multiple lines of computers trying to fit all niches, Apple by itself cannot possibly match every single one of them. So naturally there will be many things that Microsoft can claim which will sting… but the fact that they had to pad the list like this is kind of telling. Microsoft starts out the list with the major points, but then quickly devolves.

Under the heading, “Macs might spoil your fun”:

It’s showtime – You can’t get a Mac that ships with a Blu-ray player, TV tuner, Memory Stick reader, or built-in 3G wireless. You can with PCs running Windows 7.

This is a recurring theme in the list: “Many PCs can do things Macs can’t.” True–and many PCs can’t, either. And few, if any PCs can do all of those things–so even with a Windows PC, you still won’t have all the features that are possible.

One odd point in that list: “Memory Stick reader”? Did the Sony Memory Stick suddenly become popular when I wasn’t looking? Macs now ship with SD card readers, which tend to be the most popular type.

But Blu-ray, yes–that’s one that stings. Jobs calls it “a bag of hurt” without being too clear on the why and wherefore. He mentioned the “licensing of the tech,” but that doesn’t necessarily explain why other makers seem to be OK with it. He also mentioned that the format hasn’t “taken off yet,” which shows one Apple weakness–the delay in adopting many new standards. It took way too long to get SD readers, for example, and even the original USB was a bit long in waiting. No doubt USB3 will have a similar lag as well, and probably WiMax too.

Game on – Most of the world’s most popular computer games aren’t available for Macs. And Macs can’t connect to an Xbox 360. PCs are ready to play.

The games claim is mostly true–if you’re a serious gaming aficionado, then a souped-up PC makes more sense. That said, Macs can run Windows and do Windows gaming; Microsoft is playing with the difference between the OS and the hardware here, claiming each one is the main topic whenever it is to their advantage. And connecting to an X-Box? Um, OK. If that’s your thing.

One more point comes up here: stuff that Microsoft can claim now but maybe not for too much longer. Macs are making gains in the gaming world, and as student adoption of Macs continues to skyrocket, so will the Mac ports for popular games. And hey, let’s not even mention the iPad or the iPhone here, right?

These points, however, are the main ones–advanced hardware on some PCs and a bias for the Windows OS when it comes to gaming. One could point to similar advantages for the Mac, primarily the hardware/OS/software symphony, excellent tech support, superior user experience, and ability to run all other OS’s in emulator mode. Microsoft of course does not mention points where it is at a disadvantage, nor should it. But they’re there, nonetheless.

Direct TV connection – Most Macs can’t hook up to your TV unless you buy a converter dongle. Many PCs running Windows 7 are designed to connect directly to TVs, so you can watch movies and see photos on the big screen.

Ooooo… you have to pay five bucks for a converter. Deal killer, that. And as with a point above, not all PCs have this themselves, though a lot do. But that can be counted as an advantage for Windows–you can choose between hundreds of varying systems for exactly the specs you want (though that also has its disadvantages built-in as well).

But this point–HDMI out–has a short shelf life: the Mac Mini has HDMI out. Meaning more Macs will have it soon as well. Oh well, so much for that advantage. Add it to the list of things Microsoft can only claim for the moment.

The claims start to get laughable in the “ease of use” category. The main point: if you’ve only used Windows all your life, it’ll take time to get used to a Mac. But then, if you used MS-DOS, using Windows 3.1 took a long time to get used to also. Are you still using MS-DOS? Yeah.

Under “Macs can take time to learn”:

The computer that’s easiest to use is typically the one you already know how to use. While some may say Macs are easy, the reality is that they can come with a learning curve. PCs running Windows 7 look and work more like the computers you’re familiar with, so you can get up and running quickly.

See? “Stick with Windows: it may be harder to use and more frustrating overall, but we’ve got you hooked because it’s the only thing you know. Don’t bother to take the week or so to discover an OS which is easier to use.”

Their next point: very different!

Working smoothly – Things just don’t work the same way on Macs if you’re used to a PC. For example, the mouse works differently. And many of the shortcuts you’re familiar with don’t work the same way on a Mac.

Oh, wait. Just more specific. Oooh, you’re never gonna get used to the Command key instead of the Control key!

Essentially, Microsoft is saying that Windows has the advantage because it’s different. Not better, just that there are minor differences and you don’t want to have to spend even a few days to get used to different keys. Suckerrrssss!

Use Windows 7 to simplify your life – Windows 7 was designed to make it simpler to do the tasks you do every day, with features that the Mac doesn’t have. For example, the new Snap feature makes it easy to view two documents side by side.

Yes, everything is much simpler than on a Mac! Like installing and deleting softw… um, wait. No, like switching between open windo… ohh. Hmm. Or connecting to a printerrr… well, how about using a USB sti… um…

But hey, you can make two folder windows occupy either half of the screen in Windows like that! Suck it, Apple!

Touch and go – Unlike Macs, many PCs running Windows 7 support Touch, so you can browse online newspapers, flick through photo albums, and shuffle files and folders–using nothing but your fingers. PCs with a fingerprint reader even let you log in with just a swipe of your finger.

Touch screen? On your desktop or laptop? They’re gushing about that? Touch is wasted on those, and on devices where touch is actually useful–phones and tablets–Apple is way ahead. Not to mention Apple’s trackpads put just about any PC’s to shame. Guess which is closer to the keyboard and easier to use?

And the fingerprint reader? Hah! Maybe some people like that, but I’ve never met one. I had a student bring in her Windows laptop, and she hated having to swipe her finger every time, and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. A colleague boasted about the feature, but when I asked him, he admitted that he never used it.

The above points fall into the category of “glitzy features which look cool but you wind up not using.” Not really an advantage to the end user.

Microsoft is clearly aware of the fact that businesses are starting to wake up to Apple gear, and especially that Macs are beginning to dominate the education market (mouse over chart at right to see details). In their section titled “Macs don’t work as well at work or at school”:

If most of the computers in your office or school run Windows you may find it harder to get things done with a Mac.

Not really. If a Windows PC’s network connections are not pre-set by the IT staff, I find it far easier to connect using my Mac.

In any case, the claim here is again based on Windows predominance–not that it’s easier or better, but rather coasting on the fact that there are more PCs around than Macs. When the fact is, if you change all your equipment to Macs, it’s far easier to network, connect, and maintain, with less IT costs. Which is why a lot of IT departments steer away from Macs.

Sharing documents and spreadsheets – If you use Apple’s productivity suite, sharing files with PC users can be tricky. Your documents might not look right and your spreadsheets might not calculate correctly.

Once again, “We’re not better–we’re just what you’re stuck with.” And interesting that Microsoft seems to forget that Office is on the Mac. Is that defective too? Besides which, I’ve seen the same issues pop up between people using different versions of the same software on PCs–like Office 2000 and Office 2007–not to mention what happens when you try to use another computer without the same selection of fonts. Especially different languages–something the Mac handles smoothly, but Windows does very badly.

As for portability of documents from computer to computer, let’s not forget that PowerPoint is an absolute nightmare when it comes to sounds and video–something my students discover every semester when they make a PowerPoint presentation on their home computers and then bring it in to work. Even if they keep their audio and video files all together in one directory, copying that directory onto a new computer will cause PowerPoint to forget many of the paths

Giving presentations – You’ll have to buy a separate hardware dongle to plug your Mac into a standard VGA projector. Most PCs with Windows 7 hook up easily.

Again with the $5 adaptor. Does that really make people turn away from a better system? It’s like saying, “Buy a Hyundai instead of a Porsche, because the door handles are smoother!” And while we’re talking about PowerPoint, here’s a one-word argument for the Mac: Keynote.

Protecting your drives – On a Mac, out of the box, you can only encrypt your home folder. With Windows 7 Ultimate, you can encrypt your entire hard drive and even USB drives. So your stuff can be safer wherever you go.

I don’t know about this feature so I can’t speak to it. Except to say that nobody I know uses the feature on either system. This may be something a few users think about, but most people will just shrug and walk away.

We get to funny stuff again in sharing: “Macs don’t like to share.”

Securely share your movies, music, and photos – With a Mac, it’s harder to set up secure sharing for your photos, music & movies, documents, and even printers with other computers on your home network. With HomeGroup, it’s easy to connect all the computers in your house running Windows 7.

Yeah, but if you have XP or Vista on any computers, tough luck.

As for secure sharing, it’s called WiFi with WPA2–or, in other words, the industry standard. Set it up–easy. Then all the Macs just show in the sidebar. At worst, you have to turn on file sharing in the System Prefs and make a directory shared by clicking a checkbox in the “Get Info” window.

I have not tried “HomeGroup” yet, but from looking at tutorials, HomeGroups seem way, way harder. This tutorial goes over an eleven-step “exercise” (seriously, they call it that) which shows how to create such a network–on one computer. The second page has twenty steps to add another computer.

Simple as pie! Making pie, that is! Very difficult pie!

Is it really more out-of-the-box than that? Because from what Microsoft is claiming, a 31-step process is hardly “automatic.”

After this, it’s just repetition: another section titled “Macs might not like your PC stuff” is a re-hash of “it’s not good because it’s not a PC,” and the “Macs don’t let you choose” is a rehash of the Blu-ray and other media points with “you can’t choose pretty colors” tossed in.

Seriously, if this is all that Microsoft has got to prove it’s better than Macs, they’re in much bigger trouble than even I thought.

What they put up essentially boils down to this:

Macs don’t feature high-end built-in peripherals like some PCs have, and the PC remains a superior gaming platform. PCs also sometimes have cool but useless doo-dads like fingerprint scanners. Macs more often need adaptor cables. The Windows OS has a few nice features which are not found on the Mac.

Otherwise, the main reason to buy a PC is because it’s what you know, and you might have slight problems dealing with cross-platform compatibility.

Seriously, I think even I could have slapped together a better case for PCs than that. The problem is less one of running out of things to talk about and more one of bad writing.

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  1. Troy
    August 14th, 2010 at 06:07 | #1

    First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.

  2. K. Engels
    August 14th, 2010 at 07:43 | #2

    Well to be fair, I can get a Windows laptop made from bamboo. I mean come on Apple, get with the program, plastic and metal are so last year.

  3. Liz
    August 14th, 2010 at 22:07 | #3

    Much as I am a windows user, I’ve looked at apples. The only real advantage of windows over apple is you can buy a machine running windows for next to nothing compared to the cost of an apple machine.

    A lot of the preference of windows vs mac is how you think and of course what you’re used to. As a programmer, changing to code for mac (having tried) was difficult.

    I wish apple made an ok spec low cost machine.

  4. Luis
    August 14th, 2010 at 22:12 | #4


    Two sides to the cost argument: as far as the machines Apple makes are concerned, the net cost is actually about the same as an equivalent PC, once you take into account all the back-end costs the PC incurs–more expensive base software, more maintenance and repairs, cost both monetary and performance-wise to fight malware, resale cost and lifetime of the machine, etc.

    But I think you refer to the dirt-cheap aspect–being able to get a PC for $400 or along those lines. And you’re right on that, Apple doesn’t have anything to match it, nor does it try–for the reason that they want their computers to be nice. Absolutely, if you just want the minimal pile of components chugging along, then Apple’s not for you… unless you figure out how to install Hackintosh. ☺

  5. Troy
    August 15th, 2010 at 06:05 | #5

    Yeah, funny thing is it’s hard to beat the 27″ iMac from building your own at newegg.

    The i5-760 iMac costs $2000 . . .

    CPU $200
    mITX MB $100
    Case $100
    PS $100
    4GB Memory $100
    1TB HD $100
    5750 $150
    27″ LCD $1000
    Windows 7 $100

    So we’re up to $1950 for the parts.

    But the stupid thing is pairing a quad-core CPU with such a sh–ty video card. And even sadder is that the video card *could* be easily user-upgradable with like $10 in parts if Apple designed this in.

    Apple’s Achilles heel is the support for leading-edge graphics, 2010’s almost over and they’ve just started incorporating Radeon 5-series, and my Mac Pro from 2006 does not have an upgrade path to this as of now. I will NOT be getting another Mac Pro if there’s no Radeon 5-series upgrade for my box. FTS.

    Better to go with a Mac Mini + SSD perhaps, but I see that Apple is behind the curve with their Mini offerings (all Core2Duo still). Gah. Apple is beginning to piss me off. $40B in the bank and they can’t pull the thumb out.

    They just need to start licensing OS X to anyone and stop with the hardware woo-woo.

  6. Liz
    August 15th, 2010 at 06:39 | #6

    True, but at the same time, if for example you’re pretty much using it for webbing about the place and not a lot else, Im never going to deny apple makes awsome kit. But, not every family can afford to go there. In UK terms, I can pick up a crap laptop for just about 200 pounds, and it will run ok enough you wouldnt complain. Even a base iPad for example, is more expensive than a lower prised PC based laptop.

    However, the original article does touch on some points, if you have some slightly technophobic people, who can pick up a desktop PC for around $200 pounds which will run everything they do, and they can cope with it, its “familiar”, it would be difficult to expect them to start spending over 1000 pounds to get an apple, for which they hear its nothing like.

    Having had a quick look round apples website, when you take a family and could buy a machine for 2 kids and a desktop for the parents for the price of 1 apple. It would be hard to get them to do so if money is tight.

  7. Troy
    August 15th, 2010 at 09:46 | #7

    While it is true that a $300 netbook is a usable laptop, it’s also obsolescent the day you bring it home.

    Windows 7 Starter, 1.6Ghz Atom CPU, 1GB RAM, no 802.11n, only 1 DIMM slot, 1024 x 600 display, Intel graphics, 3-cell battery, no optical drive.

    What a horrid little device. Great for a child I suppose, though, since they’re tough on stuff so why buy them anything decent.

    The $999 Macbook, on the other hand, is a decent machine that I could use as my daily box as a software developer with little loss of usability.

    It’s got a lot built in — HDMI/DisplayPort, Bluetooth, DVD-R, video cam, 10hr battery . . .

    It’s sad that people choose the $300 option compared to the $1000, option, but understandable I guess. Millions of people eat at McDonald’s every day after all.

  8. Geoff K
    August 16th, 2010 at 10:06 | #8

    The thing about Apple vs PC is all about choice. In the PC world, I can find a keyboard touch and pointing device that I like. I’m actually partial to Thinkpad pointing sticks and keyboards. And I despise the Mac trackpad as an everyday mouse (yes, even though it’s Multitouch). So I’d much rather have a Lenovo than an Apple laptop *regardless of price*. Unfortunately, Apple won’t sell OSX on anything but their own crappy hardware, so it’s Windows or Linux for me.

    This is why Macs will never be hard-core games systems. Apple won’t put a cutting-edge video card in a Mac, even a hugely expensive top-end system. The fact that a Mac can boot Windows is irrelevant–the HW just doesn’t cut it.

    The funny thing is, I rarely see people who actually *prefer* Apple HW. Usually, they’re making excuses why it’s not *really* overpriced, poorly-designed, inconvenient, behind the curve, etc.–it just appears to be that way. Well, if Apple HW can stand on its on, why do they have to lock their customers into it? Margins on software are higher than HW. They shouldn’t need the lock-in. Answer: Apple is a control-freak company and they just don’t want you to have a choice.

    No thanks.

  9. Luis
    August 16th, 2010 at 10:22 | #9

    The thing about Apple vs PC is all about choice.

    Yes, couldn’t agree with you more–though would clarify that as “preference,” so as not to confuse it with other issues. Preference is subjective. Personally, I detest the pointing stick, having been forced to use it some years back at my work, and I simply love the Apple trackpad–something which actually surprised me at first, because I used to hate trackpads, and always used a mouse with my laptops–but after Apple released the current trackpad, I discovered I simply never used the mouse anymore, a purely unconscious decision.

    As for Apple HW, there are extremes. The type you mention–buying without regard to price–would be identified by anyone buying the Macbook Air. Paying several hundred dollars extra for an underpowered, under-featured laptop just to save 1/5th of an inch of thickness is absurd, an appeal to vanity (shame on you, Charlie Rose).

    As for “overpriced, poorly-designed, inconvenient, behind the curve”–you’ll obviously get arguments from me. But that would just be re-hashing; let’s leave it at “I completely disagree.” :-)

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