Mac vs. PC debate continues

By Michael Eilers

eilersm@aruba.ccit.arizona.edu

Arizona Daily Wildcat

There is a war being fought on the Internet.

It's being fought in the software isle at your

computer store, among the personnel selling the computers, and in corporate boardrooms. There may even be conflict between your parents or friends. It's the battle of Mac vs. PC, and it won't be over anytime soon.

Anywhere multiple "platforms" converge, there will be conflict it is inevitable. Among the wildly diverse Usenet discussion newsgroups, there is one common thread: the PC vs. Mac flame wars. While in computer stores, I have actually heard employees asking each other if they would like to "step outside and discuss this," when one platform, or base type of computer, is recommended over another. And I'm sure we've all heard Mom vs. Dad in C.A.T.S., discussing how to spend their three grand.

The conflict is most visible on the Usenet groups. I don't care if the subject is "alt.collecting.elvis.sweat," the platform debate always seems to crop up. Inevitably, someone asks, "Hey, how do I get this Elvis CD-ROM to run on my [insert platform here]?" and someone replies, "Well, you have to feed the #$@!*! gerbils that run your cheap-ass computer, pinhead!" and the platform warz begin once again.

Of course the Linux folks diss the OS/2 people, and Amigas attempt to defend themselves against Windows, while everybody, PC users included, moans about Windows 95. But nothing seems to polarize and focus the discussion like the Macintosh vs. PC debate. Why?

For starters, Mac users tend to be a bit fanatical, myself included. One reason for this is that we are always on the defensive about our platform go to a computer store to find out why. Mac software and hardware seem to take up less than 1/10th of any computer store, and when new PC stuff comes in, the Mac stuff gets bumped. Why? Well, Mac users tend to shop mail-order, as a rule. But it must also be admitted that there are a lot fewer Macs out there than PCs, though this is changing in some areas.

Other reasons for a preference tend to be more philosophical. Personal preference is everything, and Mac users just prefer a different kind of computer: easier to use, less to fiddle with, nice-looking, stylish curves. PC users love the thrill of hacking a .bat file, the zap of a DOS command, the agony of having Windows 95 crash once again. Mac users just want to do stuff, not get their hands dirty. Most of my PC-using friends live to dig around inside their computers, tossing Windows aside to get their hands on some real code.

This philosophical difference is what comes to the forefront during the warz. Of course, on the Usenet, the debate is far from civil. Recently, this battle began on a news group I read, rec.arts.music.ambient. A Mac user intoned "Aren't you Pee-cee folks happy now that Bill Gates brought your computer up to the level of a Macintosh as it was 10 years ago?" PC people promptly flamed back, questioning the guy's manhood and heritage, and suggesting that his "cute little box" might function as an excellent septic tank displacement device. Mac users always mock the idiocy of DOS commands, while PC users question how a computer that friendly could ever get any actual work done.

This debate often inspires people to wax rhapsodic. One Mac user went on at length about how his computer allows him to achieve a higher spiritual plane, while a PC user said "Just seeing that little happy face when someone turns on a Mac makes me want to put my fist through the screen." Obviously there is no middle ground on the issue.

I've seen the same battle happen in student bookstores, between blood relations. Dad uses a PC at work, and wants Junior to get one, so Dad can steal all the software for it and save some money. Junior wants a Mac because most of the campus labs use them, and besides, they get you chicks. [Note: this is not the case. Trust me.] A discussion ensues over which one is a "real" computer, while store personnel with divided loyalties stand nearby and interject helpful facts.

What's the point of the whole debate? Well, the good news is, there really won't be a point in the near future. Apple has decided to make its OS portable, so you can buy and use it just like Windows 95, especially on a new breed of computer called the CHRP. The "Common Hardware Reference Platform" is the brainchild of a partnership between IBM, Apple, and Motorola, which created a base computer design that will run all major operating systems. With one computer you will be able to run the Mac OS, or Windows 95, or OS/2, or Windows NT even at the same time, if you so desire. The idea is to make the user interface just as flexible as the hardware choices, and allow people who need both platforms simultaneously to use them on a single computer.

Also, Java and the Web will change a few things. The beauty of the Web is its perfect cross-platform capability. A Web page looks (and works) the same on a Unix machine, an Amiga, a Mac, and an Acorn, and pretty soon everyone with a computer and a modem will have cheap, fast access to the Web. Since it seems pretty obvious that all on-line business and activity is migrating toward the Web (even America Online is thinking of going to a web-page format), the "platform" question becomes rather moot when considering online use.

Meanwhile, most of the major software packages (Adobe Pagemaker, Microsoft Word, Excel, Photoshop) all look, behave, and perform identically on either type of computer, and even use the same document formats.

Of course there will always be loyalists, and there are diehards out there who will be using Betamaxes and drinking New Coke until the bitter end. The cool thing about the platform warz is that we all win, as each side tries to improve and expand itself, struggling for that market share. Which platform is best for you? Hey, that's not my job to decide. However, send me some mail and I'll try to help you out though by now my bias should be clear... :)

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