Mac2Windows

Microsoft's New PC vs. Mac Pages Don't Tell Us Anything New

- 2010.08.11 - Tip Jar

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Microsoft volleyed recently in the long-playing Mac vs. PC ping pong match. The company added a new set of pages to its online Windows 7 website which has long had a section labelled Compare.

It's aimed at home users and uses nontechnical friendly-sounding language. Up until now, the Compare section let viewers compare Windows 7 editions - Starter, Home Premium, Professional, etc. - and compare Windows versions - XP, Vista, Win 7. When comparing Windows 7 to older versions, it uses categories like "Makes everyday tasks simpler and easier", "Works the way you want it to", and "Makes new and exciting things possible".

Taking on Macs

New, though, is a tab labelled PC vs. Mac. Click on it, and your browser's title bar displays: "The PC has Blu-ray capability, more software choices, and more!"

Tabs display Microsoft's categories for comparison: Having Fun, Simplicity, Working Hard, Sharing, Compatibility, and Choice.

Microsoft's PC vs. Mac page
Microsoft's page comparing Macs and Windows PCs.

Let's see what Microsoft wants you to know. Note that while the site (and the Twitter feed) are supposed to be about Windows 7, on this set of pages, it's PC vs. Mac, as in Apple's now-abandoned set of TV ads and Microsoft's "I'm a PC" response ads. According to Microsoft, "PCs are designed for work and play, with features you need to get things done on the job or at school and have fun at home or on the go".

Having Fun

  • "Macs might spoil your fun. There are some things you simply can't do out of the box with a Mac like watch, pause, rewind, and record TV like a DVR."
  • "You can't get a Mac that ships with a Blu-ray player..."
  • "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."

Simplicity

  • "Macs can take time to learn."
  • "Things just don't work the same on a Mac if you're used to a PC"
  • "Unlike Macs, many PCs running Windows 7 support Touch so you can browse online newspapers, flick through photo albums . . . using nothing but your fingers."

Working Hard

  • "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".

Sharing

  • "Macs don't like to share."
  • "It's easy with a PC."

Compatibility

  • "Macs might not like your PC stuff."
  • "...if you're a PC user, lots of your favorite stuff just might not work on a Mac."
  • "Apple's productivity suite file formats won't open in Microsoft Office on PCs."

Choice

  • "Macs don't let you choose."
  • "You can get the PC you want, in the size and color you want, with the features you want."
  • "Macs only come in white or silver. PCs are available in a full spectrum of colors...."

Reality Check

All these things are sort of true.

  • You can buy a PC with a built-in TV tuner, even though most PCs aren't equipped that way. To get a TV tuner on a Mac, you have to buy an external gadget.
  • Macs do work differently than Windows PCs - isn't that the whole point?
  • You can buy a red or blue PC from a variety of companies.

I'm not sure if Windows' inclusion of touch features (on selected models, of course) is something to boast about, given the generally poor acceptance these models have had in the marketplace - and especially after the much better implementation of touch in Apple's iPad.

Not surprisingly, much is left out, whether discussion of relative security between the two platforms or even simple facts:

  • "Apple's productivity suite" (i.e. iWork) can open and save in Microsoft Office-compatible formats if desired - it just isn't the default file format. (If you want Office file formats by default on your Mac, just use Microsoft Office - or the free OpenOffice.org with the default changed.)
  • While there are certainly differences between Windows and Mac OS X that require some getting used to, there are also big differences between, say, Windows XP and Windows 7 that also require some getting used to. (And isn't that the whole point in moving from XP to Win 7?)

Hopefully you don't have to be a Mac fanatic to notice the lapses in logic in many of these comparisons: "most Macs" can't hook directly to TVs vs. "many PCs" can. That could be restated - equally accurately - as "some Macs and some PCs can hook directly to TVs."

In the interest of fairness, Apple also has a Mac/PC comparison on its website. (After you take a peek at Microsoft's comparison page, wander over to Apple's.)

Make the ultimate upgrade. To a Mac.
Apple promotes Macs as "the ultimate upgrade" for PC users.

What's really going on here?

The whole tone of the site seems to be aimed at young folks - not especially hip young folk, just regular kids who are going off to college for the first time and perhaps looking to buy a notebook computer to take along with them. There are lots of references to "computers at work or at school".

Macs on Campus

This part of Microsoft's site appeared in August, as back to school shopping season is heating up - and just as several news stories appeared reporting huge growth in the number of Macs used by US university and college students. See for instance, the chart on Mac Usage Surges Amongst University of Virginia Freshmen Since 2004 (reproduced below) showing that from 2003 to 2009, Mac usage among first year students at the University of Virginia surged from 4% to 43%.

University of Virginia, percentage of first years students with Macs
At the University of Virginia, 47% of first year students used Macs last year.

Similarly, Fortune published Big Macs on Campus. While debunking reports that an astonishing 70% of incoming freshmen would be coming to school with Macs, it reported on a survey of last spring's college students that said that of laptop owners, 27% had Macs - the most of any brand - and that among students planning to buy a new laptop, 47% wanted to get a Mac.

When viewed against those statistics, Microsoft's PC vs. Mac website makes more sense - the whole tone of the site seems carefully tailored for a 17-18 year old, college-bound demographic.

What's Important to You?

And in the end, what are we left with? It's absolutely true that Microsoft Windows is available on a range of PCs from multiple manufacturers, in a variety of sizes and form factors and at a variety of price points. Some are red, some are blue, some are black, some are silver, and some are other colours. Some have Blu-ray built-in, some have TV tuners, and some have 3G wireless.

Macs are only made by Apple, there are fewer models, they have a smaller range of built-in options - and they only come in silver or white.

If you really must have a computer in a color that's not silver or white, or one that has built-in Blu-ray or a TV tuner, by all means, buy a PC. If that's what's most important to you.

It's sad that Microsoft can't tell us anything we didn't already know. LEM

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, www.zisman.ca. If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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