June 4, 2006 11:44 PM PST
I've embarked on an experiment to actually switch people from Mac to PC. The family's aging Bondi-blue iMac running OS 9 was basically unable to run modern software and a decision had to be made. Either a new Intel based Mac could be purchased, or a Shuttle mini-PC would be handed down. Since either would require an OS transition (to OS X or XP), here are my thoughts:
- Mac OS X is ostensibly easier to use than XP, although more difficult for me to remotely support without a reference Mac.
- Fewer spyware and viruses are written for the Mac. The flip side being that fewer applications are written for the Mac in general.
- The Mac is marginally more secure because it is targeted by virus and spyware writers less. Both OSs have automatic updates.
- PC is a cheaper option in this case (hand-me-down vs. new).
- Fewer games on the Mac. Even simple games like PopCap's only run full versions on the PC.
I analyzed the potential usage and realized that the primary applications used are:
- Web browser
- POP email
- Non 3D games
- Photo Management
- Basic word processing
- Income Tax
- Toys: Google Earth, SketchUp, etc.
This got me to thinking - most of what is done on the computer by basic users can be done in applications with essentially cross platform interfaces. IE and OE run on both platforms. So does Firefox. POP email programs are all pretty similar once set up. Games have unique interfaces, so platform doesn't matter much there. Mac has iPhoto, PC has Picasa. I personally like Picasa better, but it's basically a toss up. Despite the recent Apple commercials, Windows has much more comprehensive driver support for things like Cameras, Printers and Scanners. The Mac and PC both have fun "toys". Despite the PC having more, when thinking of quality applications, I'd call it a toss up. Basic word processing is a pretty universal interface, so no platform advantage there. Income tax applications are cross platform as well, so no real advantage.
I do have some reservations on going down the Windows path. The primary one is simply that malware will be installed by the user in the form of an email attachment or "cool game". This really is not a platform issues as much as a user issue, except that Windows machines are more heavily targeted.
You may see where I'm going with this - the real grand experiment is whether or not the actual OS is becoming irrelevant to average users
. Look back at the application categories above and consider how each currently have Web based alternatives. Take a look:
- Web browser - The platform
- POP email - Web email such as Gmail is more secure by default (https), more accessible, automatically backed up, easier to search, and has better spam filters. Primary drawbacks are offline access and interface.
- Non 3D games - For the games your parents play, Flash and Web games are probably what they like best (Arcade, Puzzle and gambling).
- Photo Management - Online sites such as Flickr are including more sophisticated Flash based interfaces for photo management and easy upload.
- Basic word processing - Writely and a few others do this online already, not sure how printing is handled!
- Income Tax - Many options such as TaxACT work through a browser.
- Toys: Google Earth, SketchUp, etc. There will always be a place for toys on the PC. But is this the only category outside "Games" that basic users need the PC for?
I'll keep this post updated with what transpires.