Despite frequent requests, I've been putting off writing this article for over a year because of the acerbic reactions generated by any discussion of the topic. But today I'm going to throw caution to the wind and publicly discuss how to select a personal computer, in particular one's first personal computer.
Most people make this decision by asking their computer-using friends. The problem with this approach is that individuals with real experience on more than one platform are rare, and users unfailingly recommend the only platform they understand. Windows users recommend PCs and denigrate Macs. Macintosh users pontificate on the superiority of MacOS. These convictions are often held with religious fervor.
I consider myself to be platform-agnostic. I use Macs, Windows and UNIX daily and have been using both Macs and PCs for about 15 years. In fact, this article was written using both my Macintosh desktop and my IBM laptop. Both are great machines with their own strengths and weaknesses.
I long ago swore-off participating in the interminable Mac vs. Windows crusades because most participants, like religious zealots everywhere, have unshakable faith in their own convictions and no desire to understand or consider those of others. This medium however, affords me the opportunity to reach people before they have been converted. Perhaps it will do some good. [ This article was originally published in my newspaper column. Most readers of the electronic version have already been converted one way or the other. -TR ]
This article will focus on Windows and Macintosh not because they are the only or necessarily the best operating systems available, but because one or the other will be the best choice for almost all first-time computer buyers.
The good news is that, if like most people, you want a computer to do things like write letters, send email, surf the web, and manage your finances, you can't go wrong. Both Macs and PCs are excellent for these tasks, and I can't say that one is better on this basis alone. Nor can I say that in general one platform is more powerful than the other. More specific criteria need to form the basis for your decision.
One word of warning; I strongly recommend against making purchasing decisions based on small price differences. This applies not only to comparing Macs and PCs, but to comparing different brands or models of the same platform. Profit margins are thin and all companies have access to the same technology, so reducing price means cutting corners or using cheaper components that are more likely to fail. You probably don't need -- or want -- to be on the cutting edge, but a spending a little extra to get a quality computer will pay off quickly.