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Computing's Holy War
--------------------
  by Cary Lu 
 
  [Published in the Seattle Times, June 18, 1995. Revised June 26 to
  include support numbers from Microsoft. Copyright 1995 by Cary Lu.
  This article may be freely copied and distributed in paper and
  electronic form without charge if this copyright paragraph is
  included.]
 
  The battle between proponents of Macintosh and IBM PC computers
  has for many years resembled a religious war, and as in all
  religious wars, much of the rhetoric has been driven more by
  ignorance than knowledge. Very few people are truly skilled with
  both Macs and PC. Since PCs outsell Macs by a wide margin - seven
  to one or more - most people with computer experience actually
  know only about DOS and Microsoft Windows on an IBM PC or clone.
 
  Not surprisingly then, if you ask which computer should you buy,
  the most common answer - from computer sales people, data
  processing managers, and newspaper columnists - is a PC. But
  before you take that advice, ask if your adviser actually uses
  both Macs and PCs. If he or she knows only one system well,
  consider the advice suspect. Steer clear of PC bigots and Mac
  bigots who use jargon: "Only PCs support true pre-emptive
  multitasking and multiple processors." "Only Macs have dual-
  channel SCSI for fast disk arrays." These techie issues are
  irrelevant for most users; in any event both systems will offer
  all these features in the coming months.
 
  Which computer do I recommend? I think you should get the same
  kind of computer that your most technically astute friend uses - a
  friend you can call at midnight on Sunday when you really get
  stuck. If you buy a Mac, you won't need an expert, since you won't
  get stuck nearly as often. And if you don't have a technical
  friend, you will be much better off with a Mac - with some
  exceptions that I will discuss later.
 
 
**Troubleshooting and Multimedia** -- Is the Mac really that much
  easier to use? Consider this: One quarter of all the questions
  that Patrick Marshall has answered in his Q&A column in the
  Seattle Times deals with PC problems that never occur on a
  Macintosh. Macintosh users never have to deal with memory
  management, interrupts, DMA channels, or a SYSTEM.INI file. Inside
  a Mac, there are no jumpers to set, either on the main board or on
  the vast majority of accessories.
 
  PC users have to learn these details or else they can't get
  software to run. The computer industry estimates that PC users
  have trouble running 25 to 35 percent of multimedia CD-ROMs. I'm
  accustomed to trouble. This morning, I installed a CD-ROM for my
  five-year-old on my Pentium computer and got a message: "Increase
  DMABuffer Size." I doubt if most PC users would know how to
  respond; what's more, no message explained two additional problems
  beyond the DMABuffer size. Through long experience, I have learned
  most of the hundreds of technical tricks necessary to get CD-ROMs
  running on a PC, although a few discs still have me stumped.
  Surveys show that PC users rarely buy CD-ROMs. A CD-ROM on a PC is
  too often like a book with pages glued together or illustrations
  torn out.
 
  CD-ROM installation problems are almost unheard of on a Mac, aside
  from a simple free update for recent system software (Apple's
  Multimedia Tuner). Three other problems are easy to understand -
  CD-ROMs that need color won't run on a black-and-white Mac, a few
  CD-ROMs need more memory than the simplest Macs have, and some Mac
  screens are too small to show a standard CD-ROM image. I've just
  answered the bulk of all Mac CD-ROM installation questions. In the
  past five years, I have not seen a single incompatible or even
  difficult-to-install CD-ROM on a Mac. Because no one has to learn
  any tricks, Mac users buy discs without trepidation. As a result,
  CD-ROM publishers find that Mac users buy CD-ROMs out of
  proportion to the Mac's market share.
 
 
**Support & the Software Question** -- David Billstorm, president
  of Media Mosaic and publisher of Mountain Biking and other outdoor
  recreation CD-ROMs, tells me that 40 percent of sales are for
  Macs. Yet PC buyers call for technical support far more often than
  Mac buyers. Although both Mac and PC versions have the same price,
  Media Mosaic makes more money from the Mac versions because the
  cost of answering a single call can wipe out any profit from the
  sale. For Microsoft's CD-ROM titles, PC users call for help at
  least three times as often as Mac users; on some titles, PC users
  need help nearly ten times as often (1994 figures, corrected for
  the relative numbers of PC and Mac users). On Christmas day, none
  of my Mac friends called with problems; several PC friends called
  (and each one started by apologizing, "The support lines aren't
  open today...")
 
  The Mac is not completely free of software conflicts, especially
  for enthusiasts who tend to like complexity. But the conflicts are
  usually resolved by simply moving clearly labeled icons from one
  folder to another; if you make a mistake, you just move the icon
  back. On a PC, you must use far more difficult techniques -
  editing cryptic files (WIN.INI, AUTOEXEC.BAT, etc.), setting
  environment variables, adjusting memory locations, changing
  command-line switches in drivers. If you make a mistake, the
  computer may refuse to start.
 
  In the past year, the hottest new category of Windows software has
  been "uninstall" utilities, programs that can remove Windows
  software. Windows and Windows software can put dozens or even
  hundreds of files on a hard disk; a person can't keep track of the
  files without help from another computer program. The Mac neither
  has nor needs an equivalent utility; removing a program is usually
  simple and besides, every file is identified by its type and the
  program that created it.
 
  Quite aside from utilities, more software is available for the PC
  than for the Mac. You may have a specialized need that can be met
  only by a PC, particularly for business applications. In a few
  areas, particularly graphics, the Mac leads. For the vast majority
  of users, and certainly for anyone buying a family computer, there
  is no significant difference in the applications - word processors
  and so on - available for either system.
 
  Microsoft's applications and many other major programs come in
  both PC and Mac versions. The PC version may come out first,
  presumably because the publisher wants to reach the larger group
  of customers first. The real reasons may not be obvious. Aldus
  (now Adobe) PageMaker, a program that was originally developed for
  the Mac, came out in a version 5.0 first for Windows. The project
  manager explained to me that the programmers disliked Windows
  intensely. Aldus management insisted on the Windows version first,
  because if the programmers were allowed to finish the Mac version
  first, they might never finish the Windows version.
 
 
**For Novices or Experts?** Although the Mac has obvious appeal to
  the computer novice, the people who really understand computers
  also tend to prefer Macs. At the recent Electronic Entertainment
  Expo in Los Angeles, most of the new, unfinished multimedia
  computer software - even software destined for PCs - was
  demonstrated on Macs rather than PCs. Famed supercomputer designer
  Seymour Cray uses a Mac. Two division heads for major PC clone
  companies called me independently last year; they were leaving
  their companies and wanted to know which Macs to buy for their new
  startups. I know of three companies in the Portland area started
  in the past year by former Intel managers. Two of the three
  companies chose Macs as their principal computers. (Intel makes
  most of the CPU chips, such as the Pentium, that drive Windows
  computers.)
 
  Corporate data processing (DP) managers generally prefer PCs; most
  have little experience with Macs. PCs do ensure full employment
  for the DP staff. At Intel, where many employees are true computer
  experts, the DP department figures on one support person for every
  30 Windows computers. The DP department was astonished to learn
  that one Intel division had 120 Macs and got along fine with a
  single support person. Mac users rarely have problems, and when
  they do, the answers usually come from other users rather than
  from the DP department.
 
  The hidden cost of support - and perhaps frustration - at least
  partially offsets the Mac's higher prices. The price gap has
  narrowed, but it will never close completely. Macs come with more
  standard features - all Macs, including laptops, have sound and
  networking built in. Apple has usually - but not always - used
  higher quality components than the average PC clone. PC
  accessories are generally cheaper, but then I've seen a lot of bad
  keyboards and fuzzy monitors on PC clones. A good monitor costs
  the same for either system. Ultimately, Apple spends more money;
  it makes major investments in research and development. For the
  typical PC clone company, R&D consists of reading spec sheets from
  Taiwan.
 
  Macs have a longer useful lifetime. I use a five-year-old Mac to
  play today's multimedia CD-ROMs without difficulty. In the past
  five years on my PC, I've had to change the CPU twice, the video
  card twice, the motherboard twice, and the sound board once, just
  to play ordinary discs. (I also switched to double-speed CD-ROM
  drives on both systems.)
 
  Apple has made many strategic errors. The first Macintosh clones
  are only now beginning to appear. Ten years ago, I called for
  Apple to license the Mac operating system at a MacWorld Expo
  keynote panel. Many in the audience hissed at my remarks. Yet by
  refusing to license the Mac system early, Apple made the enormous
  success of Microsoft Windows possible.
 
  Within the computer industry, the description "more like a
  Macintosh" is always high praise. The description "more like
  Windows" is rarely used as praise, except perhaps in contrast to
  "more like DOS."
 
  Microsoft tells everyone that its forthcoming Windows 95 is more
  like a Macintosh. The key features of Windows 95 - long file
  names, plug-and-play hardware installation, direct file display -
  have been on the Mac for eleven years. Yet despite much clever
  engineering by Microsoft, Windows 95 cannot overcome the chaos
  inherent to the PC world, both for hardware and for the need now
  to run three wildly different operating systems and application
  software (for DOS, Windows 3.1, and Windows 95). Mac users have
  never had to cope with such jarring changes.
 
  Microsoft's genius lies in getting things to work - more or less -
  despite the PC chaos. Apple's genius lies in getting so many
  things right in its fundamental Macintosh design and avoiding
  chaos.
 
 
**Cary Lu** is a contributing editor to Macworld magazine and
  writes about PCs for several other magazines. He is a Windows 95
  beta tester. He wrote _The_Apple_Macintosh_Book_ (Microsoft
  Press).