Microsoft’s “PC vs. Mac” Site: What on Earth Are They Thinking?

Mac vs. PC ad still courtesy Chiat/Day

One of the things that’s wonderful about writing for Gear Diary is the diverse  mix of folks involved in the endeavor.  You got your PC folks… you got your Appleheads… and you got your LINUX fans (well fan… Joel) and so on. We’ve got gaming folks; hard-core gadget nerds; exercise mavens; and gear heads (“petrol heads” to you “Top Gear” fans). You have folks who are into fashion and making sure their high-end handbag matches their Oberon iPad case, and people who get help from their partner when matching shirts with pants for an outing (that would be your humble reviewer here).

Me, I’m a UNIX guy.  I’ve been a UNIX guy for a long time, and although I know plenty about Windows (and DOS), and some about iOS, I’m been mostly an observer to the Mac/Microsoft wars.  My initial opinion, based on an early release of DOS, followed by early releases of Windows, was that, frankly, Microsoft software pretty much sucked.  It was nothing personal–it was just that, as Neal Stephenson explained, UNIX was”an industrial-strength operating system with a learning curve like the Matterhorn”, it was (and is) is powerful, flexible, and abler to pretty much do whatever you want it to do.  DOS, by contrast, didn’t do a lot, and then, when it started to do more, did it badly.  When Windows was ladled on top, it was, from my view, the classic “lipstick on a pig” or “moose turd pie” situation.

Nowadays the Windows code base comes from XP (which is more VMS than DOS, but that’s another story), it’s not really as, well, lame as I used to believe it to be.  Still, I don’t have much love lost for it.  And I’m hardly alone in this, honestly:  by leveraging their near-monopoly in PC operating systems into more markets and greater market share, Windows has developed a boatload of anti-fans; tons o’ hate.  (I hate Windows these days the same way I hate the chronic post-surgical pain in my neck; it’s manageable, even if I don’t like it.)

So I was, quite literally, stunned when I saw that Windows has created a “PC vs. Mac” site.

In short, the first thing I thought (and this was echoed by our very own Francis Scardino):  given how many Windows and Microsoft haters are out there, why open yourself up for the abuse? Why create a target for yourself, and then hang it right there on your chest? What on Earth are they thinking?

I’m not going to go into why I think the design of the site is bad–that’s a subjective thing.  I’m not going to critique it in detail by deriding the idea of having “simplicity” and “choice” be on the same page (well, geez, dudes, which is it?). Instead, I’m just going to hurl an analogy at you all.

Look under the “Choice” button. You can get a Windows PC in a b’zillion different flavors of desktop and laptop machines. With Apple, there are basically three models, and in those models, limited package choices.

A number of years ago, my wife Sami and I were looking for a car. Although we had both owned foreign brands for our whole lives–Toyota, Volkswagen, Nissan, and Honda–we thought it would be good to get an American brand. We wanted to get an American brand. So we went to a bunch of American car dealers–Ford, Chrysler, GM, and all the other ones that are Chrysler or GM under different names. And the thing that struck me was the staggering, mind-numbing, bewildering array of “options.” There was no such thing as the “standard” car. Instead, there was a “basic” car, which no one would want to drive in a million years. So you had to have options added. There were overlapping option packages. There were individual options. You could combine and modify options. It was staggering. It was incredible. It… was… overwhelming! (BTW for a good discussion of this grab the book- “The Paradox of Choice”. Choice isn’t always better!)

Chrysler–where you can get it any way you want  it

In the end we bought a Toyota.

Why? Well, there were a lot of reasons but one big one was the fact that there were three models, and all of them were fine. It was just a matter of what level of luxury you want. There was LE, XE, and XRE, (or something like that) and that’s it. Yeah, you could add some doodads and geegaws–gold Toyota badge, fancy hub caps–but that was basically it. You want a sunroof and leather seats? XRE. You want cloth seats and a nice interior, air conditioning, and what not, but don’t give a rip about leather seats and butt warmers? XE. Good basic car, but no bells and whistles? LE. That was it. Simple. (Am I the only one who remembers Honda’s “We Make it Simple” commercials? There’s a reason those were made.) But the point is this- even the most basic car was a complete car. Go in, buy it, drive it out. No games; just a good car, a better car and an even better car.  (If you want a luxomobile, you went next door to the Lexus dealer, where the “base” model was basically a fancy-pants Camry.)

And speaking of Honda… You might not like all the choices they give you; they might not make perfect cars; they might not be the sexiest things on the road (although the S2000 is a nice car); but you know what you get with a Honda. And it lasts. And you don’t need to get to know the local repair shop guy by name. We have two Hondas. One is 10 years old; the other is 7. The Toyota we bought is now 15 and is being used by my mother-in-law, and has over 200,000 miles on it. We had limited choice when we bought all three but WE LIKED THE CHOICES WE WERE GIVEN and THE CARS LASTED!

My point is this… Microsoft is the GM of computers and Apple is the Honda of computers.

Like Honda, Apple provides you with a limited number of hardware choices (we are talking computers here, not iOS devices). Apple doesn’t bombard you with a lot of choices and Apple machines are often more expensive upfront than many PCs running Windows. You may have limited choices, but you certainly know what you’re getting. And because Apple controls everything that has the Apple label to a large extent: the software, the hardware and the systems integration … it all just works.

Windows machines, by contrast, come from many manufacturers. They offer tons of choices and options, from the minimal $200 netbook to the major AlienWare gaming system to God-knows what. And the truth is, many Windows PCs are “better” from a benchmarking perspective than Apple’s system. But while they may have it over Apple in performance, in power, in features, in screen size and in price they just aren’t as… finessed.  Not as cleanly engineered.  Not as fully and thoroughly engineered.  Microsoft controls the software; lots of folks control the hardware, and, as a result, many of the systems are very much a mixed bag. Just take a look at the way new programs are installed on both types of machines. On a Windows system you start the installation process and then watch as this .dll file is loaded, and then that one over there, and then another and another.  On a Mac, slide the program into the Applications folder, input your password and you are done. Want to remove the program? It takes two or three clicks on a Mac. On a PC running Windows it only takes a few clicks as well but the amount of crud left sitting in various parts of the computer aren’t apparent until you use something like CCleaner. Like I said Macs… are… FINESSED.

Apple is Honda; Microsoft is GM. Frankly, I just can’t get it out of my head. A PC vs. Mac site. Honestly: what were they thinking?

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6 replies

  1. You failed to weigh in price as a factor. Apple is more like a luxury line (Lexus, BMW or what have you) vs. a Chevrolet or a Kia. Both will get you where you need to go, but PCs, generally speaking, do it with less style.

    • Apple is Acura, Honda’s dressed sibling: up a few fancier features, a cooler logo, sexier styling and a status symbol. When it comes right to it that TL is only going to last as long as that Accord.

    • I think that the car thing can lead astray the core argument Doug is making: if you look at an OS upgrade from Apple, you buy Snow Leopard. From Microsoft, you have ***FIVE*** possible SKU’s to choose from! How does THAT type of choice possibly benefit consumers?

  2. geardiary: Microsoft’s “PC vs. Mac” Site: What on Earth Are They Thinking? $MSFT –

  3. So is that like Microsoft is Democracy and Apple is Communism? What’s so wrong with personalizing your PC? If you know what you want, it’s not a complicated process.

  4. RT @GearDiarySite: Microsoft’s “PC vs. Mac” Site: What on Earth Are They Thinking?