Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mac vs PC: The Misconception

During the last weeks of school, I was having a conversation with my fiancé's roommate, Crystal, about computer operating systems. Crystal is a graphic design major at ISU and uses a Mac. She started the main part of the conversation when she said that she likes her Mac and will never go back to a PC.

I responded by saying, "You mean that you will never go back to Windows, right?" And she said, "Yea, that's right. I will never go back to a PC." From there I started to get really serious as we kept repeating the same lines to each other..."you mean Windows"..."yea, a PC". I tried to explain to her the real meaning of the terms she was using, but I was not getting through. Finally, the conversation ended...unresolved. As I sat there wondering why I was not able to correct her vocabulary, a Mac commercial (from their popular Get a Mac campaign) started on the TV.

As everyone know, the commercial started with the famous line, "Hi, I'm a Mac. And I'm a PC." At this point, it became painfully obvious why Crystal and I were talking past each other. Apple themselves are using PC incorrectly and Crystal is just following their lead. Now, I also enjoy watching these Mac commercials, but it was not until this point that I even realized that they were using PC incorrectly.

PC stands for personal computer. The main entry on Wikipedia for Personal Computer defines the term as (and I am paraphrasing) "any computer the average person uses." Certainly any computer that you have in your home falls into this category. This is clearly not the meaning intended in the Get a Mac commercials since all Macintosh computers are included in this group. Rather, when Apple uses PC, it is referring to a IBM compatible PC in general and the IBM PC specifically. Now it is time for a history lesson.

In 1981, IBM released the IBM PC (model 5150). This computer was so popular, that it redefined the meaning of the previously existing term Personal Computer. Today, when speaking technically, a PC is any computer compatible with the hardware of this computer. There are two reasons why most of the computers of today are compatible with this IBM computer. As previously mention, the first is because this IBM PC was so popular. The second, and possibly the more important reason, is that this original IBM PC used an open architecture. That is, IBM freely released all of the information necessary to go and build the same system for yourself. And guess what? Many, many companies have...probably hundreds...including every company that you have probably heard of, other than Apple.

Instead of following everyone else or going out of business from vastly superior competition, Apple decided to stick with their proprietary architecture of the time and they are still in business today. However, have you ever wondered why a Macintosh is generally more expensive than an IBM compatible PC running Windows? It is not because the hardware is any better or more powerful. It is because Apple is the only one that knows how to make them which gives them an artificial monopoly. Although, some things have changed recently. In 2005, Apple began switching from PowerPC processors to x86 Intel processors. Since then, it is possible to get the Mac operating system to work on IBM compatible PCs.

Now, I have said everything above in hopes that my remaining sentences are as clear as day. Apple is a company. Microsoft is a company. Apple creates and sells the proprietary Macintosh computer architecture. Microsoft is not in the hardware business. Apple creates and sells the Mac operating system that traditionally only worked on the proprietary Macintosh architecture but now also works on the IBM PC compatible, Intel x86 open architecture (as well as two other architectures). Microsoft creates and sells the Windows operating system that works on the IBM PC compatible, Intel x86 open architecture.

The Get a Mac commercials are great. But in their attempts to be concise, they are confusing people. Apple does not care that the lines get blurred, but "Macintosh" is hardware, "Mac" is an operating system (software), and "Mac" can be short for "Macintosh". So when the Get a Mac commercials use the term "Mac" are they referring to the hardware or software?....probably both. However, when talking about a "PC", Windows is the most popular operating system, but Linux also works on a "PC", including my favorite Linux distribution, Ubuntu.

It would be more correct if the first line were, "Hi, I'm a Mac OS. And I'm a Windows," but it certainly does not sound as good.

1 comment:

  1. I agree whole heartedly and I've made the same point to other people. I've pretty much given up trying to convince the brainwashed Apple fanboys....I just have to say congrats to Apple for being so good at advertising. That is truly thier strong point. Oh and another point while I'm on a rant. Sure thier software may not crash as much as Windows, but Microsoft must code for every type of hardware and they are forced to allow third party developers to write low drivers for thier devices. Apple is in a closed system and they only have to write tailored software for thier system. Its very clever of Apple to pin that to being a "PC" problem in the vague sense of technically not being pointed at Microsoft. They obviously never address Linux or a host of other OS's, which of course is done intentionally.

    ~Ben H