Windows or Mac OS – does it really matter anymore?

Mac or WindowsOne of the major reasons Windows users are converting to Mac is that Macs are regularly held up as quite simply “a better machine”. More reliable, more intuitive, more stable and basically much nicer to use according to many who have made the switch. However, internet browsers are becoming increasingly functional – allowing you to do everything from, of course, browsing the internet (probably the number one reason why any home user purchases a computer) to editing documents and using FTP clients. Add this to the huge number of Web 2.0 based apps that are developing thick and fast such as those based on Adobe Air, and it raises the question, does it really matter whether you’re using Windows or Mac OS anymore?

Of course, if you’re a designer or if you use several powerful programs apart from your internet browser, then the question is pretty straightforward. It will be Mac OS or Windows depending on what you prefer or are used to. Design professionals will usually cite Macs as their machine of choice.

However, if like the majority of computer users, you use your PC mainly for web based activities, the answer is not so clear cut. For example, having recently switched to Mac, I personally realised that my world hadn’t really been revolutionised in the way I expected. I used the same Firefox browser, with the same bookmarks, the same plugins, and in fact, rarely had to resort to using Mac OS at all. The most important thing to me is that Firefox is stable whether I’m using a PC or Mac. A quick look at some of my Firefox add-ons (below) reveals how much more important the browser is to me than my OS.

My add-ons

As you can see, whether it’s downloading, synchronising my bookmarks or reading offline, I do it all via Firefox plugins. So much for all the hype over Google’s new browser Chrome being a “Windows killer” – in my case Firefox has already largely killed it off.

However, we’re all attached (or at least highly versed) in one operating system or another and it can be hard to change no matter how important the browser and web apps become. Lifehacker recently took a poll on this subject and found that almost half of readers thought that it still “kind of” matters what OS you use selecting the option, “I don’t love the idea of using another OS but it wouldn’t be a tragedy if I had to.” Almost 20% however declared that they felt things had already come to the stage where the browser they were using really didn’t mattter anymore selecting, “They all basically do the same things, and the most important thing they do is connect you to the internet.”

Joe Nocera writing in the New York Times is definitely of the opinion that OS’s are already irrelevant:

Think about it: do you really care anymore which operating system you use? I don’t. For years, I owned both a PC and a Mac. I could use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Apple’s Safari or Mozilla’s Firefox, more or less interchangeably, to access the Internet. I could write an article on one computer, send it via an email message to the other one, and it worked just fine. Ditto for PowerPoint, spreadsheets, and many of the other applications most people use — including Apple’s iTunes.

On the other side of the fence is Dwight Silverman at TechBlog who argues:

If you don’t think the OS matters, spend some time talking to Windows die-hards and Macintosh zealots. They have a close, personal relationship with the look-and-feel of their computers. And even those who don’t think of an OS a religion – and that’s most of us – still value the functions of an OS. Set an average Windows user down in front of a Mac for the first time and watch them fumble, trying to find things, if you don’t think the OS matters. In addition, reliance on the Internet for key functions isn’t always the safest way to go. It it a weak link. Just ask anyone whose Internet service provider is less than reliable. If all your apps and your documents live in the cloud, what happens when the cloud is inaccessible? I’d wager Internet access fails more often than PC hard drives.

I’m increasingly inclined to go along with Nocera. I’m one of those that doesn’t view an OS as a religion (I actually view those people as a bit mentally ill) and can see the benefits of both systems. I think Mac OS is far superior in presentation, feel and overall user friendliness but I prefer the fact that there are far more applications for Windows (even if there is a lot of chaff) and quite simply, I know my way around Windows having used it for so long.

However, at the end of the day it’s the internet that counts for me. Silverman may argue that internet is not the “safest way to go” but it’s too late for that. The internet is crucial to day to day working life for most people and there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s becoming increasingly important as bandwidths and technologies improve.

We might as well embrace it and move on from tired old arguments over whether Macs or PCs are best.

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