The Great Vista/Mac Showdown: Before the starting gun

Since 1993, when Andy Gore and I wrote Powerbook: The Digital Nomad's Guide, I have used every generation of Powerbook and bounced through a dozen or so ThinkPad and Vaios on the Windows side of the world. The computing experience has become so pervasive and increasingly heterogeneous that it's time to allow that both operating systems have their strengths and weaknesses.

Since 1993, when Andy Gore and I wrote Powerbook: The Digital Nomad's Guide, I have used every generation of Powerbook and bounced through a dozen or so ThinkPad and Vaios on the Windows side of the world. The computing experience has become so pervasive and increasingly heterogeneous that it's time to allow that both operating systems have their strengths and weaknesses. With that background, computer buyers can make better decisions about what they need to accomplish rather than the thinking that one system is intrinsically superior to the other.

Now that Vista is out, I'm going to take the two platforms on relatively similar shipping laptops, a MacBook Pro 15" and a ThinkPad T60 15" running Windows Vista, and I don't expect either system to "win" this showdown, but to expose their strengths and weaknesses so you can pick the system that wins for you.compare them from the moment the boxes open. From what you get for the money to how each system handles setup, migration of settings, daily chores and general user experience, I'll try to find all the reasons to consider one or both for your own computing needs.

Win, lose or tie on each point in the comparison, the results will be there for buyers to use in thinking about how they can get the most from their computer investment. I'll include a look at running Windows on the Mac and the strengths of tablet computing on the ThinkPad, among many other variables that affect the user experience.

My ZD Net colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has conducted his own excellent experiment with using the Mac OS for the first time. I realized reading his posting yesterday that a key difference between my travel systems and the one's at home are that both the road machines are minimally loaded—when traveling, I minimize distractions by keeping fewer applications open, reading fewer RSS feeds and so forth. In this series, I'll try to take both systems to the limit, configuring them to do what is needed to stay connected at work and informed about what's going on in the world, comparing the cost and effort on both. (If you want your product considered, email me).

Adrian wondered yesterday about the religious positions, saying "In this age of convergence, the differences are getting smaller and less noticeable."  The differences are very noticeable when the conflict with one's goals, so we need to look closely at them to choose what will work best given specific demands of work or entertainment. I don't expect either system to "win" this showdown, but to expose their strengths and weaknesses so you can pick the system that wins for you.

Disclosures: Lenovo has loaned me a series of ThinkPads, including the one I'll be using for this comparison. Lenovo and I are discussing a project, so they may become a client of mine, which would require I give them an unblinking assessment of their user experience. I'm doing a bit of killing two birds with one stone. The MacBook Pro is a purchase by my company that will find its way into daily use.

Prior to this experiment, I have carried both a 17-inch PowerBook G4 and a ThinkPad X41 (here's my review of that tablet computer) depending on what I need to do on the road. At my desk, I use a Mac Pro and an HP desktop that hasn't digested Vista to my satisfaction, as well. One of the main reasons for so many systems is that I have to look at developmental code on a variety of OS/browser combinations, though I admit this is a sickness most folks wouldn't want to catch.

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