One question that I get asked on almost a daily basis is why I don’t abandon the Windows platform and shift over to using Mac. When I posted my “30 things I’ve learned from using Linux …” post, the point that raised the most discussion was #27:
The more I use Linux, the less I want to buy into the Mac ecosystem.
So why is it that Apple doesn’t get more of my cash?
For many years I would turn without question to Windows for pretty much all my operating system needs. I was a Windows person through and through. However, over the past year or so I’ve experimented with alternative platforms, specifically Mac and Linux and I’m far more open minded when it comes to operating systems.
Earlier this year when I was using a MacBook Pro loaned to me by Apple I must admit that I became quite attached to the machine, but not so attached that I whipped out my credit card and bought one. Sure, Apple manages to make some really sexy looking hardware that seems to work well (I won’t say flawlessly because that wasn’t my experience), but over the years I’ve bought a lot of sexy hardware, but experience (both positive and negative) have taught me to be cautious.
The problem that I have with Apple hardware is three-fold:
- Cost Without a doubt, Mac hardware is expensive when you compare it to comparable PCs. Sure, I’m not talking about a Toyota/Ferrari price gap, but it’s a pretty big gap nonetheless. I know I’m supposed to look at Macs as a product rather than the more traditional view of it being a piece of hardware with some software loaded onto it, but I can’t. I look at the CPU, I look at the amount of RAM that’s installed, I look at the capacity of the hard drive and I look at the video card spec. I just can’t look at it in any other way. And when I look at a Mac as the sum of its parts, I see a product that’s expensive. Compare a Toyota to a Ferrari and you see where the extra money has been spent, when I compare a PC to a Mac, I don’t see it.The bundled iLife software doesn’t really help sway me either. Sure the software is nice, but it’s pretty basic and without a doubt aimed squarely at the consumer market. I’d have little or no use for it and would just be paying for software that I’d end up deleting. I’m pretty sure that if I’d bought a few MacBook Pros (because I can never just buy one of anything) earlier this year that I’d have found a way to justify the price (or be faced with a severe bout of cognitive dissonance every time it was bought up), but I didn’t, so I can’t.
- Buying into a closed ecosystem
Last year I gave in and bought my first iPod. Since then I’ve bought more as gifts. But no matter how much I like my iPod nano when it comes to ease of use and the quality of what comes out of the earphones (Sennheiser’s, not the crappy buds that Apple supply), I’m annoyed that I’ve bought into a closed ecosystem. Each time I connect my iPod to iTunes I’m being reminded of the fact that I’m really supposed to be buying songs from Steve Jobs. I’m also being reminded that there are some file formats that Apple find acceptable and others that aren’t. If you have a WMA music library (all totally free of DRM) then transferring that to iTunes for use on the iPod is a long-winded process. I’m also left having to manage two music libraries. Basically, Steve Jobs is punishing me for having previously used Windows Media Player. Even changing the battery is a huge hassle that really forces me into paying the AppleCare tax.I felt exactly the same when with the MacBook. Apple’s goal with any product always seems to be to get you to buy more Apple products and to be more locked in a single vendor. What I like about Windows and Linux is that I have plenty of choices as to what hardware and software to use and how I go about organizing my data. I like having this choice. Maybe Apple is catering for a segment of the market that wants fewer choices, and if it is, that’s fine, but I’m not in that market segment. I don't mind spending time and money customizing and setting up a system as long as that system then goes on to do what it's supposed to do.After a number of years of failing to see the point of free software, I think I finally get it. What I like about Linux isn't the fact that it's free (although there's nothing to quibble about there); it's the freedom that it offers. Rather than the feeling of being forced to pledge allegiance to a particular way of doing things, Linux offers a freedom that's quite refreshing.
Why is it that I dislike the Mac ecosystem but still live and work within one maintained by Microsoft? Simple, if way back when I got involved with PCs I'd taken the Apple route as opposed to the one laid down by Microsoft, I'd be so deep into it by now that I'd accept that ecosystem and reject Microsoft's one. It's a matter of perspective. If I'm going to make a jump, it's not going to be from one closed ecosystem to another (and it's after making a statement like that that I begin to understand why those who have lived in the Linux ecosystem shun the closed ecosystem of both Apple and Microsoft).
- Security Finally, that old chestnut - security. While I have no doubt that Mac currently offers a more secure platform compared to Windows, I'm not convinced that it's secure enough to warrant the shift from Windows. My main security gripe with Windows isn't that my systems are swamped by malware (they're not), it's the headache of applying patches and making sure that everything is up-to-date. From what I can see the Mac OS gets plenty of patches and updates, so it's not like the security hassle is removed, only shifted onto a different platform. I'm also not sold on the fact that Mac will offer me security over the long term. People who know more about security than I do (for example, Eugene Kaspersky) claim that Mac OS is no more secure than Windows, and as more people adopt the platform, it'll become a bigger target. He makes the same claim for Linux, but the figure show that Mac usage is growing at a significant rate, and that makes Linux the better choice if it's security you want.