Mac vs. Windows: Does it even matter?

I know the question in the headline of this post might seem like anathema to a whole host of Mac and Windows fans, who treat their operating systems the same way some people treat their religious beliefs (namely, as something to argue incessantly about). But C.K. Sample asked the question over at the O’Reilly blog, and it’s one that has occurred to me more than once over the past year. There will likely always be people who need a specific operating system, because certain software or tools they use at work will only function with that OS, and there will always be people who prefer one over the other. But for my own purposes, the operating system has become almost irrelevant.

I used to use a Mac for work years ago, then switched to Windows (and before either of those, I used an Atari 1040ST). At home, I used Windows up until a year or so ago, when I switched to Ubuntu. I have a box running Ubuntu and one running XP side-by-side, just in case there’s an app I want to try that only runs on Windows. And if I could convince my chief financial officer to approve it, I would probably buy a Macbook and run Parallels, so I could have two operating systems side-by-side. But in the long run, it doesn’t really matter to me what the OS is, since virtually everything I do involves the Web.

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Jobs doesn’t care about selling Macs

It’s hard to argue with the point of view advanced by Randall Stross in a New York Times piece this weekend — namely, that Apple could be doing a better job of capitalizing on the stumbles of Microsoft Vista. For every guy like billionaire Mark Cuban who switches to a Mac, there are about 95 people buying machines with Vista on them, and that statistic hasn’t changed all that much despite the so-called “halo effect” generated by the iPod.

steve_jobs2.jpgSo why hasn’t Apple done a better job of converting people into Mac owners? Because Steve Jobs doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the PC market, that’s why. I admit that I have no evidence whatsoever for making such a statement — other than the obvious, which is the fact that the company doesn’t even have anyone on the board dedicated to the Mac, as Stross details in his story. It seems fairly clear that it isn’t as important as the iPod business, and that Apple may not even care about winning more of the corporate market, which is what it would take.

Still, I can’t help but have the feeling that Steve-O’s sights are set a little higher than chewing another percent or two out of Bill’s overwhelming market share in PCs. I think the iPod got Apple started down the personal electronics and entertainment road, followed by the somewhat lacklustre AppleTV, and now the iPhone and the iPod Touch have moved the company into mobile.

Wayne Gretzky wasn’t the best hockey player because he handled the puck all that much better than everyone else (although he did). It was because he didn’t just skate to where the puck was, he skated to where it was going to be. I think Steve is trying to do the same thing.

Will Jobs let Mac OS run on Intel boxes?

An interesting development, tucked away in an article at Fortune magazine about the company behind the Parallels software program, which allows Mac users to run Windows in a virtual machine and switch back and forth (relatively) seamlessly. For all the hiccups and lag that some users have reported, it is still an amazing feat — and I would wager it is making MacIntel boxes more appealing for people who still need to use Windows. No rebooting, no emulation. Two OSes side by side.

Now, it seems that the company that makes Parallels is working on an upgrade to the software that will let Windows users theoretically run Mac OS X side-by-side with Windows on their cheapo Dell boxes, which Dell would be happy to do. Heresy! The only problem with that, as the article and others are more than happy to point out, is that Steve Jobs likes that idea about as much as Bill Gates likes the idea of open-sourcing Windows code.

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According to Engadget, “VMware’s own upcoming virtualization software for the Mac has been hamstrung by the trouble VMware has gone through trying to get Apple’s blessing, and SWsoft’s Parallels has been “crippled” in particular ways to make it more difficult to get Mac OS onto a non-Apple machine.” But as the site points out, the pressure on Steve Jobs to set the Mac OS free is only likely to increase. It will likely happen thanks to hackers anyway, but will he eventually allow it? I for one hope that he does.

Obviously, as more than one person has pointed out during the whole “iPhone/closed system” debate of a week or so ago, part of the Mac OS experience comes from the fact that software and hardware are all one harmonious whole, working flawlessly together, etc., etc. But why not let people who can’t afford those gleaming white boxes get a taste of the Mac magic?

Apple make something bad? Say it ain’t so

I’d just like to say right off the top that I like Apple a lot, and they make some great products – in fact, product design and marketing are really the company’s stand-out skills in many ways, I think. But given the obsessive, almost fetishistic, love that some geeks have for Apple and anything that comes out of the head office in Cupertino or out of Steve Jobs’ mouth, it’s nice to see them fall flat now and then too. And as far as I can tell they have done just that with the Hi-Fi accessory for the iPod.

Yes, it has the iconic Apple white sheen, but even with the iPod attached to the top it’s still just a giant, squarish speaker box. As more than one person has pointed out, it makes no sense as a “boombox,” even if people still wanted such a thing, since it has no radio, no CD player and if you tried to carry it your iPod would fall off. Here’s a selection of comments from the more than 200 that are attached to a post on the new product at Engadget – more than 90 per cent of which I would say are negative. And remember that these are from gadget lovers:

“Umm… I’m not sure it’s large enough. I mean, make it 2, maybe 3 times bigger and it could also replace my sofa.”

“How can this bring music to the masses. It is expensive, large, and ugly. Disappointing…”

“Watch as Apple’s design team hits a boombox with an ugly-stick. only $349 per ticket!!!”

“This is the dumbest idea ever.”

“I am a total mac fanboy and this made me die on the inside.”

“Wow, hideous. Absolutely terrible. Looks like a toaster oven.”

And what about the Mac Mini with the souped-up processor and digital outputs – a glimpse of the much-anticipated Apple digital entertainment hub? Definitely closer than the first version, since it now has enough guts to be a media server, and has DVI and digital audio outs as well as Front Row – but Thomas Hawk makes a good point: it’s missing PVR functionality, which would easily make it a killer product. But let’s put it this way – it’s a heck of a lot better than that gigantic monstrosity called the iPod Hi-Fi.