The debate has been going on since IBM introduced the personal computer in 1981. The PC used an Intel processor, an open architecture, and an operating system made by Microsoft. All of this was very different from the popular Apple II. Isaac and Ishmael went their separate ways, and the war began.
The debate has continued for the last 25 years, and has really heated up in the last few months. In January, Apple announced the switch to Intel processors in the Macintosh, sparking all kinds of speculation about Windows running on Macs, and Mac OS X running on computers made by other manufacturers. Dvorak stirred up the hornet’s nest by speculating that Apple was going to abandon the OSX operating system, and just build computers that would run Windows. The Ohio eTech tech coordinators listserv returned to the debate when Boot Camp was announced. So, reluctantly, I’m moving off of the "who cares" position I’ve held for almost a decade to tell you what I think.
First, a little background on me: I’ve used both platforms pretty extensively. I’ve gone back and forth several times. My first exposure to computers was on the Apple II. Later, I learned programming on a PC. In college, I used all kinds of things (Macs, NeXTs, VAXen…) but primarily used PCs running DOS. As a student teacher, I taught computer applications on Apple IIs and Macs. As a starting teacher, I taught in a Windows 3.11 lab. Two years later, I switched jobs and platforms, and taught in a lab with OS 7 (and later 8.x). Four years after that, I changed jobs again, and found myself using Windows. Then, I became a technology coordinator, and had to support both platforms. For the last five years, all new purchases have been Windows, but we still have a lot of Macs around. I do both. I know both. But I don’t like both.
Both is expensive. Every technology problem that we have has to be solved twice if we have two platforms. Everything is more difficult. The software is different, network protocols don’t quite match up, and hardware is different. Staff development is a pain ("if you have Windows, follow these steps. If you’re using a Mac, follow those directions"). In situations (like schools) where we never have enough resources, it doesn’t make sense to support both platforms. That’s why we don’t do it.
I’m not really talking about Macs trying to live in a Windows world here. Just for the record, we use Linux servers, and our network is fairly platform-agnostic. But every little thing (like, say, file service) requires two solutions if we’re using both.
But it’s more than that. Macs are more expensive. An iMac G5 with a 1.9ghz processor half a gig of Ram is $1278.46 in the eTech equipment and services catalog. The Dell Optiplex GX620 with a 3ghz processor and the same Ram is $798. Sure. The Mac has cooler software, and built in wireless, and firewire, and a huge hard drive. But we don’t need those things.
Macs have always been "user friendly." A complete novice can sit down at a Macintosh and become a productive computer-using individual in a very short period of time. It’s harder to do that in Windows. But the problem comes when they want to move beyond "novice." The learning curve to becoming an intermediate computer user is much steeper for Mac users because they don’t have a decent understanding of how the machine works. I know I’m over-generalizing here. But many Mac users are oblivious to how files should be named, how folders can organize information, or how network volumes work. The problem occurs on both platforms, but I’ve never had a Windows user try to put a file on the web called "Mr. Smith’s web page .html." When I try to explain that this is a bad idea because a browser will see it as "Mr.%20Smith’s%20web%20page%20.html" or that some browsers won’t like the two dots, I might as well be speaking Greek. The bottom line is that there are certain assumptions you can make on a Mac that don’t apply when you move beyond that world, and many Mac users have trouble adjusting.
From a health perspective, I find Windows to be much more tolerable. I don’t have any data to back this up. But when I worked on Macs every day, I had a lot of wrist pain. When I work in Windows, I don’t get it. My theory is that the Mac requires a lot more mouse work — there aren’t keyboard shortcuts for many of the things you have to do. You also have to click and hold the button down much more on the Mac than you do in Windows. Those actions — repeated thousands of times — cause pain, at least for me.
From a productivity perspective, they both get the job done. Neither will adequately prepare our students for the "real world", where they’ll be using stuff that hasn’t been invented yet. Ten years ago, we were teaching Microsoft Works 3.0. Who cares which platform it was on? Nobody’s using it anymore anyway. If both platforms will do the job, it comes down to personal preference. If it comes down to personal preference, there’s no reason to support two platforms. It wastes time and money.