Mac or Windows 7: Do homework before picking - East Valley Tribune: Business

Mac or Windows 7: Do homework before picking

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Posted: Saturday, November 21, 2009 2:39 pm | Updated: 2:20 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Q. I am currently using a 3-year-old Windows XP laptop and am planning to buy a new laptop. Could you please suggest to me whether I should go for a Mac or a Windows 7 laptop? I would really appreciate your analysis. — Aman

Q. I am currently using a 3-year-old Windows XP laptop and am planning to buy a new laptop. Could you please suggest to me whether I should go for a Mac or a Windows 7 laptop? I would really appreciate your analysis. — Aman

A. The “What should I buy?” question is getting more complicated with each advance made by both Apple and Microsoft. Apple’s commercials seem to present compelling reasons to switch, but no 30-second commercial can really cover all the issues in making this significant decision.

At the end of the day, the actual operating system (Windows 7 or Mac OS X) is less significant than the applications you plan to run on the computer. So that’s where everyone struggling with this decision should start.

Because you’re coming from the Windows world, one of the first questions to ask yourself is: Are you prepared to rebuy some or all of your primary productivity programs such as word processors, spreadsheets, photo editing, etc.? If you already own Microsoft Office, Photoshop Elements, Quicken for Windows or a number of other common Windows programs, you will have to add the cost of purchasing the Mac versions to your calculations.

Additionally, you will need to be prepared for the learning curve involved in switching to new programs and operating systems (not really that big of a deal if you possess a little patience).

If you don’t have any legacy software to consider, you don’t do much more than surf the Web and shoot off e-mails or you’re starting over anyway, then these issues are irrelevant.

If you have existing printers, scanners, digital cameras or other hardware peripherals that you want to continue using, you must determine if they are Mac compatible as well. If not, you may also end up replacing some items that are still working but not compatible in the Mac OS.

The next consideration is whether your computer (and the associated programs and data files) need to interact with other computers, such as your work computer or other computers on your home network.

If, for instance, your company requires you to connect to the office network through a VPN (Virtual Private Network), you must ensure that your IT department supports a remote Mac on the corporate network.

If you need to constantly exchange files with other Windows users, you need to make sure that your new Mac OS programs can exchange files without a lot of complications or conversions. Most common files like word processing and spreadsheets are no problem.

Another major consideration is your circle of support. Most of us call a friend or family member when we encounter a computer issue. So if you have others you rely on to help you, make sure they can help you with the Mac before you make the switch. Or be comfortable that all of your questions can be addressed by Apple’s various support mechanisms, which generally receive high ratings.

One of the main drivers for switchers is the very effective messaging about how the Mac OS is safer than Windows, which at this point in time is absolutely true. The primary reason the Mac OS is safer is because the number of users worldwide is still in the 5 percent to 6 percent range while Windows is used by over 90 percent of users. Pirated copies of Windows are also widely in use around the world and tend to be missing security updates, making them easy targets.

If you were a cybercriminal and wanted to exploit others, why would you waste time on the small group when your chances of snaring someone are exponentially higher by targeting the majority? Security experts are warning, however, that an acceleration in exploiting Mac vulnerabilities will be forthcoming as Apple’s market share grows.

Additionally, we are seeing more sophisticated attacks these days that don’t rely so much on the operating system but target browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, etc.), which can be exploited on any platform. Fooling users into giving up information (phishing scams) isn’t specific to operating systems, so be sure to manage your expectations on the constantly evolving safety issues if you decide to switch.

The Apple commercials have done a great job of planting the “Should I switch?” question in people’s minds. But now you know how complex this question really is, so do your homework before deciding!

Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show, which can be heard at noon Saturdays on KTAR (92.3 FM) or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to evtrib@datadoctors.com.

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