May 04, 2006

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The greatest question: PC vs Mac

Mrs M and I are engaged in a serious debate. Our hardy PC is now a stately 3 years old and is showing its age. As our thoughts turn to updating, the natural question becomes "now Macs are actually on the radar screen, do we make the jump"? Now I know there are two types of people in the world: Macaddicts and PCaphiles. But I need help....your help. We've spoken to the people from the Apple shop in Central (moderately helpful but no real answers...and why does Apple make it so hard to find people that sell and can explain their stuff?). But I need input from people who've used a PC and then a Mac and what their experiences were in converting.

We use our PC primarily for: email, internet, web-cam/video conferencing with the folks in Oz, music (iPod and a Sony), limited word processing and spreadsheets, photos, some scanning, some kids games. There's other stuff but these are the main tasks. The PC is adequate for these tasks and we back up the photos and music regularly to an external hard drive. One option is for us to just upgrade our current PC, and that's not a bad option. But we feel it's right to at least look at Macs, given those that use are so adamant they are better.

My questions are simple:

1. How easy is it to convert from PC to Mac, especially in importing photos, music and email?
2. What can we keep from the current setup, especailly peripherals?
3. What are the real benefits of Macs? Why the fuss? And what are the pitfalls of Macs (there must be some)?
4. Is there a big learning curve in going from PC to Macs?
5. Are our PC files and programs generally runnable on Macs (e.g. Word and Excel files)?
6. What kind of Mac is right for us?
7. What the hell is .Mac and is it worth it? We currently use Now broadband.
8. What additional software will we need to buy for the Mac?

Thanks in advance for any help you can give. In the meantime I'm going to keep on loading all these CDs onto iTunes.

posted by Simon on 05.04.06 at 06:15 PM in the Personal category.


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1. Not a problem, its all the same.

2. Everything, basically, all you peripherals should be mac compatible, though you should check that first.

3. It looks good, and is easier to use. Apart from that, there really isn't any real differences between a PC and a Mac. Oh yeah, there are less viruses floating around for Mac, Viruscan problems for Mac are almost redundant.

4. 1 day.

5. You can get Mac versions of Office 2004.

6. Mac is coming out with new intel based processors, might want to wait for them. On the other hand, there are PC's now with dual-intel processors! :)

7. What the hell is .Mac?!

8. Nothing, Mac comes with basically everything you need on iLife. The rest you can get open-sourced. ie. Most people use firefox for browsing etc.

posted by: ibook_owner on 05.04.06 at 07:30 PM [permalink]

Thanks...I've been looking at these dual core Intel based Macs. IT sounds good as you can also run Windows on it.

One other question I've got: do MAcs come with built-in Cd/Dvd burners?

posted by: Simon on 05.04.06 at 07:53 PM [permalink]


Any of the Duo Macs have at least CD burners. When you're shopping, the Macs with SuperDrives are DVD burners as well as CD burners.


posted by: David on 05.04.06 at 08:01 PM [permalink]

Thanks David - are you a Mac man? What are your thoughts?

posted by: Simon on 05.04.06 at 09:30 PM [permalink]

I was a Mac guy till I moved to China in 1995, and had to go PC for corporate reasons. I stayed away until 2003, bought the 17" PowerBook, and now we have 3 Macs in the house.

I'd agree on everything that from the first comment, with a few add-ons:

A. The real benefits of Mac are hard to explain, but the way I put it is that a Mac on OS X gets the computer out of the way and just lets you get on with whatever you want to do. That is SO much the case, in fact, that you'll find yourself doing things on a Mac you never would have tried on a PC because the Mac just makes doing so easier.

B. Additional software - take the plunge and buy Office for Mac 2004 - it's a lot more fun to work with than Office2003.

C. There are also other extremely cool applications that you'll find along the way. For example, I use NoteBook by Circus Ponies as an idea catch-all, CopyWrite as a non-nonsense writing tool, VisualThesaurus as my vocabulary and diction assistant, etc etc. None of it set me back more than US$50, and they're superb.

D. I use .Mac and so does my wife. It doesn't give you internet access, but it does provide some interesting services. I won't tout you - some poeple find it worthwhile and others don't. Do check it out, and maybe try a trial membership.

E. Pick up a copy of "Mac OSX - The Missing Manual (Third Edition)" by David Pogue from Pogue Press/O'Rielly. You won't need it to figure out how to use the Mac, but you'll WANT it to find the hundreds of extremely cool little features hidden in the system. I actually picked up a copy of the book before I switched back, and by the end of the first chapter I was convinced.

Have fun, and give a shout if you need more.


posted by: David on 05.04.06 at 09:58 PM [permalink]

I'd suggest looking at the apple site first ( ), then going to somewhere like which is one of the best community forums for macs around.
1. How easy is it to convert from PC to Mac, especially in importing photos, music and email?
very easy.
2. What can we keep from the current setup, especailly peripherals?
it depends on what they are and what mac you buy. if you have a good monitor and mouse/keyboard, and want to keep using them, and don't need monster amounts of power, a macmini would be fine, and the peripherals would plug straight in. macs are all usb2, firewire, airport (wireless)/bluetooth.
?3. What are the real benefits of Macs? Why the fuss? And what are the pitfalls of Macs (there must be some)?
amazingly easy to use, consistent interface and use of interface throughout (especially if you're into using the keyboard for everything), no viruses, trojans, worms etc (no, really, even the two this year after the intels were released required either high levels of idiocy on the part of the user, or were proof-of-concept that required a string of very specific workflows, applications used in particular order...). rock-solid unix core, which means very rare application crashes, and even rarer complete system crashes, and no need to shut down). excellent integration of applications, like mail, address book, ical (calendar), safari, and with plugins available (like mail-tags, saft, pithhelmet), and automator (like a point-and-click scriptwriter for things you do regularly) makes it even better. great, really spectacular software, like the iLife set of itunes, idvd, imovie, garageband, iphoto, the iwork set of pages (fairly good word replacement if you don't make use of stuff like master layout in word) and keynote (powerpoint), isync use with your phone, ipod, network account (.mac or other).
?4. Is there a big learning curve in going from PC to Macs?
no, but after five years of everything from the desktop to the murky depths of terminal i still find so many new things almost every day.
?5. Are our PC files and programs generally runnable on Macs (e.g. Word and Excel files)?
the files yes. mac handles pc documents generally well (the reverse is not so true). all the usual file types are cross-platform. the pc apps won't work on mac unless a) they were released as an iso disk (having both pc and mac software on one, ) or b) you run emulator software like virtualpc. office (word, powerpoint, excel, etc) is available for mac, and is pretty good, but for a wordprocessing app, it handles fonts not so good (mac on the other hand is good with fonts).
?6. What kind of Mac is right for us?
either the macmini (max out the drive, get a 5400rpm drive you will notice the difference, make sure it has bluetooth, airport, around 768mb of ram, dvd burner if yours isn't compatible). or the imac.
?7. What the hell is .Mac and is it worth it? We currently use Now broadband.
a network storage facility/web host space/remote backup/email thing. is it worth it? some people love it, for me it's like exposé, dashboard and a few other mac things i never use, nothing you can't do a dozen other ways.
?8. What additional software will we need to buy for the Mac?
your mac should come with ilife, which will cover everything you do. maybe microsoft office, and a few useful utilities like ecto for blogging, saft, pithhelmet (for making safari browser a complete joy) netnewswire for rss, there's so many really good free utilities, check macupdate or versiontracker

posted by: frances on 05.05.06 at 12:00 AM [permalink]

1. Very Easy. Images and music are a drag and drop process. Intergrating email and addresses can be a little trickier, but not much.

2. Anything that runs on USB or Firewire will stay. Beyond that it depends if you go the macmini route, or iMac route.

3. It works, seriously. You do need to keep the updates happening and there is a small risk now of trojans and nasties (very small).

4. Anywhere from 2 minutes to 2 hours.

5. Yes, but you may need to buy new versions of the office software if you want to run that format.

6. Either a mac mini or an imac.

7. .Mac lets you have an emai address, online backup, some web creation stuff and not much else. i have it, but it is not good value.

8. None. Maybe one of the versions of photoshop if you need it.

posted by: fernando Gros on 05.05.06 at 03:29 PM [permalink]

Thanks for all the info. The biggest stumbling block remains the web-cam....all the family use MSN Messenger and that's not Mac compatible from what I can gather. Anyone know if that's likely to change?

posted by: Simon on 05.05.06 at 05:30 PM [permalink]

It is likely than many of your peripherals will work. If you go with one of the new dualcore iMacs it comes with an iCam built in so you won't need the old web cam.

Your Office documents should work fine - once you buy the Mac version. If you are fond of using a lot of decorative fonts on the PC in your spreadsheets they might pose a formatting problem!!

Your kids pc games wont run unless you set it up to boot in Windows. (I can't imagine why one would want that)

As for the transfer, Apple has worked hard to make that as easy as possible - for obvious reason.

If you're going to look at one of the Intel chip Macs because it can run Windows, give some thought into how much time you're likely to be running XP vs OSX. If you're going to be in Windows most of the time paying the premium for a Mac might not be a good investment.

As for the benefit of going MAC, well the Mac was made for users like you. Photos, music, video, the internet and little MS Office. The beauty of the Mac is that you can use it very effectively and have absolutely no idea how it works. (I work with people that. Designers who do great things but couldn't tell you what a preferences file is.)

Bottom line is, if you're not willing to replace MS Office - not a bargain proposition - and are going to spend most of your time running Windows - Dude, you're getting a Dell. If you're going to go Mac go all the way and set it up to boot windows for those gaming emergencies.

posted by: Stephen Macklin on 05.06.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

Nearly 100% of my private clients are switchers i.e moved from PC to Mac and without exception they're all very happy. Kids games might be the only problem but with the Intel Macs you can boot into Windows too. .Mac is useful for iSync. Keep your phone in sync with your address book - never worry about losing your phone. If you need any help - let me know. BTW the service in DG in IFC is terrible. Way too pushy and its a shame as I know Francis Yip the owner very well and he's very knowledgeable but hardly ever there but try to talk to him if you can find him. Another good guy is Jerry Lee at NewVision in Wellington Street.

posted by: HKMacs on 05.06.06 at 01:30 PM [permalink]


All the advice given here has been fabulous. Macs simply are better machines.

Three words of advice.

1) Use the free trial for the .Mac account you get when you buy your new machine. If you like it and use it, pay the subscription fee. If you don't, don't.

2) DO buy MS Office. Don't you dare pay full price. There are substantial discounts for teachers and/or students. Say you are buying the machine for your kids and ask for the 'education' discount. In London, it saves us about £200.

3) If MSN messenger isn't working (don't know, I use the iChat client), you can always download FIRE, a multi-platform IM client.

If you do go Mac, make sure to visit TUAW everyday. It is the absolute best blog for non-techies. Lots of reviews and short snippets about Mac hardware and software.

posted by: Expat Teacher on 05.06.06 at 06:21 PM [permalink]

TUAW? Might have a solution on the MSN thing so it's looking more likely. Again thanks for all the help.

posted by: Simon on 05.06.06 at 07:42 PM [permalink]

there are two pitfalls to mac ownership. one is gaming. they just don't make as many for macs yet. this is why so many people are excited about the dual boots, they can have a mac for its stability and user friendliness, then switch over to windoze for games.

two has historically been cross platform videoconferencing. msn is mac compatible, but only fully functional mac to mac. skype says it has video support, but I've never tried it.

fyi, there are two ways to run windoze on an intel mac. one is apple's boot camp, allows you to choose which os to start up in. you can only run one or the other. with Parallels Workstation you can run both osx and windows at the same time. which might be a nice last resort if none of the videoconferencing solutions pull through.

actually, there's a third bad thing about using a mac in china. you're pretty much not gonna find any ten kuai street software. ; )

posted by: echo on 05.07.06 at 06:00 PM [permalink]

Macs are not good. They are not user friendly. Go to your friend's place to try out their mac. I did, last week. It was their top of the range and latest mac. I got bored stiff using it, it was hard to use, and well...I am a computer expert, so I find macs are really all just about eye candy and nothing more. PC's are not unstable. it all depends on how you fix it up. Besides, Windows Vista will be out soon, so you may as well stay with the PC.

posted by: KOSMOS on 05.08.06 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

John C Dvorak ( has predicted that Macs will be eventually switching over to use Windows as the operating system - he has said within 5 years, but maybe sooner. If this is true (admitedly a big IF), then it may make the whole decision moot.

I use a PC. My friends use Macs. Who cares really, computers all do the same things.

posted by: Aaron on 05.09.06 at 10:02 AM [permalink]

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