Mac vs PC, part 1: Hardware
Let’s start from the ground up shall we? First stop, hardware!
Macs and PCs take a markedly different approach to hardware. Pre-built PCs are made by a multitude of manufacturers, such as Dell, Gateway, HP, Acer, Alienware, and many, many others. In addition to pre-built machines, it is entirely possible (sometimes even preferable) to buy the individual components of the computer separately and put them together yourself. All of these manufacturers use different parts inside the computer, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of different parts that you can put into a computer on your own. So what does this veritable cornucopia of parts mean for a PC? It means that a PC can be extremely flexible, but Windows needs to be able to know how to communicate with every single piece of this motley arrangement of circuit boards. Windows (and by extension, any person/company writing programs for Windows) has to be able to play nice with a huge assortment of hardware, has to be able to install whatever piece of esoteric equipment you put in it and not crash the system. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work out smoothly. Windows doesn't always work with new hardware smoothly; there are hiccups, coughs, and sometimes full blown sneezes in the process. However, these are the exception, not the rule. Microsoft has gone to a lot of trouble over the years to make sure that Windows is as compatible as can be with as wide a range of hardware as possible. Helping this is the fact that most hardware companies will supply operating system specific drivers for their product.
Apple, however, takes a very different approach to Mac hardware. Apple keeps extremely tight control of what hardware is allowed to be placed into a Mac computer. If you purchase a Macbook, there is a specific list of hardware that will be found in that laptop. The same goes for any desktop Mac system. Since Apple maintains a tight grip on what hardware is allowed in their machines, they (and other third party developers) can design software without worrying about trying to make sure twenty million pieces of hardware are all playing nice together. This isn’t to say that a Mac computer won’t ever crash, they definitely do, just not quite as often as equivalent Windows computer might. After all, 90% of the time that a computer crashes is because of poorly written program code, and bad code is bad code, whether it is written for a Mac or for a PC.
The exclusivity of hardware for a Mac computer also means that it’s going to be more expensive, due to a lack of competition. Apple holds complete control over the hardware that their operating system runs on, which allows them to charge whatever they like for it. This monopoly is zealously guarded by Apple, as proven by their proclivity to sue into oblivion any company that attempts to run Mac software on anything other than Apple approved hardware. The tendency for Apple products to be pricier is further reinforced by the recent skyrocketing in popularity of Mac products and the “hipness” that owning Apple products is seen to confer. Apple has a genius marketing department, and they use it fully to their advantage. The public is more than willing to pay for the pretty (and, it must be added, the excellent user interface and device design), so why would Apple lower their prices?
So to sum up this hardware section: Windows can run on just about any piece of hardware, cheap or otherwise, and will run reasonably well. Apple products might run a bit better on their hardware, but you are going to be paying a premium for that hardware. However, it should be mentioned that with the release of Windows 7, Microsoft is making great strides in improving both the stability of the operating system and the visual appeal.
Next topic: Security!