Yet Another Entry in the Great Mac/PC Debate

Geek Culture

There’s a central fallacy at the heart of the Great PC vs. Mac debate, which is that you can definitely prove one is better than the other.

They both have assets and flaws and choosing one over the other depends mostly on what you need from a computer.

The debate however, is closed in my house and the winner–after almost a decade of using PCs–is the Mac.

My deciding factor: TIME.

I have four kids. I have to keep track of all their schedules. I have to organize the entire house–bills, cleaning, etc. I have a fiction writing career. I have a non-fiction writing career.

My life basically revolves around having access to a computer and the internet. When the computer doesn’t work, my life becomes a lot more chaotic.

And, the PCs don’t work. A lot.

My first real mistake was when I bought a Dell desktop three years ago that was loaded with Vista. XP had worked well enough. The Dell desktop was a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than the mini-Mac that I almost bought. I was familiar with PCs.

I quickly regretted the decision.

I should have followed this adviceI should have followed this advice

I should have followed this advice

I should have known when I had problems with the Windows Mail program within two weeks. There are bugs in any new system, I rationalized. What annoyed me is that neither Dell nor Microsoft would take responsiblity to fix the error even though I’d only had the machine for two weeks. Microsoft wanted to charge me for access to their help desk. It was only after I threatened to send the entire unit back and vented about the problem on my livejournal that a representative from Dell approached me with a solution.

Over the next three years, I got used to Vista jamming up every now and then. Crashes of either IE or Firefox became routine. The web-surfing speed was quite slow. Yes, I ran virus check. Yes, I have Ccleaner and I know how to use it. Still, I had to take it in for professional cleaning three times because of virus infection.

Mostly, Vista didn’t know how to play well with others.

And then, last December, Vista started completely punking out on me. The first hint was an install failure of an Office 07 update. That took me three days to sort out and only with the help of a friend who does tech support for a living. Microsoft wouldn’t help even though it was their *own* installation update that caused the problem. This happened when I was in the middle of edits for my first published fiction novella. This nightmare led me to buy a MacBook Pro instead of a PC laptop when I had to choose between them in February.

Last week, explorer.exe decided to stop working. My tech genius minion got it up and running by creative use of the Task Manager, asking it to “find” explorer.exe, which brought it back. But it kept crashing.

So I upgraded to Windows 7 this weekend.

Now, I have to commend Microsoft. Windows 7 is very cool-looking. It works incredibly well on a new 20-inch widescreen monitor. It also installed quickly and easily as I did a clean install after backing up all my important stuff off-site or on CDs. And it downloads fast and web surfs really fast. It’s impressive.

Here’s the catch:

My 32-bit 1 GB RAM Dell Desktopo Dimension E520 cannot really handle it. Windows 7 is a memory hog. I’ve got memory chips on order to get it up to 3 GB so I can install a little program I need called Office 07. I can’t install anti-virus software either at the moment. I did manage to fit Adobe Flash, so I can web surf. It’s very pretty. And, right now, I need functional, not pretty. I thought I would be after I upgraded the RAM. Unfortunately, though I purchased the right memory cards (according to several websites to double check my desktop model), I locked in the cards and….now the computer won’t boot up at all.

So it could be a stray spark. The RAM could be the wrong type. Maybe it’s not even the memory, maybe the install did something wonky. I finally threw up my hands after almost a week and dropped it off at my local computer repair shop. Which is likely what I should have done in the first place but it seemed like the solutions weren’t going to require an expert.

The bottom line: messing around with the various PC problems has probably cost me about two full days of work and likely more as I have to go back and get it and reboot and whatnot for the future, not to mention reload all my saved files and reinstall some programs that were wiped out. I also have to go return the memory cards that I bought, another time waster.

Windows does seem to have one large advantage over Macs: they are cheaper. And as much as I’d like to march down to the Apple store today and come home with a Mac Mini, I don’t have the money right now, hence the local repair guy, who may just be cheaper than what I spent on the memory.

But, originally, I spent over $700 on the desktop system only three years ago. And it never worked right. Had I spent that on a Mac Mini back then, I would not be writing this column. And I would not have spent money about $300 total for various repairs, a new monitor, and to get rid of viruses. (At least, I assume the mini wouldn’t have these problems. I’m judging longevity by the eMac in my house that is still going and going, even though we bought it for $35 from the local school after it upgraded to a new system. It still web surfs too, though sloowly.)

So, in the long term, I don’t think PCs have any significant advantage in the money department.

Microsoft, if you’re listening, you could have solved a large part of this frustration by at least attempting to reach out to Vista owners and help them upgrade for free and troubleshoot any problems they had. It’s just good customer service to reward customers who got stuck with an awful product.

In the meantime, I will happily use my MacBook Pro–which hasn’t crashed once since I bought it in February–and save my $$ toward the day when the other PCs in the house punk out or get infected again, so I can replace them with something that doesn’t eat into my extremely valuable time.

There is one saving grace about all these problems: it is teaching my techie 10-year-old son (I call him the tech genius minion) about computer programming. Especially what not to do when he starts his own company.

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