And I'm a PC

I live a sort of unique life as a Windows user. While Windows is still by far the dominant operating system of choice, I live in a world dominated by Macs. Out of a department of 10 people, I'm the only person using a Windows-based system (I'm not counting you Doug; you AT&T half-breed.) Out of an ad agency of 120+ people, maybe 50% use Windows-based systems. Out of the hundreds of websites and news-oriented blogs I frequent, the vast majority of those are written or managed by Mac users. My brothers uses a Mac. My cousin uses a Mac. Several of my friends use Macs. So why am I not on a Mac?

It's hard to pin down to any one thing really. While I like to joke about the cult-like following Apple products often seem to engender, I honestly have nothing against the systems themselves. Apple seems to make very high quality products in most of the markets they enter. I often recommend Macs to people whenever they ask me questions about buying a new computer. I probably could have even received a Macbook Pro during the last round of system upgrades at our office had I really pushed for it. But I just couldn't see the need. I'm not a developer and don't have any software needs that are Mac-specific like most of my co-workers. My Thinkpad suits my needs just fine and has never given me any major problems. Plus I'm not sure if I could give up the Thinkpad's keyboard and trackpoint now; if you're a touch-typist like I am these features are the embodiment of perfection.

At home I've been using Windows-based systems ever since the 386 days. However up until recently, the last store-bought system I purchased was during my sophomore year of college. Ever since then I've built my own systems, all of them running various flavors of Windows (with the occasional jaunt into Linux.) For the most part, Windows has never given me any major problems. With the exception of ME, I've run every flavor of the OS and think they really turned a major corner with Windows 2000 (still probably my favorite version to-date; it was light, fast and stable.) With XP automatic updates improved security dramatically. You rarely hear about widespread virus outbreaks these days like you did 5-6 years ago. The biggest threats now come via sophisticated spyware and social engineering (the latter of which is platform agnostic.)

I've obviously had numerous opportunities to use a Mac over the years. But when it came to paying for one out of my own pocket when I knew I could build my own reasonably-powerful system for dirt cheap it always just seemed so hard to justify the price. Now that the price gap has narrowed it's growing a bit easier to justify. In fact, I recently bought my first desktop system for the first time in over a decade. But it wasn't a Mac, it was an HP. To get a comparably-equipped iMac would've cost me over $1,000. I was able to pick up the HP for $470 (yes, it was on sale - it was usually $650.) Since I'm used to building systems for even less than that, that was a big enough transition for me.

Which brings me to Vista. The HP was the first experience I'd had with Vista. By now we've all heard about it. "Vista sucks" has been repeated so often it's now considered conventional wisdom. And I can understand the cause for alarm. It is different - easily the most significant change in the underpinnings since Windows 2000 (and undoubtedly the biggest user interface change since Windows 95.) And just like every previous release of a new version of Windows, there have been a lot of driver and compatibility issues during the first year. Much of the time, these problems are actually the fault of software and hardware developers. But since Windows is the face for the user's interaction, it's only natural for it to garner the majority of the blame. In fact, one of the reasons I chose to go with an HP instead of building my own system was my desire to avoid any driver issues. Even a longtime Windows user like myself was wary.

But once I had a chance to tinker with Vista, it really started to grow on me. There were a lot of little touches built into the system which left me pleasantly surprised. It wasn't a resource hog like I'd been conditioned to expect (the HP only had 1GB of RAM so I was worried about that.) It wasn't slow. The user account control feature wasn't annoying. It didn't have any compatibility issues with the wide range of programs I installed. In short, it worked. It even got to the point where I actually didn't like going back toXP due to some missing features I'd grown accustomed to in Vista.

This led me to my second experience with Vista. While the HP is supposed to be "Holly's computer" the other desktop in the house is most definitely all mine. Residing in my basement "man room" it serves as my gaming machine/file server for the rest of the house. This is my primary testbed for tinkering so I figured it was time to give Vista a try on my main frankencomputer. Having recently installed XP and Ubuntu Linux on a different system I was expecting an install involving a number of reboots and hours of downloading updates. But instead it was the smoothest install I've ever experienced. I was shocked. I had several non-standard components in this system (two different type TV tuner cards, a USB remote, an old webcam ) so I expected some headaches. Instead the system installed in about 20 minutes, automatically downloaded a few small updates, rebooted once and was ready to roll. My software works, my hardware works and my gaming is stable and fast (a major concern given how graphics drivers are usually the root cause of many many MANY problems.) It wasn't supposed to be like this was it?

Granted, I'm not the average user. Different people have different needs. And for the vast majority of people out there, they don't react well to change. So it'll be interesting to see how Vista fares as the natural upgrade cycle eventually forces the issue. Despite some pretty dramatic changes, the core familiarity should still be there for most people. My mother is now using it on her new laptop and seems to be getting around reasonably well (although I did have to uninstall some bloatware from her machine - most notably Google Desktop.) But unlike 6 years ago when Windows XP launched there are now a number of viable alternatives for mainstream users. Macs are of course the most obvious alternative choice, but even some of the various Linux flavors are becoming surprisingly user-friendly (so long as you just want to stick to basics like web surfing, email, office apps, etc.) Quite honestly, I don't see a whole lot of differentiation between the main systems \these days from an average user's perspective. In the grand scheme of things, the operating system market has evolved so much that the distinguishing factors have been relegated to small, individual features - which in turn are ironically trumpeted as major advancements since they're really the only way to market what are essentially just slightly different platforms.

Still, the perception of a greater difference is there. And I guess for the foreseeable future I'll most likely continue to be in the ironic position of a Windows user in a world full of Macs. So just like the affable PC guy in the commercials, I just wanted to say peace out to all my Mac homies.


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