Life Without Walls

August 17, 2010 at 5:00 am 7 comments

| Gabriel |

So Microsoft now has a page on why you should choose Windows over Mac. What’s interesting to me as an econ soc guy is that most of the things on the list, and certainly most of the things on the list that are actually compelling, rely in one way or another on network externalities, which implies that the advantages of Windows are mostly an issue of path dependence.

  • More familiar interface if you’re already used to Windows — network externality
  • Easier to share documents — network externality
  • Availability of games — mostly a network externality issue, partly that some developers prefer DirectX over OpenGL

Of course they don’t mention that the main disadvantage of Windows is also in large part a network externality issue.

Although the “PC vs Mac” page mostly just finds different ways to say “because they’re popular,” it also lists a few issues that might be interesting even to Robinson Crusoe. Some of these other issues are good points (e.g., Apple’s insistence on bizarre video ports that require you to use dongles and which aren’t even standard within Apples own product line) and others are just stupid or misleading (e.g., that Mac’s don’t have touch).

To avoid giving the impression that I’ve fallen into the reality distortion field, let me provide my own list of advantages of non-network-externality reasons that I see as advantages of PCs over Macs:

  • Price
  • Two button mice
  • A file manager that allows a traditional multi-pane interface
  • The availability of tray-loading optical drives that actually work reliably, rather than exclusive use of slot-loading optical drives that often refuse to accept discs, or having accepted them, require you to turn the machine on its side to get it to eject.

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  • 1. shrew  |  August 17, 2010 at 6:57 am

    it’s easy an straightfoward enogh to use a two-buttom mouse on a mac …

  • 2. Dulani  |  August 17, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Dr. Rossman,
    Since I stumbled onto your blog a while back looking for some R advice, I’ve eagerly awaited your informative and entertaining posts.
    With this latest one however, I think some comments are in order. Especially with respect to your closing bullets.

    1) Price, yes Macs are more expensive. But, a more appropriate comparison would ensure an apple to apple comparison (pun intended). With my PCs, I almost always need to augment them with quite a bit of software to make them as safe and useful out of the box as my Macs are. I usually need to buy a decent firewall, virus software, desktop search software, and a decent photo manipulation package. These costs probably don’t make PCs more expensive, but a straight price tag::price tag comparison is not appropriate in my opinion.

    2) Mac mice (and track pads) have had two button functionality for some time. I right click all the time on my Mac mouse, it’s just not obvious to the uninitiated that the mouse or track pad is actually capable of registering a right click (it is not turned on by default).

    3) The Mac Finder has a “two pane” interface that functions much like MS Explorer’s two pane interface. I’m not sure if that’s what you felt was missing, but I think both OS’s file manager interfaces are capable of producing comparable basic views.

    4) I agree with you on the lack of tray loading optical drives (and dongles), I’ve been frustrated by them more than one time in the past.

    Thanks for the great posts!

  • 3. gabrielrossman  |  August 17, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    My list of criticisms of the Mac was somewhat tongue-in-cheek and I myself use a Mac and intend to continue using Macs even when my current machine (early 2008 model white Intel MacBook) wears out. I could make a long list of reasons as to why I prefer Mac. The most obvious is the relative lack of viruses, but the Unix architecture is actually more important to me. Why Mac instead of Linux is a trade-off between “it just works” on the Mac side vs really good package managers on the Linux side (at least for some distros). And I like to think that my preference is not just a status affectation because, to be honest if I were choosing on the grounds of presentation of self I would probably go with Linux but I don’t because “it just works” is pretty important to me.

    Anyway, I completely understand what you guys are saying about right-clicking, etc, but these are less rebuttals than qualifications. So clicking while holding two fingers on the mousepad works great for the three of us, but this is not even remotely an intuitive thing to do and for the benefit of noobs it would have been better if they just had a second button. Likewise, I’ve gotten used to just keeping two Finder windows open next to each other, but to say that the Finder has anything like a multi-pane orthodox file manager mode is just wrong — otherwise there would be no market for Forklift. (I think you may be confusing the “columns” mode with an OFM, but the resemblance is superficial).

    Finally, I’m never entirely convinced by the “it’s a good price when you compare features” argument. For instance, within any product line, Apple has about a 400% markup for RAM and hard drive upgrades which isn’t anywhere close to comparable markups you see with HP or Dell configurations. However even if we accept the “feature for feature” argument, this is a lot like saying that pre-deregulation airline tickets weren’t really more expensive than Southwest and JetBlue when you realize they included meal service and other perks. In a sense it’s true, but it doesn’t change the fact that if you’re the kind of person who is only interested in getting from A-B then you are better served by the deregulated low comfort airline industry than by the regulated high comfort airline industry. It may be true that Apple charges a reasonable price for its premium parts, but that doesn’t change the fact that Apple doesn’t offer a “Chevy” model. Related to this, note that the Mac Mini is the closest thing they have to an entry-level product and they just added $100 to the price a few months ago and it’s now twice the price of the comparable product offered by Dell. Yes, the Mini has better specs than the Zino, but for some people these advantages are superfluous, or at least not worth paying twice the money.

    • 4. Eric Booth  |  August 20, 2010 at 12:48 pm

      “I’ve gotten used to just keeping two Finder windows open next to each other, but to say that the Finder has anything like a multi-pane orthodox file manager mode is just wrong”

      Yes, I agree. I like to use an applescript (modified from scripts found here: ) to open 2 Finder windows stacked next each other. You can get a copy of this applescript from my dropbox to do this:

      Just save the applescript to your “/applications/applescript” folder, open the file, modify the “hei”ght and “wid”th to match your monitor, and “save as” an application. Drag the application (.app) file to your dock next to Finder and give it a new icon.
      It’s no substitute for Path Finder 5 ( or Forklift, but I find it useful.

  • 5. drschweitzer  |  August 19, 2010 at 12:26 am

    I’ve never actually understood this debate. It’s like arguing about pencils to me; and the bottom line is that there are different products in markets for a reason: people have different preferences. It’s possible to carry around your stuff in a plastic bag but people still buy leather handbags.

    I use a Mac because I don’t want to be part of the IT borg. This is not a PC issue; it’s a human issue. I have worked too many places where IT people would rather spit on you than actually work, and having to depend on those folks for my computing is just not acceptable to me. When you insist on having a Mac, their attitude is that expecting them to touch it is like expecting them to dress up in a Hello, Kitty outfit. Thus…I can have whatever I want on my computer whenever I want to put it on there without having to get administrator’s permissions, etc etc.

  • 6. Beyond the Finder « Code and Culture  |  August 31, 2010 at 4:56 am

    […] a recent post I mentioned that one of the (few) crappy things about OS X not related to network externalities is […]

  • 7. Maynard Handley  |  November 12, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    The argument about video outputs is stupid, and while one might expect nothing less from MS, you shouldn’t be sustaining the stupidity.

    The primary issue here is that the switch from analog (CRT) to digital (LCD) displays occurred while VESA, the standards-setting organization, was, as its unfortunately all-too-common in the tech sector, too interested in parties and strippers than in actually using its brain to consider the likely future course of events.

    When Apple wanted to support LCD displays what were their choices? They could have stuck with VGA (and the resultant crappy, blurred image that is generated — have you SEEN an LCD fed by a VGA signal?) They could have invented their own proprietary connector — with all the complaining that would entail. Or they could use the spec that was available, namely DVI, even though DVI sucks in a number of ways, not least the myriad incompatible formats it comes in. Apple later switched to the much smaller mini-DVI connector for portables because DVI is just a massive connector.

    Later, as was inevitable, VESA realized the ways in which DVI sucks (most relevant to Apple, that it cannot support large screens) and introduced the far superior DisplayPort, which Apple adopted pretty much immediately in mini-DisplayPort version.

    Looking back at all this it is hard to see how Apple could have handled this better given that they simultaneously
    – wanted to move the state of the art forward
    – wanted to ship ever smaller portables and
    – wanted to use a non-proprietary connector.

    And note that at every stage of this process, Apple provided, in the box, a backwards compatible dongle between the new connector and the previous connector, AND, where space was available, provided both connectors — eg the 2009 mac mini has both mini-DVI and mini-DisplayPort.

    MS seems to feel that it is a terrible thing for Apple to attempt to push the state of the art forward (and, for all I know, there are still Nehalem PCs being shipped somewhere with floppy drives, and MS supplying Windows 7 on a stack of 200 such floppies).

    I fully expect MS to go into a similar whine mode over the next year as Apple starts to remove optical storage across its entire line, providing boot “disks” on a usb flash drive, and suggesting that (just like with floppies) anyone who requires optical storage buy a USB optical drive (which cost about $30 these days).
    And once again this sort of whining is stupid and short-sighted — full of angst at what is being “lost” with this transition, and with no cognizance of what is being gained in weight, space, noise, and power savings.

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