Thursday, April 23, 2009

PC vs Mac by CNBC OTM

There's a lot flying around the internets about a segment from CNBC's On The Money featuring Jim Goldman, their Silicon Bureau Chief, talking about the true cost of a $699 PC [video link].

I've seen several sites basically saying this guy is an idiot, and I totally agree, but they have not presented the full options and true facts available. The claims of the "true cost of owning a PC versus a Mac" by Jim:
  • Mac has a lot more included that a "stripped down PC" doesn't have
  • He gives a list of things you need to buy to get it to "perform like a Mac"....
  • Norton Anti-virus at $50/yr
  • Multimedia Software at $80-104
  • Photoshop at $140
  • Video Editing at $100
  • Music Software at $100
  • Geek Squad Visit at $140, which is just for diagnosis, not fixing the problem
  • "Intangibles"....
  • Mac laptop 1.2lbs lighter (than what?"
  • Battery life 4x better (than what? HP 2.5hrs Apple 8)
  • "Faster Chip"
  • Higher-res screen
To begin, he apparently stole his talking points from Business Week writer Arik Hesseldahl, whose original article about this is here.

Let's examine these one by one here. I think calling a PC "stripped down" is unfair and he should have defined what exactly he meant. There's also the problem that when the general population thinks of Windows or Mac that they are mostly thinking of things that aren't the actual operating system, but we'll ignore that for now.

Jim puts Norton as $50/yr and asserts that viruses are such a huge problem on PCs and Arik, who gives a 3 year lifespan for the to-be-purchased laptop, tallies this to $150. Why Norton in particular? McAfee and others produce fine AV software. Jim did not do his research in that Norton AV is only $35/yr, it's $50/yr for Norton Internet Security. The need for the IS over AV products is shaky at best because, of course, there are free and/or open-source products out there to cover the offered functionality. For instance PeerGuardian and Spyware Blaster to keep malicious sites and IPs from getting at your computer while there's a whole host of anti-spyware/adware program available such as Spybot or Lavasoft's Ad-Aware. Also there's a nice browser plugin from McAfee called SiteAdvisor that tells you when a site is known to be a malicious as you browse and is available for at least Firefox and IE. And finally, in terms of anti-virus, there's no need to pay for software if you're a home user as there are plenty of free ones out there like Avira Antivir (the one I recommend and use) and AVG. Additionally, though not quite as polished, there is the open source ClamAV. So, total extra cost so far: $0.

Just a side note, since viruses and stability seem to be such strong bullet points for Mac supporters: don't believe all the hype. Macs are not immune to viruses, trojans, etc. as can be seen by the recent botnet that targeted Macs. Security researchers have been proving for some time now that Apple's platform is vulnerable just like Windows, it is just Apple has thus far lacked the market share to warrant much attention from the bad guys. Also, a little user education can go a long way. Since Windows XP came out I have had absolutely 0 problems that weren't solved by a simple reboot and have had no viruses or spyware. Why? Because I'm an educated user, I don't go looking around on fishy (or phishy! har har!) websites, and I'm careful about what I open or install on my Windows computer. To help save yourself from e-mail scams and viruses use webmail like Gmail that has good spam filtering and attachment scanning. Another plus you aren't open to the attacks that only require you to open an e-mail, which have been known to occur with the Microsoft Outlook e-mail client.

Multimedia Software for $80-104. Jim never really gets into what he means here and Arik doesn't really have this as a category. Arik mentions Muvee Reveal for $80 and CyberlinkDVD for $104, so I guess this is where Jim gets his range. However, Muvee Reveal is video editing so should be in that category. That leaves us with "multimedia" meaning DVD software. Many DVDs come with some form of (usually not great) software for free and Windows Media Player will play some DVDs without having to buy a codec. The real winner here is VLC though. It'll play just about any format you throw at it and will play DVDs flawlessly without having to buy or download any codecs like with WMP. Arik also mentions Roxio Creator which has a ton of functionality, as seen by a quick skimming of its features list. I do not see anything here that can't be accomplished with free and/or open source software though. If you can't find the appropriate program that'll do what you need it to instead of buying Roxio send me an e-mail and I can help you [see my page for contact info]. Adding with the last category: $0.

Ahhh Photoshop. The apparent pinnacle of Appledom and bastion of fanbois everywhere. The problem here is that, again, Jim got it wrong. Photoshop does not cost anywhere near $140 (it's $699); that'll get you Elements, which, as Arik points out, is a perfectly reasonable substitution for a home user. Jim plows through this making it sound like a Mac comes with Photoshop, which is dead wrong, and the small bit of functionality he talks about is not photo editing, it's photo management. Arik is much clearer here, saying Photoshop Elements for $140 will give you the photo editing capabilities that iPhoto gives you, but doesn't discuss the photo management portion. So, looking at iPhoto, it is a good product and has some wonderful features. However, I would say most users would be happy with the functionality and super easy usage that Picasa provides for free, in both photo editing and management. If one needs to do some hardcore editing there is always GIMP or GIMPShop (GIMP hacked up to provide a more Photoshop-like interface). Summing again: $0.

Video editing is admittedly my weak point as I've never really gotten into it. Jim claims you need $100 for this but, again, doesn't go into detail. Arik doesn't really discuss this other than the already mentioned Roxio Creator and Muvee Reveal. In about 3 seconds of Googling I found Jashaka which appears to be a pretty slick video editing tool. I'm sure there are others out there too. Seeing a trend? 0$.

Finally $100 for music software. This is the one that really made me laugh. Who has honestly shelled out money for music software any time this millennium? Windows Media Player is free, Winamp is free, and iTunes is free (for both Mac and Windows, though you have to download it for Windows). Where's the $100 coming from? Another fail on Jim's part, $0. Side note: if you want iTunes on Windows but don't want all the extra crap (MobileMe, Bonjour, Apple Updater always wanting you to install Safari, etc.) you can Google "iTunes lite," Lifehacker has mentioned it in the past.

Both guys claim that you're probably going to need a Geek Squad visit and Jim even goes so far as to say Macs "tend not to [break down]." Arik, yet again, is much more accurate in saying that Apple's Genius Bar for diagnosis is free. For both a PC and a Mac you'll have a warranty for actual hardware failures, it's a bit murkier for software stuff you've broken. I'm not going to bother looking up the cost of fixing something at Apple versus Geek Squad but there's going to be cost either way. I will say that a Mac is probably less likely to get messed up by a user, but it is not outside of the realm of possibility. In the end, it's probably all moot because I would bet there's that family member or neighbor or friend that you know that can fix the problem in 10 seconds.

Next Jim mentions iLife being free with a Mac, which is true, but only partially. iLife will come with your Mac, but if you want to upgrade to the latest versions it'll run you $79/yr. Arik even fails to mention this little catch. Whoops. You don't *have* to upgrade, but considering the upgrades for the products I've mentioned are free we'll assume you need two uprades over your 3 year lifespan, so that's $158 ON THE APPLE SIDE. Note that *some* of the free and/or open source projects I mentioned might be able to run on a Mac. One of the things that I'm going to ignore that Arik talks about is GarageBand, a music creation and lessons suite. I can't imagine this being of much use to the average user because most people simply aren't musicians and so won't take putting music together seriously. As far as lessons go, try a book or video from the library or search internet video and sites, there's plenty of resources out there. If you really do need the audio creation stuff try Googling "garageband alternative," seems like there's plenty of options out there.

Though neither mention it, I know MobileMe is popular amongst Apple users for its ability to "Access and manage your email, contacts, calendar, photos, and files at" (from MobileMe's site at Apple). This functionality is currently provided for free from Google (plus extras such as Google Docs) and Microsoft provides similar service for free through its Live service. The Individual package for MobileMe will set you back $99 per year if you want that functionality. There is a free trial, which we'll assume is a year Ibecause I don't want to look it up, so that's another $198 ON THE APPLE SIDE. You could, of course, use the mentioned free services with a Mac. (Gizmodo also noted this lack of MobileMe mention)

Both come down and say that, to get a Mac-equivalent PC you're going to spend $1500 total. From my tallies above I come up with $0 extra so far, leaving the cost at $699. The only things left are the "intangibles." First I'll address Jim's "Faster chip" because I have no idea what he's talking about here. I'll assume he means CPU, in which case there can be no claim here because he never gives a particular PC model; there are any number of models with varying specs available at that price. This really goes for all of his intangibles. Arik was looking at a particular HP model so his comparisons are somewhat fair, but what about other models and brands? Not to mention there is NO WAY I can believe getting a slightly lighter laptop with a slightly higher resolution screen to match the particular Mac that Arik is comparing to is going to cost an extra $800. The only thing left is battery, which it's been shown the Mac doesn't always get exactly the claimed 8 hours. First of all it there are a lot of assumptions there and in real-world usage it's only been observed to be about 4 hours [an example]. My laptop gets 4 hours too. I'm not sure this whole battery thing is fair either, the particular HP model is extremely limiting. Just because Apple buyers have little to no choice on what they get from Apple doesn't mean PC users don't have plenty of options.

In the end everything but the "intangibles" cost a whopping total of $0 extra for the PC. Although Arik (I'm not giving Jim credit here) does have some points about the hardware specs, I have already mentioned that he's only comparing one particular HP model to the Mac and there are plenty of other options out there. Also, $800 for a small bump in resolution and a pound less on weight seems steep to me, I can easily price those upgrades out on other computers for much cheaper than that. Let's even take these two at their word of $1500 total cost. That's still a LOT cheaper than the $2800 MacBook that Arik is comparing too! I'm going to go ahead and chalk Jim into the "moronic talking heads from news television" AND the "blinded Mac fanboi" categories.

I guess my final bit of advice would be to buy a PC instead of a Mac and ditch Windows altogether for a flavor of Linux, such as Ubuntu (or, due to my preference of KDE, Kubuntu) or Mint. The benefits here are too many to mention.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fox News makes bold, BOLD predictions!

10 Technologies About To Go Extinct

Make sure to note that there is an *about* in the middle of there and then read the list. Way to go Fox! Floppies are almost dead?! No ways! Typewriters?! Discmen (or is that Discmans?)!? Ack! This really only confirms their average viewer age is well over the hill. Yet another reason to not pay attention to Fox's news offerings...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Eternal Beta

Gmail's fifth birthday has come and gone. In those five years Gmail has steadily gained against the established competition and has demonstrated far more creativity. However there is one little nagging fact that everyone keeps talking about: why is gmail still in beta?

A five year beta is just silly. PhD's have been written in shorter periods of time. Betas typically mean a product that is having little or no features added and is mostly working on stability and bug squashing. Gmail does not fit this paradigm. It has been mostly stable (ignoring the service outages, which are not a problem with the Gmail code itself) and a solid performer for years now with more focus on feature additions it seems.

The real killer is the fact that there is Gmail Labs. Google's product labs have been about experimental functionality and "not ready for prime time" sort of projects. Hmmm. Does this sound like alpha and beta software? So Gmail is even mature enough to have its own alpha/beta system. How can you really have a beta within a beta? Honestly, come on. It's time you let your baby free Googles!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The April First Update

Well I pondered doing an April Fool's joke but, considering my readership is probably one (myself) I didn't want to spend the time crafting the perfect joke. I will however pass on a nice, legitimate bit of math and nerd humor. Check out PC-BSD and notice--besides being an alternative OS you should try out instead of Windows or Mac--what the new v7 is being called. That's right, the Fibonacci Edition. The only problem is 7 isn't a Fibonacci number. Math fail!