With the widespread use of computers and the implementation of the Student Computer Ownership (SCO) initiative at Tech, students have plenty of choices when deciding what computer to buy for college.
As time has passed, however, two main factions have arisen in the computer platform debate: those who support Apple’s Macintosh operating system (Macs) and those who support Microsoft Windows (PCs). While the former still makes up a minority of the general population, Apple is proving to be a worthy competitor for Microsoft, the market leader.
Tech implemented the SCO requirement in 1997. President Clough set up a committee composed of faculty and students to organize the policy. The SCO committee, along with the recommendations of other faculty, created a program that would define a now critical aspect of education at Tech.
In those times, Tech’s recommendations for a computer were more expensive and had less room for variety. The computers available for purchase through Tech were all at least $2,000. Through Tech, students had the option of purchasing Apple PowerMacs, Dells, HPs and PowerComputing, the last of which went out of business years ago.
Today, Tech students can be seen with a variety of laptops and desktops around campus and in their dormitories. Unlike the days when having a non-Dell box was special, most students are unsurprised to see other brands such as Asus, Toshiba and Gateway.
There are several arguments concerning the hegemony of a Mac versus the PC. To clarify, Macs are PCs, simply because PC stands for Personal Computer. But by association, PC has come to mean any IBM-compatible system. Most people still refer to both sides of the debate as “Mac” and “PC.”
One of the most significant arguments concerns security, a quality that is especially important in a world connected via technology. Because Macs are more proprietary, they are less susceptible to common spyware and viruses that can affect a large proportion of PCs. However, some forms of malware occur in a macro form, where susceptibility is not limited to an operating system.
For example, some forms of malware work on a certain web browser or program. Some macros do exist that negatively affect Microsoft Office, but not the Windows OS. In the case of these macros, Macs can still crash as well.
Although the inner workings of the software and hardware are most important, the outer appearance of a computer has an immense impact on marketing strategy. Typically, the exterior casings of Macs are more attractive, with simple but sleek designs. Additionally, the relatively light weight of Mac desktops and laptops are attractive to consumers who are looking for convenience and portability.
With these components comes a hefty price, however. The main criticism of a Mac is its price. Apple skips the bargain value category and only offers comparatively expensive computers with premium components. For example, the cheapest MacBook is about $1,100, while a Dell Inspiron laptop can cost as little as $500. Some users may want a computer with basic productivity, while people who purchase a Mac will only have the option of spending more money for more premium features that they may or may not use.
The demand may not be affected as much by price, however, as the market shows that people will spend the money. From the 2006 third-quarter to 2007 third-quarter, Apple’s U.S. market share went up 37 percent, even though it still owns less than 10 percent of the market as a whole.
Even if price is an obstacle, Macs still appeal to many PC users. When asked about switching to a Mac, J.T. Kowalchuk, a fifth-year Mechanical Engineering major, said he would.
“I hear they are a lot more reliable, and I hear there’s more functionality with Mac. But, I guess what’s important to me is how long it will last, if it’s secure from viruses, those things,” Kowalchuk said.
The switch over to Mac from PC also comes with the burden of learning a new OS. While the systems are not leaps and bounds different and most PC users typically can perform basic functions on Mac, many people find that as a deterrent.
“It seems the only two reasons I haven’t gotten a Mac yet are price,and that I’m not used to it,” Kowalchuk said.
Some have not minded the switch at all. Alec Manfre, a first-year Environmental Engineering major, switched to a Mac six months ago.
“I love it. It helps me integrate a lot of different things with my e-mail, my calendar, and my contacts,” Manfre said.
When pointing out some of the obvious differences on a Mac, the graphical user interface (GUI) is notably different.
“I like the interface on Mac. They don’t bombard you with a lot of program. They’re really easy to use,” Manfre said.
Another advantage the Mac holds over the PC is its power in workstation productivity. Most of the computers in the Multimedia Studio of the library are Mac Pros. Computer Science Lecturer Monica Sweat explains why Macs have gained such popularity lately with computer scientists.
“It’s based on BSD Unix. When I did my CS, it was all Unix-based. I’m a power user…with Unix,” Sweat said.
Mac OS was not always Unix based; it was not until 2000 that the Mac OS X debuted and Apple restructured the OS both in its interface and its low-level processing management.
The strongest argument for PCs is actually the strongest argument between the two sides. Most consumers like options, and as mentioned previously, PCs offer a far wider range of options and pricing.
“[While] in my field I’d prefer a Mac, there are far more options for PCs. With Mac you’re limited to the base hardware Apple offers,” said Hassan Riaz, a software engineer.
Gamers and home media enthusiasts would likely agree with Riaz. “Lots of people like building their own custom PCs piece by piece, and that is not really an option with Macs,” Riaz said.
While Apple does offer reliable graphics cards and connectivity for television and cable, gamers who want a traditional computer setup would have to settle with a Mac Pro, which costs at least $2,300. Moreover, it was never designed for hardcore gaming in mind, as Mac OS X is not SLI or Crossfire enabled.
While both computers have issues—whether it concerns compatibility, reliability, etc.—most users end up using a computer for surfing the web or typing a document. In that case, either computer suffices.
Tech has recently passed an initiative that all students at Tech not simply own a computer, but specifically a laptop as of Fall 2008.
For more information on student computer ownership, go to http://www.sco.gatech.edu for brochures, contact information and more.