In Defense of Microsoft Windows
by Matt Logan. September 2012
The core of this essay was originally written as a response to the verbal flogging my acquaintance (Montgomery S.) was giving Microsoft products recently. Another person had asked the group which computer they should buy next, and Monty spared no time before vigorously insisting, “Buy a Mac”. My response to the group was, “Buy what is right for the intended purpose.” Monty then went on a bit of a verbal tirade about how badly “Microsoft products stink”, and how much better Apple is etc.. Having been a wrench turner in the computing infrastructure world for close to 2 decades now, I took it upon myself to educate the group as to the basis of their perceptions, and how to make the right decision when purchasing a machine.
Have there been problems over the years with MS products? You bet! I’ve probably used a majority of them over the course of the last 25 years and some of them have been real stinkers. There have certainly been times when I would have liked to have gotten physical with a downed server or PC. Throwing the machine in question through a window or taking it to the target range always sounded fun…and I’ll admit that users generally have to know the OS and their applications pretty well to really make themselves productive on a Microsoft Windows machine. But I also think it would be unfair not to admit that the MS products, with the exception of a few lemons, have consistently gotten better and better since inception.
I’ve been using and administering Microsoft Windows systems and servers since DOS and overall they have been highly functional machines for reasons I’ll get to in a minute. We should also keep in mind that a majority of the commerce that has occurred in the United States (and likely the world) in the last 20+ years has been done on Microsoft Windows systems. The world’s largest companies have been operating in part on Microsoft Windows systems since its inception, which proves that Microsoft Windows systems, when done right, can be highly functional and offer a great user experience.
(Operating System) Market Share Leaders
Differences in Way People Think About Macs and PCs
Before we move on, let’s take a moment and analyze how people think differently about Macs and PCs, especially when they are ready to purchase a computer. For example, what does the average person do when shopping for a Microsoft Windows PC? How many I have known that go to some mega-store, buy the cheapest consumer branded, shoddily produced machine they can find, and then wonder why they have issues later. Mac on the other hand doesn’t give you any option as to which manufacturer you buy your hardware from, not to mention choices in terms of cost, etc. When you buy an Apple machine, you are buying an expensive but extremely well-built commercial grade machine. When most people buy a PC, they try to buy the cheapest thing they can find.
Mac Has Had It Easy (Relatively)
Another factor that plays into the equation is that Microsoft has to try make their OS compatible with near anyone who decides to build PCs or PC hardware. In other words, an untold of number of makes/models/vendors, etc. Apple actually employs countermeasures to ensure that you can’t run their operating system on anything other than a very small and stringently controlled group of hardware sets. At times, Apple has had the benefit of only having to worry about compatibility with just a handful of models. Apple has also had the benefit of changing their underlying hardware architecture entirely a few times while Microsoft has had to deal with the slow slog of progress of other manufacturers; every OS they make having to be backward and forward compatible with countless different makes of hardware. Although these favorable conditions are beginning to change as they release ever more models and devices, Apple has definitely had it easier in these crucial ways that few consider. It simply cannot be overstated how many problems this difference in model has eliminated for Apple over the years. Not that I haven’t seen the occasional lemon from them from time to time. I know a graphics artist whose world was turned upside recently when her Mac motherboard had to be replaced twice in six months.
In the Windows world, in order to compensate for this, we (AVAREN) have always recommended businesses buy commercial PC hardware for their Microsoft machines. When this is done, the experience is usually pretty dreamy and not unlike that of Mac. For some reason people will pay a dictated price for Macs, but when it comes to Windows systems people become extraordinarily cheap. A good example of this might be the budget Windows laptops everyone is selling right now for $499 versus a Mac laptop. For starters the Mac laptop is going to have a solid state hard drive (SSD) in it, which is practically shock proof, and will speed the machine up dramatically. Your run of the mill PC laptop is still running a 5400 RPM old style hard disk (HHD) system. Not only is it susceptible to shock/breakage more readily, but is terribly slow compared to the high performance drive installed in a Mac laptop.
Can a person buy a Microsoft Windows based desktop or laptop with an solid state hard drive so that they could achieve similar performance? You bet, but not for $499 at the discount store.
“Commercial” Versus “Consumer” Equipment
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, most of the major PC manufacturers sell different models for the consumer and business markets. Generally, business machines will be designed and built to run and last longer, will be more robust, and overall should exhibit fewer problems. You may spend a few extra bucks on a commercial machine but it will surely be worth it. One of the analogies I have long found most fitting here, is the notion of a restaurant business. Could anyone imagine a restaurant buying consumer appliances at a big box store like Lowe’s or Home Depot? A restaurant is of course going to buy fairly expensive, heavy duty, commercial cooking equipment. The same distinction applies in the computing realm. Businesses should buy commercial computing equipment in the same way. For PCs, commercial equipment really isn’t that much more expensive, and if you are managing a fleet of them, what you will save in maintenance over the years your fleet is in service will more than pay for the difference in upfront cost. After having managed hundreds, if not thousands of machines over the last few decades, I can say authoritatively that commercial machines simply last longer and have fewer problems than consumer machines. Not to mention that when it comes to service and support, the commercial side is much better as well.
It’s All In What You Buy
For the purposes of the following example I pieced together a sample “executive” class Microsoft Windows based HP business class machine similar to the ones I use personally for work. The package includes: a commercial 3 year on-site warranty, Win7 Pro, gaming graphics, 2nd gen I Series processor, 4GB Ram, Corsair 240GB solid state drive, and dual 27” Samsung monitors. This would be a really nice souped-up machine appropriate for just about anything short a video editing workstation. Everything in the package would be $1717.00 before shipping, handling, and taxes. On the other hand, specifying all Mac hardware, dual 27” monitors, 3 year warranty, otherwise similar hardware setup…try $3167.00. Let someone try to say, “but it’s better.” Well of course is it. Especially if it is the tool you require. And to think that most people don’t even want to pay $1,000 for a new machine; they want to go to a discount store and buy one for $449.00. Obviously in the end, you do get what you pay for; although business machines don’t necessarily cost a lot of money. Take a look at the graphic below.
If you need only a reliable computer, high quality commercial machines start at around $569 without a monitor.
But You Can Run Microsoft Windows On Top of Mac OS!
Some of you may not be aware that it is possible to run Microsoft Windows OS, in a sizable window, similar to that of a remote session, on top of Mac OS…assuming of course that you don’t mind buying an expensive machine to begin with and then spending another $200 on a Microsoft operating system to load on top of your Mac OS. If that is the right solution for your requirement, by all means purchase it. As I’ve said in other posts, I have no aversion to Macs and use them when the application permits, but overall, when done right…Microsoft Windows can be wonderful. It is all about what you purchase and how you administer it.
I should mention that not all PC software may run or work well when run in a virtual machine, regardless if on a Mac or elsewhere. Software that relies on UDP or broadcast traffic (VOIP for example) may not like the latency involved in running within multiple layers of software, one on top of one the other. Some database driven applications may not be a good fit either as performance could be significantly degraded in a virtual environment. The best solution in these cases, for anything larger than a small office, would likely be to have the Mac user(s) connect into a Microsoft Terminal Server to run their Microsoft applications. This would give the user(s) the best of both worlds.
I Hear Microsoft Gets Lots of Viruses?
There is some truth to this, but this is only because Microsoft has been the biggest player on the block for so long that they are also the biggest target. Apple, for example, only had 12+% of the desktop market share in 2011. I think it fair to say that if fewer people who write viruses own your same machine type, then certainly there will be fewer viruses written for that platform. Case in point, Linux has come a long way in the last 15 years being the free OS alternative. Because of its flexibility for server functions and lack of software cost, people looking for low cost web server solutions have been adopting it in droves. As of 2011, is it estimated that Linux then held 60% of the server OS market share. Oh, but did I also mention that Linux is now relatively plagued with hacks and malicious software as well? Needless to say, if Apple ever gets to the point where they have the numbers of subscribers MS and Linux have, Apple users will similarly require perpetual patching or anti-malware applications to stave off new threats.
Microsoft Windows 7…What Are You Waiting for?
Windows 7 is a pretty sweet client OS, likely the best Microsoft has produced yet; especially if you don’t go cheap with your hardware. Now that we have SSDs that are reliable, my Windows machines will never want for speed again. Apple has been loading SSDs or similar in more of their devices than anyone in recent years, that is why the speed is still there with some Apple devices even after many years. Quality engineering is of course also why Apple charges a premium for their products.
In the end, if people would consider a path other than the “budget” route when buying their Windows machines, they would generally have much better experiences. Even most of those who praise Apple most vehemently online at Face Book or elsewhere, go to work the next morning to a Microsoft Windows workstation just like the rest of us. And why not, Windows machines are significantly less expensive, offer a far greater number of software and other options, and are thus the backbone of industry. If these conditions were similar for Apple, they wouldn’t have only 12% of the desktop market share. People only need to lobby their employers for higher end commercial HP or similar PCs that break less frequently; and if they can afford it, do the same at home.
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