You’ve probably seen the TV commercial where Microsoft gives a “customer” named Lauren up to $1000 to buy the laptop they want. This woman wants speed, a comfortable keyboard, and a 17 inch screen. The large screen requirement makes the laptop pretty heavy and unwieldy (i.e. annoying to carry around) and just happens to restrict her on the Apple side to the high-end MacBook Pros, which are much more powerful than she needs. Coincidence? I think not. The base level MacBook has a well designed keyboard and all the power most people need, and comes with a much easier to manage 13.3 inch screen. I am a software engineer and I regularly use a basic MacBook to do software development and other heavy-duty tasks, and it works very well for me. I’m writing this article on a MacBook.
The commercial shows Lauren entering the Apple store to check out the MacBooks and then leaving saying that there’s only one computer available for under $1000 (the basic MacBook) and that since it has too small a screen, she just can’t afford a Mac. While driving away, she says, “I guess I’m not cool enough to be a Mac person.” Right … Microsoft wants us to think that people buy Macs mainly because they’re cool and that those who “can’t afford” a Mac feel uncool. Way to identify with the underdogs, Microsoft! You can just imagine Apple employees snickering at those who can’t afford to buy a Mac. Not! Of course, Lauren, the woman in the ad, never even entered the Apple store. She just read the scripted lines Microsoft’s PR firm gave her.
This is typical Microsoft, using lies and obfuscation to sell a product no informed person wants. See also the case of Mojave, the Microsoft ad campaign intended to trick people into buying Vista after almost everyone realized Vista was something to avoid. Instead of accepting the public’s rejection of Vista and working to improve their poorly designed operating system, Microsoft spent a lot of money to show “real people” a canned demo of the few parts of Vista that actually work well (i.e. Mojave), thereby tricking them into saying Vista is a good product. Microsoft has a history of outright faking “user experiences” and fabricating or distorting facts to support their attacks on their perceived competitors.
Now let’s go over what Microsoft didn’t tell you in this latest ad, and hopes you don’t discover. I have both a newer HP laptop (running Vista and Linux since I couldn’t find Windows XP drivers for it) and a newer basic MacBook, so I have experience with both designs. (I’ll never get another low end HP though. Too many problems.) I’ll be comparing the low-end HP laptop the “customer” chose to the basic MacBook:
- The HP and the Mac both have dual-core CPUs running at approximately 2GHz, which is plenty of power for almost anything besides games. Neither of these systems will let you play the latest graphics heavy games, but if you want to play older or simpler games, the MacBook has an Nvidia graphics chip which makes it much better for light gaming than the HP with its very slow integrated Intel graphics.
- The HP has 4GB of RAM versus 2GB in the MacBook mainly because a Windows laptop needs much more memory than a MacBook to do the same tasks. Also, RAM is cheap and PC manufacturers like to put in more RAM (and more powerful CPUs) than necessary to get people to buy their products.
- The HP has mostly fair to good quality hardware components (remember that I own examples of both these machines), while the MacBook is built with only top quality components. When you use the MacBook and then the HP for awhile, you’ll notice the difference. My HP is less than a year old and has always had a noisy DVD drive, and a key recently popped off the keyboard.
- The HP has a battery that will last maybe 2 hours in regular use, less than half as long as the MacBook’s battery. My HP doesn’t last long enough on battery for me to confidently take it to Panera or other places that might not have power plugs, while my MacBook lasts for 4 – 5 hours during regular use.
- The HP comes with Vista, which is an abomination of an operating system, a huge step backward from Windows XP and an operating system that Microsoft is trying to replace as fast as it can with Windows 7. The MacBook comes with OS-X and a suite of everyday use applications called iLife, which are widely considered the best operating system and everyday use application suite you can buy. It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway: If you can’t use your computer effectively because the operating system is unstable, confusing, or otherwise prevents you from doing your work, then your computer is just an expensive paperweight.
- The HP has a 17 inch screen, which can be nice when you’re working for long periods in one place, but not nearly as nice as a 20 or 24 inch external LCD monitor. Large LCD monitors are inexpensive now and are really what you need when you want a big screen to work on for long periods of time. Both the HP and the MacBook will work just fine with the larger LCD display. The MacBook is much easier to carry around, balance on your lap, and work on in tight spaces.
- Microsoft is rapidly losing market share to Apple among computer-savvy youths and particularly among the smartest of our young people. A 2007 article from Princeton notes that students and faculty at Princeton and many other elite schools are slowly but surely abandoning PCs for Macs, with the introduction of Vista and all the problems it brings speeding up the process. Microsoft is only holding its ground among those who consider price above all else. Most of these people would like to have a Mac but they feel that in the current recession its safer to buy the cheapest computer they can get. Microsoft alludes to this in their ads, never saying that Vista computers are better than Macs, only that they are cheaper to buy.
- If you read the professional reviews of both MacBooks and HP laptops at dedicated review sites like cnet.com and the user reviews of these products at sites like Amazon.com and BestBuy.com, you’ll see that the professional ratings of MacBooks are almost always much higher than those of HP laptops and that users’ satisfaction with MacBooks is almost universal while a lot of people complain about the quality of HPs.
You can certainly move up to a better PC laptop that will compare somewhat more favorably against the MacBook, such as a Thinkpad (Dells are about the same as HPs), but then you’re in the same price range as the Apple MacBooks and you’re still stuck with the obnoxious Vista OS unless you pay extra to use Windows XP. There are very expensive and high quality PC gaming and engineering laptops, but for general purpose computing, I haven’t come across even a high end PC laptop that’s noticeably better than a comparable MacBook. My engineering team at work just bought a Thinkpad for about $3000 to do serious software engineering work on the road, and it’s a very nice machine, but we use Red Hat Linux to do our engineering work so there’s no Microsoft software on that machine at all.
One final word before closing. It’s a well known fact that Microsoft employees often use Macs for certain tasks and that their ad agencies usually use Macs to create their anti-Mac ads for Microsoft. What does this say about Microsoft’s belief in their own products?
The bottom line here is that Microsoft stacked the deck in order to come up with a situation where a hypothetical customer would choose a PC laptop over a MacBook. I’ve used PCs for years and I do like using them (with Linux or Windows XP) for certain tasks, but the MacBooks are fundamentally better computers. It’s a real shame that Microsoft can’t compete on the merits of their products and have to resort to dishonesty and marketing blitzes to sell their products. Sometimes they’re just one step above a tobacco company using cartoon animals to sell kids on cigarettes.