Monday, August 30, 2010

Mac or PC - Should researchers care?

I have been using a Macbook for the last three years. My subjective experience (n=1) has been neutral. It has better battery time than any other laptop I have owned, which is great. But I have not really noticed a definable advantage other than that for someone like me, who mainly uses Office, Firefox, Mail and STATA as my daily tools. Having said that, I know at least one Institute Director who swears by it and many others who have converted and claim that it has helped them be more productive. From the point of view, say, of a researcher starting here in Geary or someone beginning their PhD in Economics and about to purchase a laptop, does it make much of a difference? People tell me that one can simply install Windows on the Mac to get something from both worlds but lets restrict to the choice between Mac computer and default mac operating system versus a standard PC and windows operating system. There are a lot of claims about the relative security of Mac over PC that I can't evaluate. I am interested in whether anyone thinks the choice is an important one for researchers.

Don't worry I am running out of technology issues that interest me so these posts will dry up soon!


Colm Harmon said...

Overall I have very positive perspectives. I think most things work just as well on the Mac as on the PC (Stata, MS Word etc, even LaTex!). And some work better - I think anything aimed at the net, at design/audio/multimedia. And you can dual boot so you can have Windows and Mac OS on the one computer - in fact with the software Parallels you can open Windows software as a window in your Mac OS session without rebooting.

So the main things are:

- they are pretty cool looking (and I am very uncool for using the word cool).

- they are becoming very very common in academic economics for some reason.

- neither my laptop nor desktop have ever crashed (blue screen of death style).

- Macbook battery life very good and even better in the new model.

- Quirks that people fear - like the mouse - are actually very intuitive particularly now that gestures (like swiping to scroll, or pinching to zoom) are possible (I suspect Liam is now making a gesture at the screen as we speak!!).

- Other nice things are PDFs are an embedded format so you just 'save as' as PDF etc etc, you can cut and paste between programmes, you don't have big application folders with libraries etc so deleting a programme is as simple as hitting delete on one file.

- some clever things from the science world like LaTex compilers, Papers (predates Mandalay by about three years). The MacOS is mainly an open source front end for Linux so lots of applications to download like labnote managers etc.

- Not good for games - so forget it on that front.

- if you are a big user of an iphone or ipad it is silly not to have Mac as integration is seamless.

- They are more expensive - you can't get a cut price generic badge Mac - but the average macbook is more like the top of the range Dell so comparison in that price band is less stark.

Alan Fernihough said...

I think the main selling point about Macbooks is their near complete immunity from viruses and spyware. As far as I'm aware, it's very hard to write spyware and other malicious code for Macbooks, whereas with Windows it's very easy -- which is kind of ironic since that's the reason (the ease of programming code) microsoft took off in the first place.

That's the major trade off to consider when choosing between the two. However, I have never bought a Macbook since I always found it hard to justify the cost.

For me, using windows with good anti-virus (free!) software, Microsoft Security Essentials and Malware, is fine.