What computer should I buy?

Joe: I’m in the market for a new computer. Any suggestions?

Jane: Buy a Mac.

Joe: But wait; I haven’t told you anything about my requirements!

Jane: Ah, yes, you’re right. Sorry about that. Are you a hard-core gamer who needs the absolute latest in system and video card hardware?

Joe: No, not at all.

Jane: OK. Do you enjoy building your own computers, taking them apart, putting them together, replacing parts, and that kind of thing?

Joe: No, not at all.

Jane: OK, do you use any software or hardware has any sort of strange hardware requirements, like an ancient serial port security dongle, for instance?

Joe: No, not at all.

Jane: OK. Buy a Mac.

Joe: But wait. You haven’t asked me about which operating system I want to use!

Jane: It doesn’t matter. Buy a Mac.

Joe: But I hate OS X.

Jane: It doesn’t matter. Buy a Mac.

Joe: You’re saying I can buy a Mac and run Windows XP or Vista natively, not through something like Parallels ?

Jane: Yes.

Joe: But what if I really want to run Linux instead?

Jane: Buy a Mac.

Joe: Wait, you’re telling me I can run Linux natively, too? Windows, Linux, and the Mac OS can all run natively, all on the same machine?

Jane: Yes, though if you want all three to be installed and bootable on one machine, well, that requires some work.

Joe: Holy cow. So the Mac is literally the Rosetta Stone of computing!

Jane: Yes. Buy a Mac.

Though the above conversation is obviously a work of fiction, the basic points of the discussion are completely true. If you want to purchase a machine today that natively supports all three of the major operating system types, then a Mac is your only choice. And for most people, I would argue that it’s probably the right choice—even if they are avowed haters of OS X. In addition to the Intel-based Macs’ ability to run any of the major operating systems, consider what else you get when you choose to buy a Mac:

  • Simplified purchasing: When you buy, for example, a Dell, you have about 3.5 million different machines to pick from, or so it seems. You also have to check two stores (home and business) to make sure one isn’t offering a better deal than the other. Depending on which day you choose to shop, you may be offered a discount on certain parts. Or you may not. In some ways, it’s like playing the lottery; there are even Web sites, such as this one, that help you find the various discount offers.

    Contrast that with the Mac buying experience: there are but five machines, three desktop and two portable, to pick from: mini, iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook, and MacBook Pro. Prices are simple, and any discounted machines (because they’re refurbished returns) are clearly shown in their own area of the store.
  • Wonderful industrial design: From the Mac Pro to the mini to the iMac to the MacBook and MacBook Pros, all of Apple’s machines are well designed, both outside and in (though I so wish the MacBook Pro had the MacBook’s easy-to-replace hard drive!). The portable Macs are thinner and lighter than their direct competitors, and the desktop machines are full of well thought out features, yet never feel like they’re festooned with ports and buttons. You won’t find any neon glowing lights, flashing LEDs, or green-text LCD status indicators on a Mac; the glowing sleep light is about as flashy as they get.
  • Well equipped for the money: USB, FireWire, AirPort, Bluetooth, 10/100/1000 Ethernet—on many PCs, features like these are add-ons and will cost you extra money. With the move to Intel, the “but they’re so expensive” argument has finally gone away; similarly-configured Macs and PCs are now very price competitive. (The exception is at the entry level, where you can get a throwaway PC for much less than even a Mac mini. Of course, after using it for a few days, you may actually wish to throw it away.)
  • Support for the iPhone: If you’re a Linux user, and you wish to use an iPhone, you’ll need either a Windows or OS X PC; the iPhone will not work with Linux. Since you’ll need one anyway, you might as well purchase a Mac, set it up for triple booting, and then boot into OS X when you need the work with the iPhone.
  • Easy path for switchers: For anyone contemplating switching to the Mac and OS X full time, starting with a Mac makes it a very easy transition. Buy a Mac, install Boot Camp, and use it as a Windows box at first. When you have some spare time, reboot into OS X and start using the system and its applications. As OS X starts to feel more comfortable, spend more time there, using Parallels to run Windows applications as necessary, and rebooting into Windows when you absolutely must. Over time, if you’re enjoying OS X, you’ll find yourself spending all your time there, with Parallels at the ready for those cannot-be-replaced Windows applications. If you end up hating OS X, you’re not out of luck—you’ve still got a very fast and capable Windows machine!

As noted in the fictitious conversation above, I really don’t think the Mac is right for everyone. Those who love to build their own machines, for instance, will never be happy with a Mac. Similarly, hard core gamers will find even the Mac Pro lacking for their needs—it can’t, for instance, use two 3D-accelerated video cards in parallel to accelerate screen drawing times.

But for nearly everyone else, I’m finding it hard to recommend purchasing anything other than a Mac. Between the Mac’s strong feature set, its great industrial design, and its ability to natively boot the three major operating systems, it really does make the most sense. What do you think? Is a Mac a good recommendation for nearly any potential buyer?

Shop Tech Products at Amazon