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Tech Savvy for July 23, 2009

PC versus Mac

by Dan Harper

    Recently I was asked some questions about computers by a Macintosh user.  Since we usually cover PCs in this column, covering Mac questions this time is only fair.  After establishing that Mac OSX is arguably the most “human and user-oriented [operating] system” their first question was:  “What can you do on a PC that you can′t do on a Mac?”

    Not much.  Mac versions of PC software can sometimes have issues with keeping the files compatible with their PC counterparts.  Some versions of Quickbooks were notorious for this, and some Mac shops kept a PC around just for accounting.  There are also some specialty applications for accounting which have PC-only programs.  Both of these can usually run on a Mac with a PC emulator.  This is a piece of software that fools the PC program into working on a Mac.  Graphics intensive games usually don′t work well with emulators.

    “How does Apple run their enterprise without Windows, without Exchange, (the standard Windows email server) and why have they never been hacked?”

    Here are some deep dark secrets of the computer world.  Under the hood of Mac OSX is a version of UNIX called BSD. This means that it′s got all the security and maturity of UNIX, an operating system that has been around in various forms for 40 years.  Microsoft did not come up with email or other basic web services.  Some of the first servers for email and the like were UNIX, and there has been a constant process of improvement since then.

    That being said, it′s a long reach to say that Apple′s corporate site has “never been hacked.”  It′s kind of like saying your bank has never had a cent stolen.  All you know for sure is that you have never been affected by a bank theft.  Likely, the truth is that both the bank and Apple have had a security issue at one point or another, but had contingencies in place to limit the impact.

    “Why, since [Mac] OSX has never been hacked, are people not flocking to it in greater numbers?”

    In point of fact, all operating systems are hackable, and have been hacked.  OSX is no exception even though it is one of the more secure operating systems.  With the semantics out of the way, let′s answer the question.  When buying a computer, you have little choice in what operating system it comes with.  If you buy an Apple computer, it comes with OSX.  If you buy a PC, it generally comes with some flavor of Windows.  Users have little choice about what their computer runs unless they want to roll up their sleeves and install a different operating system.  In my experience, most people are not that dedicated, but for those who are, Linux is a good and free choice.

    The bottom line is no computer operating system is superior to others.

    Use what you are comfortable with and keep it updated to be secure.