Apple’s former ad slogan of “Think Different” isn’t entirely accurate. While Apple is challenging consumers to make the switch away from the most popular operating system in the world, the Apple world is one of conformity. Once you decide to play in the Apple sandbox, you are stuck in the Apple sandbox.
I can only buy a notebook in two colors: aluminum and white. I can’t buy a 2.0 GHz Macbook with a lighted keyboard or a MacBook Pro with an aluminum unibody design and a matte screen. I can’t buy a laptop with eSATA or an iMac with a Core 2 Quad or a monitor-less Mac with a Core 2 Duo and an Nvidia GPU. If I go with Apple, I have to play under Apple’s rules. On the other hand, the Apple Kool-Aid is mighty tasty.
The iPod and iPhone have been the gateway drugs to the Mac ecosystem and philosophy. Both represent highly structured environments. By giving up the flexibility to load music directly onto your iPod or to use exotic formats such as FLAC or APE, you gain the ease of use that an iPod offers and the widespread support of automotive manufacturers where integrating your iPod with your steering wheel controls requires no trickery. The same is true with the iPhone. You get one provider: AT&T. You only get one form factor. But in turn, you get one of the best smart phones on the market.
The strengths of a Mac are clear. On the consumer side, iLife remains one of the best consumer multimedia suites ever produced. For years, iLife’s photo slide show capabilities have outclassed anything available on the PC with regard to ease-of-use and the ability to produce fully animated menus. Apple Aperture offers a great alternative to Adobe Lightroom 2 for a lower price while Apple Shake and Final Cut Pro Studio represent true Hollywood-grade applications falling short only of products from Autodesk/discreet. Built-in capabilities to the operating system such as Time Machine make data security a breeze. Keynote remains one of the most sophisticated presentation tools available on the market, and as soon as Pages and Numbers have support for EndNote and Error Bars, I’m confident that the Mac will gain even more traction in the scientific/academic world. Given the option between a PC that can only run Microsoft-branded software and a Mac that can only run Apple-branded software, the easy answer is the Mac (although admittedly, I am using Office 2008 to write this).
Even the day-to-day Mac experience is pleasant. When comparing an eight-core system running Windows Vista/Aero, Mac OS X, and Xgl/Compiz; there is no question that Mac OS X offers the subjective feeling of a snappier interface. I’m not sure what it is about Mac OS X that makes it so responsive, but the last system to have the same level of responsiveness was my SGI Octane. The only similarity between Mac OS X and SGI IRIX was the use of Display PDF/Display Postscript and a closed system with tightly controlled hardware support. Vista/Aero may be slower because non-WPF windows are rendered in 2D (even though the composition is 3D), and Linux driver support lags behind Windows and Mac OS X (DRI2 may change things).
In addition, recent benchmarks show that Mac OS X offers superior power management compared to Windows Vista (Anandtech), and in general, offers superior raw performance to Ubuntu Linux (Phoronix). With Mac OS X, you get style and substance.