Apple and Microsoft: A Tale of Two Companies

Citation: Jackson, Apple and Microsoft: A Tale of Two Companies, OmniNerd.com, 03 February 2010, accessed on 20 April 2014 from http://www.omninerd.com/articles/Apple_and_Microsoft_A_Tale_of_Two_Companies
Tags: mac, pc, linux, and os
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Background

In the 80s, we had Apples at school and a PC (186, baby) at home. I remember loving the games I played on the Apple ][’s at school and enjoying the experience of a windows-based environment as opposed to the command line DOS I was using at home.

Then things changed. Steve Jobs left, Apple went to hell 1 and Microsoft went to… what do you call a place where Microsoft is really happy, but no one else is? I think I’ll call it the 90s.

My entire childhood/adolescence was filled with Windows PCs at home. Windows 95, 98 and ME reminded me of what I used at school and I never noticed any real difference in use at the time, probably since they were all just rip-offs of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center GUI. I don’t recall having complaints about Windows, but looking back, maybe it isn’t normal to have to reset a computer every few hours. I did not know anyone who had a Mac and it seemed that everyone I knew was an ignorantly happy Windows user.

Windows became the de facto standard for computing outside of the few IBM mainframes that were (are) still in service. More and more games and applications (and viruses) were written expressly for the Windows platform and many of these things (like Microsoft Office) also became standard, in school, at home and for business.

Apple’s Descent and Rise

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I wonder how often Apple management kicked themselves in the 90s for running Jobs off. The result of that act was that the early and mid 90s saw a procession of ventures that performed more poorly than expected for Apple. Meanwhile, Microsoft enjoyed market supremacy with their strategy of focusing solely on their operating system and forming agreements with hardware companies to build their products and ship them with Microsoft products pre-loaded. Microsoft took advantage of this supremacy by not updating Windows 3.1 for roughly 3 years (1992 – 1995). 2

By the 1996, the general populace had pretty much settled into a Windows world. PC owners dutifully marched though Windows 95, 98, 2000 and XP, each of which handed Microsoft the lion’s share of the market. 3

Then came 1997-1998. Steve came back, the iMac was released and Apple returned to profitability. 4

Fast forward to 2001, and you have the release of the iPod and Apple’s expansion into markets other than the personal computing industry. Met with mixed reviews 5 upon release, it went on to revolutionize the industry… even causing iPod to become almost synonymous with MP3 player.

Then came the march of Apple successes: the more popular MacBook line, the new iMacs, iPhone, iTouch and OSX. Apple was suddenly the prettiest girl at the ball. During this revival, Microsoft was slammed repeatedly in anti-trust lawsuits, taking quite a public perception beating.

To combat this, Microsoft launched the much hyped successor to Windows XP: Vista. Microsoft experienced hard times when the public largely rejected Vista and began to perceive a lack of effort in Microsoft’s OS development.

The Here and Now

So now we get to the reason I started to write this up in the first place. Now we have two companies with very different business strategies: Apple, a hardware company, that needs to have top notch software to beat out the rival, and Microsoft, the software company, that needs people to keep buying other companies computers with their OS running on them. This factors in quite a bit in the “Which is Better” debate.

Security

The security question has filled up many pages of comments 6 debating whether Apple computers are simply less of a target than Windows or whether they are inherently safer. A colleague at work and I often discuss this, he being an avid Apple user and me being a Windows/Linux user at home. Our conclusion? It doesn’t matter why, because Apple, right now, is less vulnerable to virus attacks than Windows. That being said, Microsoft has been forced to make great strides in the security of their products, which has more often than not, prompted back lash from their users because they are used the lawless environment Windows users grew up in ("Why does it keep asking me if I want to install VirusThatWillKillYourComputer.exe!!! That is so annoying. I wish it would just leave me alone).

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I have Windows 7 on my laptop, and I am virus free. In fact, I don’t recall having had a problem with a virus since I owned my own computer (college onward). Then again, I have anti-virus programs running and I am a careful web browser, whereas Apple has stated that you don’t even need virus protection for their products. 7 My final thoughts are that if you are a careful computer user, you won’t notice a difference, but otherwise it may lean in Apple’s favor. At the very least, for the time being.

This is one area where I think the different approaches that Microsoft and Apple take comes into play. By designing the hardware, software and the communication between them, Apple has a huge amount of control over what goes on in an Apple system. The closed nature of the paradigm works in Apple’s favor, whereas the more open strategy of Windows (which basically takes all comers when it comes to hardware) requires the operating system to be more vulnerable to gaps in third-party hardware and the operating system itself.

Speed

My friend says that his laptop boots up and shuts down lightning fast compared to his Windows boxes (from 2 or 3 years ago). My experience with Vista was noticeably slower than that, but Windows 7 seems quite zippy to me. We have comparable hardware set-ups (4GB RAM and 2+ GHz dual-core processors). Honestly, I haven’t noticed a difference between the two after using his and mine back to back. A reviewer on CNET has a much more in depth review here. My Linux laptop, however, seems much faster than both.

Remember how I said that the paradigms play a part, well here is another area where I think it comes into play. Basically all that stuff I said about the control Apple has means that Apple can optimize the crap out of their system and ensure that the customer gets the experience they advertise. Microsoft has no such ability; they are often at the mercy of the hardware drivers distributed by the third-party vendors. It also requires Windows to have a larger footprint to interface with those vendors.

Experience

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This is a catchall for the user experience while using it. This is Apple’s forte… taking something the customer does everyday and making it more pleasureable (see iPod, iPhone), which occasionally turns said customer into a mindless zombie recruit for Apple’s army of world domination encourages customer loyalty.

This is one area where I think Microsoft has closed the gap. Windows 7 is pretty. Pretty similar to OSX 8 , that is (or maybe he was just “uninformed”). However it got to be that way, Windows 7 passed the pretty test.

I, for one, haven’t noticed any instability in Windows 7. I have never had it crash (wish I could say that for my Gentoo installation… {cries softly}). Macs apparently don’t have problems with crashing either. In my experience, the gap here has closed.

That being said, Windows still is an open system. Microsoft can’t 9 (or won’t) dictate how things are supposed to work. So Windows users occasionally have to deal with driver compatibility issues that Mac users can laugh and point in scorn at. Maybe there is something to this draconian control Apple has over everything …

Durability

This really isn’t an OS concern, but it is often lumped in with reasons to buy a Mac instead of a PC, so I am including it. That friend I mentioned, the Apple fan, originally switched to a MacBook two years ago because the previous two laptops he had basically fell apart due to poor manufacturing. He said it had nothing to do with the operating system merits or faults of one or the other. His MacBook was just more durable (the guy dropped his MacBook from 4 feet or higher several times) and he still uses it today. He did fall in love with the OS, but he still says that it is the hardware and construction that made him change. This would be in line with the “hardware company” aspect of Apple.

Windows simply doesn’t build computers. They sell software. And yet, when a PC or laptop breaks due to hardware failure, Windows will receive some of the blame. Definitely a weakness for Microsoft.

Cost

This one is tricky. The actual operating system for Apple is cheaper than its competing Microsoft product, but the hardware it runs on is definitely more expensive. Add to that cost the fact that I often have to buy new versions of a lot of my software to do the same things I can do on a Windows machine. Even without that extra cost, buying a Windows laptop is still cheaper than buying an Apple one (I bought my laptop for about $900, while my friend for the same tech specs spent $1500). Clearly, this works in Microsoft’s favor.

This is also one area where Microsoft’s reliance on third-party hardware vendors pays off. A peripheral for a Windows computer is often cheaper than its Apple counterpart. Why? Windows vendors compete with each other and that lowers prices. Apple is the only game in town for Apple computers. This, again, impacts the experience/speed/security concerns, but the cost prize goes to Microsoft.

Conclusion

Using a high-end graphing application (mspaint) I have created the following chart, which I think succintly describes the general characteristics of computer users related to their OS choice.

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The breakdown of OS choice among computer users

Basically, I figure once you get a certain amount of money, I figure you are just as likely to have either operating system. The more geeky you are the less likely you are to be a solely Windows user… but past a certain point, Windows and Macs both lose out to Linux and/or Unix.

To conclude, I thought I would repost a joke a college classmate of mine sent me. I thought it was funny, so here:

UNIX Airways

Everyone brings one piece of the plane along when they come to the airport. They all go out on the runway and put the plane together piece by piece, arguing non-stop about what kind of plane they are supposed to be building.

Air DOS

Everybody pushes the airplane until it glides, then they jump on and let the plane coast until it hits the ground again. Then they push again, jump on again, and so on…

Mac Airlines

All the stewards, captains, baggage handlers, and ticket agents look and act exactly the same. Every time you ask questions about details, you are gently but firmly told that you don’t need to know, don’t want to know, and everything will be done for you without your ever having to know, so just shut up.

Windows Air

The terminal is pretty and colourful, with friendly stewards, easy baggage check and boarding, and a smooth take-off. After about 10 minutes in the air, the plane explodes with no warning whatsoever.

Windows NT Air

Just like Windows Air, but costs more, uses much bigger planes, and takes out all the other aircraft within a 40-mile radius when it explodes.

Linux Air

Disgruntled employees of all the other OS airlines decide to start their own airline. They build the planes, ticket counters, and pave the runways themselves. They charge a small fee to cover the cost of printing the ticket, but you can also download and print the ticket yourself.

When you board the plane, you are given a seat, four bolts, a wrench and a copy of the seat-HOWTO.html. Once settled, the fully adjustable seat is very comfortable, the plane leaves and arrives on time without a single problem, the in-flight meal is wonderful. You try to tell customers of the other airlines about the great trip, but all they can say is, “You had to do what with the seat?”

Information This article was edited after publication by the author on 03 Feb 2010. View changes.