I use Windows machines a lot, but I also use Macs and various flavours of Unix. For a while I’ve been recommending Macs to friends and family – especially for people who want something for normal life tasks: email, web, music, digital photo’s, basic authoring (letter writing), simple financial planning and personal decision making support. There’s a few reasons for this. Macs traditionally have come ‘fully loaded’ which, although not the best thing for people on a very tight budget, at least means there’s no lurking extras; Macs are well integrated, the user experience is normally a good one; Macs do a good job of hiding complex stuff – which makes the learning curve shallow; Macs are not popular, which has a side effect that people don’t try as hard or as often to exploit them with worms, viri and other malware; and finally, Macs are a good bet for creative and style-aware folk (that obviously doesn’t include me, but due to a quirk of marriage, them’s the circles I find myself in ;-)
I took a pause from recommending Macs after the Mac Intel announcement – i didn’t want people splashing out on a dead duck – but now even when Intel-based Macs abound, I’m questioning whether a Mac is still sound advice.
Recently Paul Thurrott highlighted a BBC report recommending people switch to Macs to avoid malware. Paul makes a good point
switching is hard, and making a blanket statement like “just switch to the Mac” is disrespectful of the difficulty real people will experience if they actually try to do so
This is especially pertinent, because someone I know with a Mac was just telling me what a pain it is – they are a teacher and, here in the UK, the exam boards don’t supply Mac compatible software for marking. Since their Mac has recently given up (the screen has gone and the quote for repair is most of the way to a new notebook) they’re looking at the possibility of a PC replacement.
There is however a more sinister reservation lurking, which is harder to articulate than the “loads of software won’t run on it” statement. You might have noticed that maintaining access to data is an important issue for me (see DNG and Backup) and that means more than just having copies or backups of the data, it’s ensuring that the data is in a format that you trust to be readable in the future, on whatever system you happen to have in the future. The problem is that the nice software that Apple ships with the Mac, and which is so good from a usability perspective, appears to lock away that precious data. Recently, there’s been a spate of high profile defections from Mac OS to Ubuntu (a Linux distribution)  and the openness (or lack thereof) of data formats crops up as a contributing reason. If those power users are worried about accessibility of their own data, then I’m loath to recommend it as a platform for friends and family to archive their lives with.
Now I’m probably biased on this, but dual booting a Mac between Mac OS and Windows with bootcamp, might help with application compatibility woes, but you’ve still got the thorny problem of open data access… and while we’re on this thought train, ubuntu doesn’t cut it because stuff doesn’t “just work“.
Maybe it’s time to start compiling a list of apps that just work, and just work with open data formats…
 See also Mark Pilgrim, Tim Bray, Cory Doctrow and this O’Reilly piece.