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COMPUTER FILE / RICHARD O'REILLY

PC or Mac? Personality Is Key

April 22, 1993|RICHARD O'REILLY | RICHARD O'REILLY is director of computer analysis for The Times

As prices plunge and models proliferate, an age-old computer question arises with new urgency: PC or Mac? Does it really make a difference which family you buy into?

Most corporations have already answered that question by adopting computing standards, and most specify IBM-compatible machines. But that has a lot more to do with the past than the present: Apple didn't offer Macintosh models for every need and they weren't as competitively priced.

These days, with a few exceptions, you can do virtually anything with either kind of computer system, as long as you buy a model with enough power. And Windows programs on IBM-compatibles are just as easy to use as Mac programs.

Yet there is a difference, and to my way of thinking it has more to do with personality--yours and the computer's--than anything else.

Apple rules the Macintosh clan without challenge from pesky clone manufacturers. It has undisputed ownership of the critical Macintosh technology. As a result, living in the world of Macintosh computing is like living in a master-planned community. You can count on everything being in its place and everything (usually) going with everything else.

IBM never did have an effective lock on the technology in the IBM PC, so everyone from Compaq to Zeos built their own versions. Think of the IBM-compatible world as you would a large, international city--say Los Angeles, or London. It's chaotic. There's nobody in charge. But the vitality of it! The clash of cultures yields a wonderfully creative environment.

So, in one sense, if you're more at home in a highly ordered world, you'll find comfort in Macintosh. If you thrive on a little chaos and love to get your hands dirty (figuratively and otherwise) delving into the secrets of your computer, the IBM-compatible world is ideal.

It seems the machines themselves, especially the Macs, have personalities. Mac owners speak of their computers in pet-like terms. Macs are garrulous. Pop in a diskette or hit a few keys, and your Mac's propensity for uttering sound effects lends the machine a whimsical persona.

Sure, you can get an IBM-compatible to do that--with some effort and hardware. You can get it to do just about anything with the right equipment. For the adventurous and acquisitive, that's a virtue. For others it is merely confusing.

Macintoshes are generally a little easier to expand with extra hard drives, CD-ROM drives, tape backup systems and other devices because they come with a standard expansion connector built in, called a small computer system interface port. The acronym is SCSI (pronounced scuzzy ).

So does this mean I am advocating Macs in place of PCs? Not at all. The IBM-compatible world offers a far larger and richer selection of hardware, peripherals and software. If you are at all technically oriented, it's much easier to get inside the hardware and software workings of an IBM-compatible. And it is much easier to develop new software for PCs than for Macs.

You can even make a PC sing, with a little effort. I'm not sure you can turn it into a pet, but you certainly can make it into your favorite tool.

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