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Mac or Windows - for a light user (email, web, papers)

Posted on 2005-03-31
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Last Modified: 2013-12-06
I need to recommend an OS for someone.  She wants a laptop.  She is a light user - only needs to email and browse the
web.  Maybe some basic applications (financial software, view pictures, etc.).

She may want a wireless keyboard/mouse.  And may want to a separate monitor to hook to the laptop when
at home (monitor would be for TV as well as a nicer display).

Please elaborate on your recommendations.

Thanks.
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Question by:booksplus
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19 Comments
 
LVL 96

Assisted Solution

by:Lee W, MVP
Lee W, MVP earned 200 total points
ID: 13673379
Macs are easier for the non-computer literate.  I'm sure there's accounting packages for Mac, but I've never seen or used one (but I don't typically work on Macs).

BUT, if this person is an accountant or works with people in the financial world, then she needs a PC running Windows.  Most of the business world runs Windows and if she's going to work with them, her life will be easier on a PC.
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Author Comment

by:booksplus
ID: 13673415
This is not for an accountant - just a home user.  This person is going into retirement and wants a new
system for the home.

I'm a Windows user in the business world and have Windows XP at home.  I've read some very
passionate opinions listed here at experts-exchange.  I'm not familar with Mac - so that's why
I'm asking.
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LVL 16

Assisted Solution

by:craylord
craylord earned 100 total points
ID: 13673464
Personally I would suggest Microsoft XP Professional. With the System Restore it makes troubleshooting a lot easier.

Also what has this person used prior? XP is a low learning curve and laptops usually cost less.
Who is she going to come to when there is a problem?? You? You definately have to ask yourself What would I feel more comfortable in troubleshooting and supporting?...  A lot of times people say they want just the simple things, but I assure you the next thing will be, I want to be able to burn music cds, watch DVD's, etc. help me find programs to do all this! As she bats her eyelashes. j/k

As you can tell, I'm a big XP fan, I tell everyone who asks me to go with XP pro. Not banging against mac.. it's just.. I'm more comfortable with it if something terrible were to happen to my OS or theirs.. and they will come knocking for help. Ask her and yourself that, go with mainstream XP or mac.

Yes a little biased.
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LVL 96

Expert Comment

by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 13673465
More so than Windows users, Mac users are militants (there are always exceptions).

Among other things, if you are going to be "supporting" this person, it's good to point out you won't be able to help as well if she gets a Mac.  They are also more expensive.  BUT, they really do have a reputation for being easier to use, but you pay for that ease of use.
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Author Comment

by:booksplus
ID: 13673578
Good discussion.  My mother-in-law may want to watch DVDs on airplane and car trips as well - I didn't think of that.
Do laptops have battery packs for 2+ hours of DVD watching.  Are there power adapters for cars.

What makes MACs easier to use?

Does she really need XP Pro - why not just XP home?
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LVL 96

Assisted Solution

by:Lee W, MVP
Lee W, MVP earned 200 total points
ID: 13673626
Typically, there are fewer ways of doing things, at least in the GUI.  Fewer ways makes things easier?  Yes.  BEcause when they get explanations of how to do things, they are are only told one or at most two ways of doing it.  With Windows, there are several ways of doing it.  When I tell a person go to system control panel, another tells them to run a command, and another tells them to right click "my Computer", a user can get confused.  (Linux has MANY ways of doing things... Windows is easier than Linux because of this, at least in my opinion).
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LVL 16

Expert Comment

by:craylord
ID: 13673689
Personally I prefer Tecra Toshiba laptops. Most come with a 3 year warranty, big plus. They have good battery life 3 - 4 hours. You can even purchase a highcapacity battery to up those hours. We order the M2 for all our remote users.

http://www.toshibadirect.com/td/b2c/cfam.to?seg=HHO&coid=-26374&sel=0&rcid=-26367&ccid=1291021
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Assisted Solution

by:bhrobinson
bhrobinson earned 100 total points
ID: 13674162
My recommendation would be to look at the cost factor.

It is very true that a Mac is a "plug and go" solution and there is almost nil needed on troubleshooting an issue (delete prefs. zap pram. works! <grin>). The issues come more into the initial cost for the system.

In today's enviroment, someone can order a Dell laptop to do what you are saying new for $500. The best deal I have seen on a Mac laptop is still in the range of $1000. A standard PC laptop will last through several OS changes, but Mac, until recently was not quite as kind. And the software is usually tied to the OS verson.

Other issues to look at are maintenance. I assume when you say they are going into retirement, we are looking at an elderly person. When talking of someone over the age 60, usually a learning curve shooting upwards and it is harder for them to grasp change. With Windows, there are consistant improvements and add ons to the OS that manipulate the way things work. Spyware and Adware run amuck and nothing is more frustrating than 80 popups for porn to a little old lady wanting to read her grandson's email.

I do repair work for several retirement homes, and must say that the frustration factor is much lower for them when a Mac is involved rather than a PC. I think with the change of the *nix backend, and compatibility issues thinning down - unless she likes to tinker - stick with the Mac
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LVL 31

Assisted Solution

by:rid
rid earned 700 total points
ID: 13674234
Macs are "better" for  a non-techie person insofar as they do not have to be patched, protected and cleansed as often as Windows PC's do. As for now, there are like 4 viruses for Mac OS X and quite a lot more for windows - not counting spyware and such that can make a windows system all but useless. OS X is stable and resilient, comparable to a good Linux installation on a PC, but with a more user-friendly interface than many common Linuxes.

There is normally no problems with watching DVD's and such with a Mac.

Mac hardware is a bit more expensive, but the quality is good (very generally). They tend to have good battery operating time.
/RID
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LVL 22

Expert Comment

by:pjedmond
ID: 13674531
Hmm.....OS X is stable and resilient, comparable to a good Linux installation....in fact it is *nix based:)
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LVL 31

Expert Comment

by:rid
ID: 13674581
Yea [blushing], knew that, but was typing quicker than brain processing speed could handle at the moment... :-/
/RID
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LVL 5

Accepted Solution

by:
godd31 earned 700 total points
ID: 13675015
I've worked with and support PC's for 8 + years and in today's world for a new user, XP home and a PC is the better choice. 80% of today's population use a PC. So compatibility and ease of use is there already. MAC OS X is nice but when something breaks most of the time you start over. With a PC alot of people deal with PC's and you can usually find someone to assist and fix the issues. My recommendations XP on a PC and stay away from Toshiba, sorry man but personal experience. I've delt with Toshiba's desktops and laptops since '97 and I know the histroy of thier products is nothing to scream about. Lot's of issues with every model. HP or Dell are your best choices and more bang for the buck. Either brand are pretty reliable and resiliant. IF your skeptical do the PC reviews.
Hope that helps in your decision.
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LVL 31

Assisted Solution

by:rid
rid earned 700 total points
ID: 13675326
Well...

This question IS flamebait and you could end up with a mile-long list of opinions. Having had to sort out the debris after spyware/malware/virus attacks on ordinary users' computers (running win XP or 2000) I can only conclude that recommending windows to a non-techie user with very modest requirements for computer usage is doubtful. The amount of time spent trying to update, protect and clean the system is excessive to put it mildly. Anti-virus software has to be purchased, updated and kept active at all times. These tend to eat resources something wicked. Internet Explorer is the prime target for any spyware engineer out there. And so on.

A "new" user could just as well begin with Linux or OS/2 as anyting else. In this case I suppose available support is key. If the user can count on easily accessible windows support, by all means go windows, but if there's a Mac savvy person somewhere around, I'd say the Mac is the better choice for peace of mind.
/RID
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LVL 23

Assisted Solution

by:brettmjohnson
brettmjohnson earned 100 total points
ID: 13678366
I would recommend an Apple iBook.   I have 2 and love them.

Mac OS X is powerful, extremely stable (based upon Unix OS)
The iBook comes with excellent Mail reader (Mail.app) and web browser (Safari)
Mail.app has a very good built-in spam filter
Safari supports tabbed browsing, and includes pop-up blocking and ad blocking for a better browsing experience
The iBook ships with iLife (iPhoto for pictures, iTunes for music, iMovie, GarageBand, etc)
The iBook ships with AppleWorks an OK, but not great office suite
For light word processing, the included TextEdit.app is quite good
You can buy the new iWork (Pages word processor/layout, Keynote presentation software)
You can also buy Microsoft Office for Mac OS X if you need full MS Office compatibility
For personal finances, Quicken is the app of choice (although not my choice)
No viruses, worms, trojans, adware, or other malware for Mac OS X makes computing life so much more satisfying
iBooks are rugged, more so than the aluminum covered PowerBooks
For wireless networking, get the Airport extreme (802.11b/g) card
For wireless peripherals get the Bluetooth option
iBooks support external VGA, S-video, and composite video output, PowerBooks support DVI as well.
The iBook is inexpensive (<$1000), especially considering all the software provided
Apple has great educational discounts if you, your friend, your friend's kid, or your friend's nephew is a student

Best yet, as the computer geek friend of a non-technical user, I get 1/10 the tech support calls
if the user chooses a Mac over WinTel.  Macs 'just work'.

Macs may be more expensive than the cheapest piece of crap you could find, but at least it is not a piece of crap.

I am a Mac user, a Windows (2K and XP) user, a Linux user, a Solaris user and an HP/UX user.
I definitely prefer the Mac far above the others, but I'm not "militant".  (Win XP and HP/UX are
tied for dead last in platform preference.)
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LVL 5

Assisted Solution

by:simonenticott
simonenticott earned 100 total points
ID: 13679080
In my experience you should give a non techy person a system they can't easily break.  In this case that'd me a Mac, it'll give her all the basic stuff and it'll run fine and provided she doesn't have the root/admin password she'll find it hard to do any damage.  XP on the other hand is a different matter, even with no admin access and locked out of half the OS using group policy, people still manage to get around things and end up damaging the OS.

I'm not actually a mac user, i had one for a while out of curiosity but it just wasn't tweakable enough for me so i sold it on and bought a far higher specced PC for the same money.  What i did learn from a mac though is that for a non techy person it'd be great, very simple and straight forward.

If she's thinking of buying a wireless keyboard and monitor/tv you may want to take a look at the new mac mini, its relatively cheap, looks smart and though its not a laptop it is very small and unobtrusive.

Simon
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Author Comment

by:booksplus
ID: 13681113
I just found out that she has ANOTHER REQUIREMENT - and that is this ....

My mother-in-law (a retired English teacher) wants to grade SAT essays for some organization.  This
organization uses software that does NOT run on the MAC - they even went so far as to say you cannot
use the (and I forget the name of it) PC interfacae or whatever to the MAC to run this software.  But it is
sofware that the SAT Essay graders use to grade the papers - and it requires to be run on Windows.

This has been extremely interesting.  I do appreciate listening to the experts on both sides.

I am a software developer (18 years now)  and believe in the SIMPLE and RELIABLE and IT SHOULD JUST WORK principles - I appreciate that about the MAC.   In this case, however, I think the choice is clear based upon compatibility.  

I will leave this question open a little longer for any follow up comments.  Splitting the points out may take a while :-))

Thanks again!!!!
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LVL 31

Assisted Solution

by:rid
rid earned 700 total points
ID: 13681663
This last requirement seems to rule out a non-windows solution. There may still be one, but, as you say, the simple and reliable solution should be tried first. So I guess you'll be settling for a PC with windows.

1) A laptop. You'll get a lot of recommendations for Dell and IBM, so I'll throw in Fujitsu-Siemens just as an alternative. The ones I've dealt with, the Lifebook series, have been well-working and dont offer too many surprises - reliable, good-quality machines.

2) An O/S. Probably you'll be stuck with XP. I guess the usual precautions should be taken, like upgrading to latest service pack and so on. For a spyware and virus prevention measure I'd like to suggest that the user is introduced to Firefox and Thunderbird, or the full Mozilla suite, instead of leaving all doors open with IE and OE. This, in combination with a good AV software and having the machine behind a router/firewall when it is connected to the internet, should be able to keep things running smoothly for some time. There are a few other precautions that can be taken and some good suggestions can be found at www.grc.com and www.spywareinfo.com ; there are some services that do not need to be autostarted and so on.

3) A policy. When you install new hardware, like printers and such stuff, it seems to bo common for the installer to put several useless items into a registry key that causes them to start atuomatically at boot-up. Familiarizing the user with the drawbacks of the Startup folder filling up with various items is a good idea. Also the registry key "HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Current Version\Run" should be a part of the education. A normal, well kept machine has only the AV software and the touchpad drivers there...  For long-time stability and performance it is essential that the number of running processes are kept to a minimum, especially if one of the modern resource hogs of AV is to be used.

<end rant>
/RID
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LVL 5

Assisted Solution

by:godd31
godd31 earned 700 total points
ID: 13682240
I've done this for my grandmother, Who I think is the most technically challenged person alive - Explaining technology to her in my case became repetative and almost frustrating because there is just to big of a learning curve. So I got her to order a Dell with XP home. So I spent a few hours with her and set it up with all the updates and then enabled auto updates which is a huge helpful defense against viruses. Norton Antivirus is 35 bucks it can be setup for auto update as well. Adaware is a good product and so is Microsofts AntiSpyware which I believe will be an add on to windows for free in the near future. It is still in beta but I can see them releasing this for free or even in a SP3. It also has auto update. So if everything is auto updating then the concerns of viruses and spyware are minimal. Not impossible but minimal. I have my grandmother's PC set to auto update everything it even defrags and cleans temp files through scheduled tasks. So she never calls me anymore, kind of makes me wonder if I was being used. ;-) So she turns on her PC and it just goes with no issues to her at all. it's been that way for almost 2 years. I also installed VNC which is a remote control agent and configured her windows firewall to allow that port access. So if an issue does come up then I just remote control it. So that's how I was able to get a very technically challenged person to have a enjoyable computer experience and no issues. But please educate this person on email security Norton does have a email plug in for Outlook but that would be her biggest issue for virus concerns.

MAC's are nice looking, I love the fact OS X is Unix based. It's great new direction for that company I can see in the future MAC's getting back into the mainstream. For now combatability and cost is thier down fall. I also support MACs in my environment and I wish I didn't have to. They break down alot. It seems the best fix all the time is replace the RAM and Hard drive. Gets to be pricey. BUt thier G4 and G5 desktops  Good luck to you sir I know we could beat this PC / MAC arguement to death.
0
 

Author Comment

by:booksplus
ID: 13683001
Thanks for all your input - very informative and professional.
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