We continue our series of Myths of Modern Recording with a subject that should have been dead and buried a long time ago, however it seems some still want to peddle the myth that when it comes to audio, Macs are better than Windows PCs.
A Brief History Of Modern PCs
Rewind to the the early days of the PC (personal computer) and two camps emerged with very different agendas. IBM PCs (and clones) were being aggressively sold to businesses as the thing that would solve all their business problems. Driven by Microsoft software (not Windows at this point) these machines promised to run your inventory, do your taxes, solve complex technical equations and of course they would help you write letters or reports that were then printed out on a dot matrix printer. Around the same time Apple were taking a different approach to the PC and with their Macintosh (Mac) computer offered a graphical user interface and a mouse. Apple marketed their computers to artists and graphic design users, offering access to the desktop publishing revolution. In 1985 a graphical version of DOS appeared called Windows which acted as a shell to the underlying DOS architecture.
For many years Microsoft Windows held almost 90% of the PC market, this was due to a number of things. Microsoft promoted themselves as the only choice for business. It worked and few businesses used Apple Macs for their day-to-day business tasks. Secondly Windows PCs were cheaper, often because they were open systems so anyone could manufacture a PC, or indeed build their own, so cost was also a factor.
Apple on the other hand were largely used by those working in the creative sector because of the GUI and the software available to take advantage of it. Macs were expensive and only Apple made them. Furthermore the ability to modify or indeed build your own Mac was almost non-existent.
Software creators also played to these differences and in many cases software would run on one platform and not the other. Of course that software would play to the strengths of each platform thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This created a basic (if not clumsy) line of thinking about the Mac and the PC;
- PC = Ubiquitous. A business machine, good at number crunching, easy to network and relatively cost effective. The machine for people wearing suits.
- Mac = Only used by a discrete group. The best machine for creative tasks. Hard to network and relatively expensive. The machine for the creative.
In many ways both Apple and Microsoft continued to play to these stereotypes in their marketing and messaging.
When Apple started to gain traction in the home PC market (largely due to the halo effect of iPod sales) they exploited some of these stereotypes with a campaign of 'I'm A Mac' ads (see below). The campaign seemed to reinforce the historical point of view of the main differences between the two camps. Apple also worked hard to make the Mac even easier to use, offering a suite of software called iLife which made creative tasks incredibly easy.
When FIATS Were Rust Buckets
There was a time in the 1970s when FIATS were seen as rust buckets. In fact many cars in that era weren't rust-proofed but when it comes to marketing, mud-slinging sometimes it sticks for years - even when a brand has moved on from that era.
I cite this example because the "Macs are best" myth is only true if we rewind back to the Mac v PC period I've already outlined.
Now when it comes to Macs and PCs there's far less difference than there once was. Now a Mac user can use a spreadsheet and do complex equations, you can also network them with the minimum of fuss. On the other hand PCs are able to perform creative tasks and are being used for music, graphics and audio tasks by millions of professionals around the world.
Strengths Are Also Weaknesses
So is everything completely the same when it comes to Macs and PCs? Well no and that's because the strengths also happen to be weaknesses. A couple of examples are as follows;
Windows PCs - Anyone can build a PC and create parts for them, this means that PCs are affordable and have almost limitless permutations. Where this can affect a PC user is when there needs to be a standard - take Thunderbolt as an example. Windows PC users have found that this means few manufacturers are able to give a cast-iron guarantee of compatibility as it's impossible to test the almost limitless permutations. For a PC user seeing products released for Macs and not for Windows this can be frustrating. But don't blame the manufacturers of these third party products, they are trying to hit a moving target. One highly respected developer recently said to me "I write software for Macs and f******g Windows!" The frustration runs both ways!
Macs - Macs are often cited as easy to use and one can be up and working with the minimum of fuss. I dare not cite the once used phrase that Apple had for a long time (as it's not entirely true) that 'they just work.' The downside of this ease of use is that sometimes simplicity comes at a cost. I recall trying to create DVDs for manufacturing in DVD Studio Pro only to be told by respected pressing plants that the master DVD was not passing the final QC check. So it was fine for me making a wedding video, but not a master for a commercial run. Secondly anyone who has tried to use Quicktime over the last few iterations will know that when it comes to consistent playback of material it's not been brilliant. Many professionals will opt to use a product like VLC or Video Slave to get reliable playback of material from various pro codecs. Apple's approach to code can sometimes frustrate the hell out of developers and users alike, for example the recent screen refresh bug in Pro Tools and third party plugins was a OS X issue. I spoke to several developers about this who were all pulling their hair out suspecting it was an Apple issue but getting little feedback from Apple, who wouldn't even admit it, let alone fix it. It's now fixed in the new release of Sierra... go figure.
Are Macs Best?
No. They are different.
Both platforms have pros and cons, but when it comes to choosing a professional computer for your Pro Tools system, at the end of the day it really is down to using the platform you feel most comfortable with, bearing in mind neither one is perfect.