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Whenever I write about the pros and cons of Windows PCs and Macs–as I did recently for TIME.com–I make at least brief mention of the fact that I’m a happy user of both. But I’m not sure if I’ve ever outlined just why I buy and use both flavors of computer rather than settling on one or the other. Here are some quick thoughts on that subject.
First, a review of my life as a user of operating systems might be in order. For most of it, I was a single-OS user–sometimes ardently so…
1978-1982: I was a Radio Shack TRS-80 snob (thinking back, that sounds like an oxymoron, but trust me–I was one).
1982-1984 or thereabouts: I had and liked an Atari 400, but I don’t recall being passionate about it. I also backslid and did a fair percentage of my college work on…typewriters.
1984-1986: I went through an odd period during which I temporarily lost interest in computers, except for word processing.
1987-1991: I dabbled on a borrowed Mac, but I also bought a Commodore Amiga and became a–I try to avoid this word, but it’s the only one that fits–fanboy.
1991-2004: I got a job at a computer magazine that covered only Windows (and, at first, DOS) PCs. I used almost nothing else for the next thirteen years, but don’t become a Windows partisan–even after I become the editor of a magazine called PC World.
2004-present: Shopping for a new laptop at CompUSA–and wanting a smallish model–I take a wrong turn and end up in the tiny, isolated Mac section. I have an epiphany: Why not buy a 12″ PowerBook? What was stopping me? I ended up buying one, and have purchased Windows PCs and Macs in roughly equal measure ever since.
(At first, all my Windows systems were desktops and all my Macs were laptops–which meant that I was a Windows person when I was at my desk, and a Mac one when I was anywhere else. But I’ve stopped buying desktop computers, so that distinction has vanished.)
Ongoing exposure to both operating systems has left me an operating-system agnostic. I see good (and bad) in both Windows and Macs and recommend them both to different people in different situations.
(I’ve also gone through periods when I’ve used Linux as well, incidentally–though not as much recently, due more to a lack of time than disinterest.)
So why do I use both Windows PCs and Macs?
- It’s the best of both worlds. I like Windows 7, but believe that Apple’s OS X remains the best, least hassle-prone operating system. I like Apple’s Macs, but know that the Windows world offers far greater variety when it comes to models. After having lived a biplatform life for so long, restricting myself to one OS would feel like depriving myself of the benefits of the other.
- It makes me feel smarter. If you know only Windows or know only the Mac, your perspective on the world of computing is constricted. (Strangely enough, the folks with the most well-informed takes on the whole PC-vs.-Mac question are those who have plenty of hands-on experience with both.)
- It’s emotionally healthy. Operating systems are just bits and bytes, people–identifying too closely with one of them over another is a tad odd. Especially if you start to believe that people who opt for a different one are members of some distasteful cult. Using both OSes has given me a zen-like serenity about the whole subject–it’s probably lowered my blood pressure.
- Hey, a Mac is a PC. I may be the last person left who (usually) stubbornly refers to PCs that run Windows as “Windows PCs” rather than just “PCs.” That’s because Macs are personal computers, too. And a Windows PC and a Mac have more in common than, say, a Chevrolet Corvette and a Toyota Prius.
- There’s no reason not to. Sticking to one platform may have made sense when outfitting a computer required investing a ton of money in software and peripherals that were incompatible with the other one. Today, though, I spend much of my time using the Web, which doesn’t care if you’re on Windows or a PC. Most of the software I run is available for both OSes, much of it is free, and almost all important file formats are as platform-agnostic as I am. And printers, cameras, networking gear, and most of the other gear I use works fine with Windows and Macs.
- I like to try new stuff. Did I say above that I hadn’t used Linux much lately? Well, I forgot that I’m using Linux right now: I’m typing this newsletter on Google’s Cr-48 notebook, which runs the Linux variant known as Chrome OS. If you declare yourself to be a Windows Person or a Mac Person, you’re depriving yourself of the opportunity to try out interesting new devices as they come along.
Back when I bought that 12″ PowerBook and started using both it and Windows machines, I was keenly aware that I was making a decision to become a two-platform person. (And if I ever forgot it, someone came along to point it out–when you edit a magazine called PC World and are seen in public with a Mac, it’s a conversation-starter.) Today, I don’t give it much thought. I sit down at a computer, and my brain helpfully adjusts itself to the OS I’m using, helping my fingers to find the right keys and features without any conscious effort. I’m not saying everyone should use both OSes–we agnostics aren’t missionaries–but I know it’s made me a happier computer user.