Reasons Why Not To Choose a Macintosh

Reason 15 of : “Macs are proprietary and incompatible”

“Windows is the standard computing platform. Every piece of hardware, every piece of software worth having, every file will be Windows compatible. The world runs on Windows. By contrast, the Mac is a limited, closed platform where nothing works unless its provided by Apple. Macs offer nothing but incompatibility and limits, whereas Windows offers unlimited freedom...

...right?”


Any question of incompatibility or proprietariness could cover any number of issues. So I'll try and guess which ones could cause the most confusion or concern.

  1. "Macs are incompatible"
  2. "Macs are proprietary"
  3. "Mac OS only runs on Macs"
  4. "Macs use non-standard interfaces"
  5. "Macs use non-standard file formats"
  6. "Macs can only network with other Macs"

1. "Macs are incompatible"

Being as a Mac is just another PC like any other – albeit one bundled with Mac OS as opposed to the more usual Windows OS – one can only assume "Macs are incompatible" to mean there's bigger choice of software designed to run on Windows than for the Mac's native OS. So in so far as that goes, yes, the Mac (or rather Mac OS) is incompatible with this larger variety of software while running its native OS. But there is Mac software; lots of it. There's just less. And there are a few gaps.

Info: See also reason 1 – 'There's less software for Macs' – for a closer look at how much of an issue this really is.


2. "Macs are proprietary"

There certainly are large aspects of the Macintosh platform that is proprietary. It is the nature of what it is. Like an electrical appliance, it's an inseparably tight integration of hardware and software, in that Mac OS is only intended to be run on Mac hardware. This does have its benefits, but the trade-off is that Apple is, and will continue to be, the sole vendor for the Macintosh platform.

Info: See also reason 31 – 'I don't like being limited to a single hardware vendor' – looks as this issue in more detail.


3. "Mac OS only runs on Macs"

This is something some have a fundamental problem with, being in stark contrast to any other mainstream computing platform.

The Microsoft Windows platform for instance, differs from the Macintosh platform in that while the Windows OS is just as proprietary as Mac OS (possibly even more so), it is designed to run on any PC hardware from any PC manufacturer or home brew assemblies.

Microsoft give you choice in that their OS will run on any hardware. But then again, Apple also gives you choice, in that their hardware will run any OS.

Critics of Apple suggest they should follow Microsoft's lead here and allow Mac OS to run on a wider range of hardware than they themselves offer. However, this tends to gloss over the risks of having a detrimental effect on the amount of hardware they themselves sell, and with no guarantee of making up the inevitable finacial deficit with additional sales of operating systems. Plus much of the benefit of the aforementioned tight hardware/software integration would be lost, and introduce the many downsides of supporting a much vaster variety of hardware not of their design.

It's never as simple as it sounds, is it?

Info: See also reason 32 – 'Mac OS will come out on PC eventually' – has a little more of a look at this issue.

Another choice is Linux. It too can be run on any hardware, yet unlike the proprietary alternatives from Apple and Microsoft, is entirely open source. And free! For those whom this really is an issue, the Mac platform is about as philosophically opposite to their idealistic principles as you can get! A Mac will never fully fulfil these needs. But then neither will Windows.


4. "Macs use non-standard interfaces"

Once upon a time, long long ago, this may have been true. Today, not so. It became obvious long ago that it simply wasn't practical for the Mac platform to have its own interface standards from the rest of the ever growing computer industry. As such, today, they don't.

Both internal and external interfaces are recognised industry standards, no different from that available to any other PC manufacturer. As such, components and peripherals are the same for Macs and PCs. Whether they will work however, is of course dependant on whether driver software has been made available for Mac OS, if applicable. For most mainstream stuff, it's a non-issue.


5. "Macs use non-standard file formats"

File formats are dictated by software. If a particular file format is only used by software from one vendor, then it is indeed proprietary; proprietary to that vendor. Unless you have some idealism towards open source, there's nothing inherently wrong with this; just so long as this software is available on multiple platforms, e.g. Microsoft Office files being compatible with both Windows and Mac versions, or music purchased on Apple's iTunes Store being compatible with both Mac and Windows versions of iTunes.

It is worthy of note though, that in recent times, Microsoft has created more standards and formats that are largely proprietary to their Windows platform only, leaving those on non-Windows platforms to seek out more industry standard compliant alternatives. By contrast, Apple proprietary formats are very thin on the ground, and are usually available to Windows users too.

So, while there is specialist Windows software, and hence file formats that are not available to Macs, the vast majority of mainstream file types – e.g. music, video, picture, text – are platform agnostic industry standards, or are available for use on multiple platforms.


6. "Macs can only network with other Macs"

Incorrect. It's just easier that way.

Info: See also reason 22 – 'Our network is PC based' – for a brief look at issues of networking with a Mac.


So in summary...

...accusations of Macintosh proprietariness and incompatibility can often be rather overstated or a legacy of yesteryear. A Mac is a PC. Take away Mac OS and replace it with Windows, it can be a Windows PC little different from any other. And as for Mac OS vs Windows, while they may not be compatible with each other's software, there's not much that you can do with one and not the other. Whether the few remaining exceptions are a deal killer for you, only you can say. But for most ordinary folk, it's a non-issue.

Page content last updated 5 September 2010