Head says PC, but heart cries out, Mac!

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The man in PC World was on the point of cracking up, I could tell. "Why don't you take your children to Burger King across the road and think about it?" he snapped, in exasperation.

To be fair to him, I had tested his patience to breaking-point. An Apple Mac or a PC? I simply could not decide. For months, this dilemma had taken over my life. My old PC, a Packard Bell 286, had long since packed up and my wife was due to return her Apple Mac to the Open University once she had completed her teaching course in a few weeks' time. The Blackhurst household needed a new computer, but what to buy?

From the outset, my head, and all the computer buffs I know, said PC; my heart, and all the technophobes I know, said Mac. PCs offered more for the money, they were easier to have fixed if anything went wrong, the choice of software, including children's games, was endless.

There was still, though, that lingering doubt. I had never mastered my 286 - the C:> prompt and filenames such as Config.sys filled me with foreboding. Macs were a dream in comparison and besides, the Independent used Macs, so it seemed logical to follow suit.

Advice came thick and fast. Windows 95 could not be easier - "makes a PC like a Mac", was what the sages said.

Convincing myself I should buy a PC, I staggered home with PC Direct and What PC? I soon knew how to spot the cons: the ones that seemed cheap until you discovered a monitor was extra, that offered a software bundle of stuff nobody would ever want - such as Encarta, the US version - or no after-sales back up.

Buying direct was cheaper and I toyed with Time and Gateway 2000. Still uncertain, I wandered around my local Dixons, drawn inexorably to the massively promoted Packard Bell with free pounds 1,000 worth of software, offer.

My wife then told me that if I did not make up my mind, she would kill herself. So one wet Saturday, I headed for PC World in Guildford - "better after-sales service than buying direct", I was told by those who claimed to know about computers. More to the point, unlike buying direct, PC World gave interest-free credit.

The children made a beeline for the joysticks and shoot 'em up displays, while I wandered over to the Macs, back to the PCs, round to the Macs. The software section summed up my agony: three small shelves of Mac gear, versus 10 if not 20 times that amount of PC stuff.

An assistant sidled up. Did I need help? I sure did but I couldn't bring myself to tell him how badly. I explained I had a Mac at home and had used a PC but didn't like it and was prepared to give it another go. On the other hand, I was still not sure, I might just want a Mac.

At this, his eyes glazed over. Had I used a PC before, he asked, patently ignoring what I had just said. When I replied I had, but still, really, preferred a Mac, he pointed me in the direction of the software shelves. Surely, that said it all?

It was hard, looking at the paltry display in the Mac section, to disagree with him. We headed towards the Packard Bells and their pounds 1,000 of free software. The deal was done, it looked easy to use and I got enough games to keep us going for ever.

The children gathered round. Daddy was going to buy a PC. Would it be as easy to use as the Mac? Daddy said he wasn't sure but it would have more games. At this their eyes lit up. Go for the PC, they said.

The interest-free application forms were thrust in front of me. I was just about to sign when something stopped me. What about the Mac? I inquired, insouciantly. At this, with the children hitting each other, the assistant had had enough. The Burger King option seemed like the best course to take.

Two weeks later, and still PC World, but this time in Brentford and this time with the whole family, wife and all, in tow. Same ritual, same indecision. To make matters worse, the children went for the Mac stand and Millie's Maths House, while we were shown the Packard Bells.

They looked easy, everyone had them, lots of people bought them without any problem. We bought one. But within seconds of switching it on at home I knew we had done the wrong thing. Instead of that old familiar desktop with its cosy icons, there was this dreadful picture of a room. Put the cursor on the fax machine and you got the fax, hit the stereo and you got music. I tried to load a CD and instead of that old icon appearing on the right side, there was nothing. My wife tried - still we could not install it.

Then, I tried to create a document, write a bit, store and find it again. Despair set in. No easy to read list, nothing.

We went to bed traumatised: pounds 1,500 for a piece of junk, something we both knew in our hearts we hated. In the morning, after a sleepless night, I said this was mad. Why did I not ring PC World and do a swap for a Performa 5300 Power Mac?

The sales manager at PC World was most understanding. Somehow I got the impression this was not the first time this had happened. Back I went, the PC in the boot. In its place came this friendly box with the Apple logo on the side.

At home, it could not be easier. There were games - not as many as the Packard Bell - but enough to keep the children happy. Creating documents, dragging them across to others, printing, I could do them all.

Some time later, I decided to join the Internet. The Mac came with E World, the in-house server. Nothing happened - it had ceased trading a few weeks previously. This was a Mac, after all.