Cyberclinic: Macs can now run Windows, so why buy a PC?

Now that you can install Windows on a new Macintosh with relative ease, why would any self-respecting computer user choose to buy a PC?

A year ago, you'd have donned an extra layer of protective clothing before answering this question. The dreary Mac vs PC debate rumbled on for so long, with the two sides so firmly entrenched and utterly opposed, that insurance companies would refuse to touch anyone attempting mediation. Then, earlier this year, Apple lobbed an unexpected grenade in the form of Boot Camp, a technology - albeit unsupported - which allows Windows XP to boot up on the new Intel-based Macs: simply hold down a key at start-up to choose between Windows and Mac OS X. Mac fanatics were horrified at such betrayal, but faced with the alternative of ditching their beloved Macs, they inevitably came around to Apple's way of thinking.

The ability to run alien system software on your computer isn't a new thing. Emulation has been around for years, enabling you to run old Sinclair software on your PC, or Windows software on your Mac, but it was always more of a neat trick than a serious solution; the software would be merely usable at best, and crashing constantly at worst. But, as processors speed up, emulation becomes more realistic. PearPC allows you to run OS X on a PC, and Parallels Desktop is mounting a challenge to Boot Camp by giving the option of running Windows applications on a Mac without having to restart the machine first.

"Emulation is perfect for occasional use of particular applications," writes Mark Anderson, "and you're getting an officially supported set-up, which you don't get with Boot Camp." (Both solutions, of course, require you to purchase a copy of Windows.) Parallels recently claimed that they've made it easier to install Windows on a Mac than on a PC, and some magazines argue that certain Windows software packages now run faster on a Mac. Both claims have been fiercely contested by a few dissenters; the majority of us don't particularly care.

Boot Camp is the culmination of many years of reluctant acknowledgments from Apple that Macs and PCs need to be able to work together. Today, most new computers coming off the production lines are virtually identical - Intel makes the processor chips, Fujitsu makes the hard drives - and the choice is boiling down to logos and price. "Apple produces a very focused range of computers," writes Paul Waite, "two laptops, three desktops - so if you want a lower-spec computer for a lower price, a PC is the way to go." The best reason given for buying a PC, however, came from a contributor to www.digg.com during a recent, and otherwise tedious, debate: "To safely run my daughter's insulin pump using a Windows-only application, in order to keep her alive." There's certainly no arguing with that.

Diagnosis required

Next week's question comes from Sara Bailey:

"Are the hours spent gazing at Google Earth currently the biggest threat to productivity in the workplace?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be e-mailed to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk

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