John Gruber, in his inimitable style, tore the PC industry into shreds with his scathing post – Herd Mentality , just a day after the hugely hyped Windows 7 launch. Gruber pinned the blame squarely on Microsoft. Somewhat by coincidence, i have been thinking about the state of the PC industry for the past few weeks. This post from Twilight Fairy [one of the earliest bloggers from India) made me think a lot harder.
My conclusion – Gruber is wrong. Much of the blame lies elsewhere. Stay tuned.
I have been using PCs since 1987 (when they used to run CP/M and MS DOS) However, most of my usage was on PCs belonging to my university or my company. I bought my first personal computer in 1996, a desktop running Windows 95 for US $1,400. It was a remarkable computer that continued to work flawlessly till 2005.
Because it could not keep up with the demands, i bought another desktop PC in 2001 running Windows 2000 for a similar $1,400 but with a lot more of everything, dual hard disk, TV tuner etc. Within 2 years, both the hard drives crashed simultaneously. No backups, damn. I took it to a reputed US computer retail store (now out of business) and they advised me to replace both the hard disks, which i dutifully did. Within a few days both disks crashed again. It turns out there was a problem with the power supply or something like that. I had to junk that computer.
While this was going on the personal front, i changed 2 laptops (running Windows) on the work front due to some problem or the other – hard disk, battery problem etc.
Frustrated by this experience, in 2006, i decided to buy an intel-based Macbook Pro for $2,000. It was almost twice the amount of money then for a comparable Windows-based laptop, but i still took the plunge because i wanted to experience the Mac. In the past 3.5 years that i have owned it, i have had zero problems with it except for the one time that the Magsafe power adaptor stopped working.
On the work front, in the same 3.5 years, i have had to change laptops twice due to some part failure, and replace batteries once.
What went wrong?
Just to be sure, the laptops or desktops i mention above are all name-brand computers. How is it that the desktop computer i bought in 1996 worked flawlessly for so many years, but not the ones that i used later (mine as well as my company’s)?
I think the answer lies in the hardware. In the race to cut the price of the PCs, the hardware makers have driven the prices of the component parts down to the point where quality has been given short shrift. Therefore, PCs are cheaper and you get what you pay for.
Though i paid almost twice for my Macbook Pro, the ROI due to it not breaking down is incalculable. I have not had to change batteries or make any other changes to the hardware since i bought it. Quite remarkable compared to my PC experience.
Role of the OS
When i think about what role if any the OS played in the scenario i describe – it is Zero. I have had no major issues with Windows other than the typical irritations like the OS crashing or having to reboot it every now and then.
Given that i don’t do any heavy duty work on my Macbook Pro other than email, Open Office, iLife kind of work, i haven’t found spectacular benefits of using Mac OS. It is definitely a better OS with many thoughtful touches, but not anything that makes Mac OS 200% better in line with the price premium.
Role of the Looks
Yes, the Macs especially iMacs have eye-catching designs which is significantly better than what the PC industry has to offer. But i wonder for how many people (as a percentage), the sheer look of the computer matters that much. For the majority of the people, IMHO, what matters in a computer is its ability to function more than anything else.
In my view, it is Apple’s superior hardware design, perhaps using better quality component parts that is the real difference. Instead of trying to race to the bottom with a lower price, the PC makers should focus on making better quality hardware even if it means charging people a bit more. The lost productivity and frustrations when your PC breaks down is the biggest scourge facing the PC industry.
What is your experience with PCs? Do you agree with my conclusion?
1. Because this post is entirely based on my experience, it suffers from a sample size = 1 problem (not enough data points). However, i have had the opportunity to talk to many PC owners over time and the frustrations are quite similar. Twilightfairy’s experience is a good example as well.
2. A zillion posts have been written about how Macs don’t really cost that much if you add up the value etc. I don’t agree with any of them. You do pay a significant premium for Macs. My experience says it is worth paying the premium.