PCs versus Macs

It will be well known to the regular readers of the blog (Sid and Doris Bonkers) that I am not the sort of chap who’s likely to get involved in the PC versus Mac controversy. Except occasionally. And with great reluctance. It doesn’t do any good to take sides in such conflicts. I couldn’t resist passing on this little picture I found in internetland, however, which I know will not upset any Mac users….

P.S. I still think the LHC control room looks like the inside of a betting shop.

33 Responses to “PCs versus Macs”

  1. Shame that the majority of High Energy Physicists I know have macs 😉

    • telescoper Says:

      I’m tempted to observe that this means high energy physicists behave like self-absorbed children, but we all know that can’t possibly be the case…. 😉

  2. You’ve not seen the sea of glowing apples looking back at you when you give a talk at a conference these days??

    • telescoper Says:

      Indeed, as a fashion accessory a mac is de rigeur nowadays, which is why I don’t have one.

      But I’ve also seen conference schedules slipping later and later as Mac-users struggle to get their laptops to work with the data projector. Our recent PG Open day was a prime example. Everything worked fine, until the first Mac users arrived on the scene and inevitably buggered everything up.

  3. Flawless argument until you walk into any conference room at CERN and start to wonder if the physicists are sponored by Apple…

  4. But I bet the computers which do the data acquisition of the events at the LHC aren’t macs. Too low level for them.

  5. But doesn’t the LHC control room run under linux?

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      Yes, I’d bet that the serious computing at CERN, including for control, uses PC architecture running Linux. This “PC versus Macs” argument is often used to promote Microsoft products, but little is said about serious computing using PCs being done with Linux.

      (And I’m typing this using Ubuntu Linux on a triple-boot laptop PC: it came with Windows which I’ve kept, and I’ve installed two varieties of Linux.)

      • Yes I work on ATLAS and all our central data processing uses linux. As pointed out though most people seem to go for macs when using laptops.

        What I find really funny is the number of CERN webpages that don’t function properly unless you use internet explorer – now I rarely come across any particle physicists not using either a mac or linux machine.

    • Did you miss the Gentoo, openSUSE and Fedora logos placed before the MS Windows Flag?

    • telescoper Says:

      Indeed yes. It’s PC versus Mac not Windows versus Linux.

  6. Paul Stevenson Says:

    I don’t consider myself a Mac zealot at all (though perhaps that is the typical blindness of a true mac zealot) but I switched from Linux to Mac for my laptop a few years ago once needing a full version of Office became necessary for all the admin tasks. First thing I did was drag the Terminal to the dock, but I do otherwise find OS X quite pleasant to use.

  7. Well, it is indisputable that even with a PC you’d rather run Linux than Windows. In most important respects it really doesn’t matter to me whether I am using Mac OS or Linux, so it’s not worth arguing about. The one crucial difference, as far as I can see, is the performance of Skype on Linux, which is rubbish. I use Skype quite a lot, both for work and keeping in touch with family, so this is a relatively important difference!

    (Of course my Mac smugness is of little use to me when the person I’m talking to on Skype has to interrupt the conversation in order to reboot Linux because something has crashed again. But at least it wasn’t my fault.)

  8. …and the bad thing about macs is?

    (other than your contrarian desire to not be seen as part of what i assume you view as a self-absorbed “herd”).

    the only down-side i can think of is price/performance – and if you want real performance then i’d agree that mac pros don’t stack up against high-end linux boxes.

    but the mac laptops are fine: they run unix, all the software/etc (hibernation) works out of the box, they can run Office (shudder) and they are *very* well built. compared to trying to get linux working on a office laptop – there is no competition.

    • telescoper Says:

      It’s true that a Mac can mimic many of the functions of a computer, but at least twice the cost. Another downside is that which I alluded to above. There’s always a hassle getting them to work with data projectors, even if you are happy carrying around extra cables and adaptors. Denialists keep on stating that Macs “just work” even when the observational evidence is in flat contradiction…

      ps. Linux works fine on my Toshiba PC, which also runs Windows 7 (which I might add is a marked improvement on Vista and actually almost usable).

      • i’m sure your toshiba has no issues with linux (hibernation works, built in camera works, seemlessly links to your phone/etc), all the drivers are there for everything you ever need and you don’t have to dual-boot (yawn) to get windows (because you are running a virtual machine). but equally i’m sure you must have searched far to find it…

        maybe if you borrowed a mac for a while – you would find that indeed – it does “just work”. this means i spend less of my time trying to work out how to get my computer to do what i need, and more of the time doing stuff (i was going to say research – but actually its mostly administration – but there you go).

        all the machines i’ve seen fail in meetings/conferences in the past couple of years (including not-talking to projectors) have been PCs. you can find them easily – they are the ones with the fans sounding like a 747 on take-off… which reminds me of an AGP meeting – but maybe it was the person sitting next to you.

        go on – peter – try a macbook pro… you know you have to experience something to really hate it.

      • telescoper Says:

        I can’t afford one.

      • i’ve just had a vision of the recommendation for the consumables budget of the new cardiff consolidated grant.

        i’m sure STFC will view it as money well-spent if a mac makes you even more productive…

        although given the price – you might prefer to use the money to pay for a PDRA.

      • telescoper Says:

        I didn’t realise that grant money could be spent on fashion accessories… 🙂

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        Postdocs are not fashion accessories …

  9. telescoper Says:

    The overwhelming majority think that I’m a contrarian. But I reject that interpretation.

  10. I have a Mac and like it.

    Some of the criticisms you raise are certainly right. Macs are overpriced for their power. The need for a special adapter to connect to a standard projector is incredibly annoying, compounded by the fact that the required adapters aren’t even standardized within the Mac world. And the idolatry of Mac enthusiasts can be insufferable.

    I switched for one reason. I like to use Unix-y kinds of tools, and I need to be able to communicate and share files with people who don’t use them (in particular, I need to share Word docs and Excel spreadsheets). I always found switching back and forth between these modes to be awkward in the PC world, and it’s seamless with a Mac. For me, that reason alone justified the switch.

  11. John Peacock Says:

    I got my first (and so far only) MacBook 3 years ago and instantly became a fan. I still am, but I see a cloud on the horizon – in a word, apps. The physicist lovers of MacBooks appreciate the fact that all the power of unix is there under the surface – but this is a paradox, since this open-ness conflicts with Apple’s otherwise severely control-freak mentality; I worry that they won’t let it last.

    At first, the problem only shows in little things: e.g. if I want to import pictures from a camera, the memory card doesn’t show up in finder – you have to use iPhoto to import. And when you want to copy a picture to a USB stick, you can’t just open the iPhoto files in finder as a simple directory tree – again, you’re forced to use iPhoto as a package. This can be circumvented using unix commands at a terminal, but it’s an irritation.

    And this shows the problem: Apple want you to use its software and not DIY. Where things get worrying is in OSX10.7 (Lion; to which I have not upgraded), where they have introduced an “app store” for getting software. This sounds awfully like iPhones and iPads, which are completely locked and will only run Apple-approved apps. It seems only too plausible that there may be a view at the top that MacBooks should go the same way. Continuing this paranoid streak, I heard a rumour the other day that X windows will not be part of the successor to Lion. If that happens, it will be the end – or, rather, we’ll all be left trying to figure out how to run linux on our shiny hardware.

    • I already use virtual box to run linux on my macbook and it works great (except it halves the battery life) for running software that won’t work in os x.

  12. Seeing that we are scientists, Instead of a Monty Python sketch “It just works, oh no it doesn’t, yes it does, self-abssorded children, luddites etc” why don’ t we look at evidence?

    Why don’t we look at output (or our other favourite word, impact) as a function of operating system? Grants, publications, h-factors etc? The measures of the trade.

    If Linux wins, we admit that mac users are little more than deluded, self-absorbed children. If Mac wins, Peter can use this evidence in his next grant application to ask for more money to buy one.

    My guess, we’ll see no difference. Why? Because the tool of the trade – terminals IDL, fortran, c++, iraf, pgplot, web browsers, latex etc work the same on both.

    Peter may retaliate with “why pay more then?” and the answer is that there is more to being an academic than the impact noted above, and central admin is always locked into Microsoft products and wants the answer yesterday. For me, the seamless loading of the next mindless initiative from on-high make my life easier.

    And as a person who as installed Linux from the first distros, with a pile of floppies sitting my my side, to the years spent searching for drivers and solutions, screaming at kernals that refuse to load modules, and messing about endlessly with flipping screen resolutions and frequencies to project my talks, in my opinion, I use a mac because “it just bloody works”.

  13. Bernard Jones Says:

    Since Apple moved to Intel processors (like the magnificent i7) and Microsoft moved to Windows 7 (the OS – not the GUI) we have a convergence in all except bang-for-buck. With virtualisatoin we can run mulitple operating systems (I use VMware to run Linux MINT under Windows 7) which i prefer to the much -in-need of updating BSD style stuff. But that’s a matter of preference.

    I think Visual Studio is a sensatinal development environment – especially the debugger. I run Intel C++ compilers in that – they have fine profilers which are essential for getting the most out of the processor. That plus the bang for buck issue are important factors that determine my choice to use Windows 7 plus Linux.

    Otherwise, why would anyone care?

    Using an Apple is like having a Rolex – I prefer my $10 Casio watch. They both tell the time – so what/

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      I created an extra partition on my laptop disk in case FreeVMS ever became a viable option for an extra operating system. In the end, I used the partition for a second distribution of Linux.

      But VMS brings back memories.

      • FreeVMS will never amount to anything. The task is way too large for the resources available.

        But it is not needed: for non-commercial work, VMS licenses are free. Educational licenses are very cheap. Recently, some changes were made to the excellent hobbyist programme: one can now download software, rather than relying on physical CDs or DVDs (even if one didn’t subscribe to the distributions, it was always OK to borrow them for installation, but that might be more difficult now).

        Of course, you need hardware to run it on. My collection of DEC hardware is worth several million—if one calculates using the price of the kit when it was new. VMS hardware can be collected for free or very cheap today. Yes, it is a few years old and hence not extremely fast compared to new VMS kit today, but a) do you need all that power? and b) expensive (when new) kit which is a few years old can be comparable to new consumer-level kit.

        Another option (with which I have no experience myself) is to run an emulator, which allows one to run VMS under Linux or Windows on whatever hardware you run Linux or Windows on. Again, hobbyist and educational licenses are free or cheap.

        I have met few, if any, people who are familiar with VMS and don’t prefer it to any other operating system they know. Considering that much of the world runs on VMS, there is no real reason it could not still be the OS of choice in academia. Its disappearance in academia was due to a combination of bad marketing on the part of DEC and aggressive unix sysops who wanted to move everything to “open systems” (these days, many of them are probably moving the same people to proprietary systems without noticing the irony).

        In areas such as clustering, no operating system even approaches the capabilities which VMS already had even 20 years ago.

  14. Bryn Jones Says:

    No, I abandoned the hope that FreeVMS would become something worth trying some time ago.

    I still remember VMS fondly. It had a wonderful logic, unlike Unix or Linux (although there is often a great, efficient power in Unix and Linux, even if it is obscure sometimes). Editing using TPU and an EDT keypad under VMS was astonishingly efficient.

    The switch from VMS to Unix that I experienced was driven by cost. Sun provided equipment more cost effectively that DEC, so it became necessary to switch. I found that switch traumatic: it meant abandoning a high level understanding of one operating system to start as a novice in Unix.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      Sorry that comment is in the wrong place: it was supposed to be a reply to Phillip Helbig.

    • You can, though, get a “free VMS” if not FreeVMS, i.e. a license which doesn’t cost money and either hardware to run it on or an emulator to run it on other hardware, also with a free license (for non-commercial use).

  15. Physicists are not the most brilliant scientists in the world. They only think they are. A big part of their problem is their out of control egos.

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