The Age-Old Question: Mac or PC?

Our columnist says that despite the new Windows Vista operating system, if you can afford it, buy a Mac

Reader John Sandoz writes: I'm in the market for a new PC, especially after your recent remarks about upgrading to Vista (see, 1/4/07, "Vista: Upgrade—or Trade Up?") I'm also considering an Apple, primarily because I've read that Apple machines seem not to experience the never-ending attacks from hackers. Is this because of the design of Apple's operating system or because the relatively small number of Apple PCs in the market is not enough to attract attention from hackers?

I'm probably a little above average in tech-savvy, so I'm not afraid to learn a new operating system, even after using Windows forever. I'm a statistical analyst, so I'm primarily interested in technical applications. I also use the Net, but no games, music, or TV. So what's your recommendation, Apple (AAPL) or Vista? I'd appreciate any advice you can offer.

To take your last question first: The coming of Vista does not change my basic recommendation. Unless you have a compelling reason to run Windows or are very constrained by budget (since you can buy a usable PC for less than the cost of the least expensive Mac), the Mac is best choice for consumers.

The question of whether Mac OS X has been relatively free from attacks because it is less popular or because it is less vulnerable is an old and probably irresolvable one. I think the answer is a little of both. These days most attacks on computers are carried out for financial gain, and Windows is by far the more lucrative target.

In terms of raw numbers of vulnerabilities, Windows XP (we don't have any data yet on Vista) and OS X are about the same; the comparison is made a little difficult because Apple, which like Microsoft (MSFT) releases a monthly bundle of security patches, is less specific about what it is fixing. A critical difference, though, is that Windows vulnerabilities have been much easier for the bad guys to exploit successfully.

Architectural changes in Vista and Internet Explorer 7 are supposed to fix that. There's no doubt that the default configurations of both Vista and IE 7 are more secure than their predecessors, but only time will tell how much of a difference this makes in the real world.