Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

The difficulty of leaving Windows

Normally I agree with John Naughton‘s regular columns in Sunday’s Observer Business section. Today, however, I must take exception.

Here’s a quote:

When friends and family tell me their woeful stories of viruses and worms, I have learnt to bite my tongue and make sympathetic, but incoherent noises. This was not how I used to react. Once upon a time I would say, in a smugly superior way, that if people would insist on supping with the devil then they should expect to get scorched; and if they wished to get off this torture-rack then they should move to a different – Apple or Linux – platform.

But I rapidly learnt this was not what these wretches want to hear. They do not want to be told that they should abandon their Microsoft-ridden machines and worship in a different church. So in the end, I stopped telling them about Apple and Linux and began mouthing the soothing bromides favoured by vicars when dealing with terminal cases.

As you know, I’m in the process of switching from a Wintel PC to an Apple Mac, and so far I’m doing pretty well with my Mac taking the crown of primary computer. I’ve personally found it relatively easy but not everyone will do.
Take for example the computer I use at work, running Windows XP SP2. To switch to Mac OS X would require replacing hardware – even at bulk educational prices we’re talking a minimum of £300 for a low-end Mac Mini. We’d also need to buy Office:Mac licenses for all the machines (or use NeoOffice, though MS Office is more likely because it is professionally supported). Then you have the cost of retraining staff to use the new environment – OS X itself, using instead of Eudora (the standard university email client), Mac Word 2004 instead of Word 2003 – you get the picture. Not all of the staff are particularly tech-savvy either so it will take them time to adjust, thus reducing throughput for a while.
Switching to Linux would be cheaper – we wouldn’t have to buy new hardware nor pay for the safe disposal of the old hardware, and we could use which is of course free. But you still have the retraining and adjusting time and expense.
But while it’s easy to replace software like email clients and word processors with equivalents on other platforms, replacing bespoke software is a lot more difficult. Our student database system is a currently Windows-only client. It’s not exactly bespoke but still highly specialist as it’s only really sold to universities. Moving to another platform would require a replacement for this, plus some way of migrating the data over to the new system – no easy task considering the number of records in it is a 7 digit number. And again, any replacement would require more staff training.
In any case, we don’t actually have a lot of trouble with Windows. Patches are distributed regularly and the university has a series of firewalls preventing outside machines from infecting the network. None of the worms that exploit the MS05-039 flaw have thus far penetrated our systems, and spyware doesn’t seem to be a problem.
Sure, I may be missing the point – that home users have less access to a competent IT team and less reason to stick with Windows. But the article comes across as saying that Windows sucks, don’t use it, full stop – if it sucked as badly as the article proclaims then I seriously doubt it would still be the world’s most popular operating system with a steady share of the market, especially considering Apple’s recent comeback.


  1. No need in buying a Mac now, it’s so easy to run on a x86. Haven’t tried myself though!

  2. Yes, but it’s illegal… The Mac OS X license states that you cannot run OS X on non-Apple hardware, and you have to be an OS X developer to be able to buy a x86 development machine. Otherwise you have to use a pirated copy.
    In any case, Macs look nicer 🙂

  3. I am really curious as to what kind of “professional support” you’ve ever managed to get out of Microsoft for Office. Every time we’ve run into a problem, we’ve been told to either A) upgrade to the newest version if we’re using an older version, or B) wait for the next upgrade if we’re already using the latest version.
    Eventually, we gave up calling, and just do Google searches to see if there were any work-arounds for problems. Microsoft apparently has -ZERO- interest in fixing bugs in any current releases. I dunno… with the exception of fixing yet another security issue, do they even release bug fixes anymore? Unless it’s so serious that your PC is going to catch on fire, I think they’re more interested in selling you new software than fixing anything.
    I’m not saying that Microsoft is unique in this position (hello Adobe), but I am saying that the level of support you get from so-called “professional” software anymore is no better than what comes from shareware and freeware… often times, it’s worse.

  4. I think it’s more of a ‘how can we sell this to managers?’ situation. You could go with Office which is backed a 100lb gorilla, or NeoOffice which is maintained by a few blokes in their spare time. Which one sounds better?

  5. From a small company point of view I wouldn’t touch a Mac, If you have a fault with a Mac which is out of warranty you can’t just order parts and fit them yourself, suppliers say they have to fit them according to the deal they have with Apple.
    Say a system board fails, you’re talking £65 for a PC replacement board and £300 – £400 for a Mac and then a 3 day minium turn around.
    If you take into account that the bigger percentage of business users world wide are Windows users then you also must take into account that if your trying to find any security leaks you’re better off finding them in Windows and not OSX, hacking a Mac is like finding a needle in a haystack, it’s going to take you a while to find it, but when you do you can only use it to sow with.

  6. technet has a lot of bug fixes in it – but is a nightmare to search. A lot of the time you can put in a phrase you’ve seen in one of the results and it will come back with no results found. google is the best bet for support with office. Having said that, are there really *that* many bugs in office as opposed to user id10t errors?

  7. It is well worth it to switch to Mac. I still have access to the great software packages– Office, Dreamweaver, etc., but the computer just runs so much better. Smoother. It is more of a tool and less of a burden.

  8. I’m curious to see how much of a premium Apple is going to try and put on their Intel based PCs for having the Apple logo on it. One of the things that kept me from switching to Apple ages ago is the simple fact that the hardware tends to be overpriced for what you get out of it and I’m technically inclined enough that the problems inherent in the Window’s OS are offset by how inexpensive PCs that run it happen to be.
    I honestly think Apple is shooting themselves in the foot by insisting that you only run OS X on hardware you bought from them. If they’re serious about greater market penetration then the best way to achieve that is to allow folks to buy the OS and run it on the hardware they already have. Apple has had a long-term problem with being a bit arrogant and it damn near put them out of business in the past.