Let's just say it: For the vast majority of computer shoppers, buying a Windows PC doesn't quite qualify as a decision. Around nine out of ten computers run one version of Windows or another, making it the world's default option in operating systems. It's opting for something else, like a Mac, that always represents a conscious choice.
Which is not to say that there aren't plenty of real reasons to select a computer that runs Windows, even after you've investigated all your options. As a confirmed platform agnostic whose home is overrun with both Windows machines and Macs, I find myself recommending Windows machines to about half my friends and acquaintances who seek computer-shopping advice, and Macs to the other half. So I was happy when PC World asked me to write this article and a companion piece about the virtues of Macs--and I had plenty to say in both instances.
Here's my list of the eight most compelling reasons to buy a computer whose operating system hails from Redmond. I've ranked them in order of importance as I see it. But as always with anything relating to technology, your priorities are almost certainly at least somewhat different than mine.
1. Variety is the spice of computing.
You can buy a portable Windows computer that weighs a pound and slips in your pocket. Or one with a spectacular 18.4-inch display that stretches the definition of "portable." Some Windows computers are lean and mean; others are loaded with features. There are ones for hardcore gamers, for fashionistas, and for people who hate to type. In short, you can almost certainly find a Windows PC aimed at you--and usually a bunch of them competing for your dollars. By contrast, Apple has a grand total of nine different Mac models, none of which cater to specialized audiences.
2. The cost of admission is lower.
From the spin in recent Microsoft marketing, you'd think that Windows computers are inherently thrifty, and that Mac fans pay a punitive "Apple Tax." Not true--the priciest Windows boxes will put a bigger dent in your credit-card bill than comparable Macs. What is entirely accurate--and valuable--is that the Windows world offers plenty of PCs at every price point, including the low ones that Apple ignores as a matter of principle. The cheapest Mac laptop, for instance, costs $999; BestBuy.com offers 78 Windows notebooks that cost less than that.
3. Windows PCs have worthwhile features that Macs don't.
Apple has popularized more important hardware innovations than any other company, from the mouse to Wi-Fi. At the moment, though, it steers clear of multiple useful features that its Windows-based rivals have embraced. With Windows systems, for instance, built-in memory-card readers are standard, and HDMI connectors for easy HDTV hookups are becoming so. Wireless broadband, built-in TV tuners, and Blu-ray are all reasonably affordable options. In Macland, you can get some of those features only through third-party add-ons. And others you simply must do without.
4. The more software the merrier.
If you want to perform a task that computers are capable of helping you perform--from keeping track of your watch collection to managing a pet store--a Windows application will help you do it. Usually several of 'em, including ones that cost little or no money in many cases. That's because most companies and individuals that write software choose to do so for the platform that offers them far more potential customers than any other. Third-party Mac programs are often terrific, but there are simply fewer of them, especially in exotic categories.
5. Windows users get preferential treatment.
Again, it's a matter of companies chasing after the biggest user base. For instance, Windows users have been enjoying Google's Chrome browser for seven months now, while their Machead friends and neighbors wait for Google to wrap up work on its OS X version. And Kodak's cool video cameras claim OS X compatibility but come preloaded with Windows-only editing software. Then there's Microsoft's own Office, which--surprise!--is slicker, more powerful, and more comprehensive in its Windows version than on the Mac.
6. You get the chance to do it yourself.
No computer is more perfectly tailored to your needs than one you assemble from scratch using hand-picked components. Building a handcrafted Windows machine is so simple that plenty of people wouldn't dream of settling for a store-bought computer. But while home-made OS X systems exist, they're closer to being science-fair projects than a viable alternative to buying a real Mac manufactured by Apple.
7. Who says Macs have more fun?
Apple may have released an ad suggesting that Windows computing doesn't get any more scintillating than time sheets and pie charts. But serious computer gaming remains a seriously Windows-centric medium, with many major games making it to OS X only after much of the excitement has died down...or not to OS X at all. And it's Windows machines that are most at home in an entertainment center, with features like CableCard-capable TV tuners, Microsoft's Windows Media Center, and HDMI output. (Apple wants you to put an Apple TV in your living room, not a Mac, and it still can't do everything that Windows Media Center can.)
8. Windows-only corners of the Web remain.
I seethe a little just thinking about it, but some Web sites still work properly only in Internet Explorer. Take, for instance, the one belonging to my health-insurance administrator, which shall remain nameless--it's so archaic that it still has a "Download Internet Explorer 6.0 Now!" button on its home page. And even Intuit, which sells Mac versions of QuickBooks and TurboTax, hasn't gotten around to making QuickBooks Online run on anything other than Windows. As ridiculous as it all is, there are times when I'm glad--or at least relieved--that I'm able to fire up a Windows PC to get to a site that doesn't seem to want the business of Mac users.
Got other arguments for giving Microsoft your business? I'd love to hear about them in comments below. And for the case against Windows, check out 8 Reasons Your Next Computer Should be a Mac.
Harry McCracken, the former editor of PC World, now blogs at Technologizer.