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Sounding Off By Stephen Bennett
Published September 1996

This month's Sounding Off lives dangerously, re‑opening the dreaded 'Mac vs PC' debate. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Stephen Bennett prepares himself for next month's onslaught of hate mail from PC evangelists...

OK, I admit it. I own an Apple Macintosh computer. This may not seem like much of an admission, but here it is again — I own a Mac. And what is worse, I actually made a conscious decision to buy one. Not an IBM PC clone, Atari or Cray.

I wrote an article for Sound On Sound in the June '95 issue describing my passage from a tape‑based setup to a hard disk recording system; unfortunately, I happened to mention the fact that I had chosen a Mac to run the system on. Not only that, but I also said that I preferred using a Mac. The avalanche of mail (electronic and otherwise) that arrived criticising both my decision and the supposed 'Mac bias' of SOS surprised me. I got the impression that if I had made a racist or sexist statement (eg. 'no Northern Man could understand or use a hard disk recording system') there would have been hardly a whisper. The article didn't even focus on the platform I was using — just on the hard disk systems. Such 'computer evangelism' surprised me, and got me thinking.

I chose to use a Mac because I didn't want to spend much time using the computer in itself. I wanted to make music, draw and write. I use a PC when I need specific software or hardware, when I want to access the low‑level system, and when I have no choice. I also use one when I work at home and need to use the same software I have at work. Incidentally, this often happens; people buy PCs because they use them at work, which then allows them to obtain software such as Word, er, 'cheaply'. This explains why the shops are full of books called Microsoft Excel For People Who Don't Have The Manual (possibly not exact title). It's one of those things we never want to admit to, like voting Tory or watching Baywatch. But we all, at some time in our lives, pirate software. Except me. I can't. I use a Mac.

What I'm really interested in is where these strong feelings come from. Why should we get all gooey over what is essentially an inanimate object? Well, the first Macs were cool to look at, and had graphics from the word go. Early PCs were different. Clunky, ungainly and text‑orientated, they were the 'Nigel from Eastenders' of the computer world. So, people who like computers for what they are, loved PCs. People who like computers for what they do, loved Macs.

The Mac also has a large dollup of that indefinable thing called 'style'. This is very important in the music biz. Designers' bedrooms and trendy films have Macs in them. Mac owners wear the best clothes and listen to the coolest music. PC users wear polyester, anoraks and are Magnum and Saxon fans. I went to a party recently which was full of computer programmers. An amazingly large proportion of them wore those pear‑shaped glasses, heavy metal band T‑shirts, jeans and trainers. An even more staggeringly high proportion of them had PCs. Some of them even had them at the party, but hopefully not in the marital sense.

Computer people in general, and programmers in particular, don't like to be confined by the hardware. They like to tweak, to extract every last ounce of performance from their machines. The Mac, because of Apple's domination, doesn't allow this. Apple control the video driver, the input and output, the horizontal and the vertical. Luckily, they do it pretty well, and the Mac is a fast and powerful computer. I like to think that it's like a production Ferrari while the PC is a TVR — zippy and powerful, but with parts sourced from different manufacturers. And with the brake pedal just slightly in the wrong position.

For general applications, like running a word processor, there is little to choose between a PC and a Mac. But we want a bit more than that, don't we? Just as the games PC people play benefit from the lack of 'rules' in PC programming, musicians and artists benefit from the Mac's consistency. The Mac is a joy to use. The PC is still a chore, Windows 95 and all. OK, I admit it — it can be an enjoyable chore, if I'm in a geeky mood (author pauses to don Metallica T‑shirt). With my Mac, I just switch it on, load Logic Audio, and wait for inspiration. Usually, with inspiration reluctant to leave its abode, I rapidly de‑load Logic, load Dabbler and draw rude cartoons.

In my humble opinion, there is just one final and overwhelming argument for the superiority of the Macintosh over everything else. In the film The Net, Sandra Bullock used one. And if it is good enough for her, then so am I.

Stephen Bennett is a male Northerner who can use hard disk recording systems. He lives in Norwich with three cats and an Apple Macintosh. They are very happy together.