Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Macs are PCs

I know. I know what people mean when they say "Mac" and "PC." But it's still wrong. "PC" is an abbreviation for "Personal Computer," which yes, really is as vague as it sounds. Your MacBook Pro is a personal computer, your iMac is a personal computer, your Dell Inspiron is a personal computer, your Chromebook is a personal computer, etc. They're all PCs. Please, for the love of all that is technically correct, stop pretending like Macs are something different and special from a PC.

If you're going to compare, say "Mac" and "Windows" or "Mac" and "Windows PC." "Mac" is a bit confusing, because it's the name of an operating system and also a product line of personal computers. If you're going to compare operating systems, say "Mac" and "Windows," seeing as they're both operating systems and now you're comparing software to software. Or better yet, say "OS X" and "Windows" because these days, the proper name is "OS X" and not "Mac OS X".

If you want to compare Macintosh (marketed as Mac) personal computers against Windows based personal computers, say "Mac" and (something like) "Windows PC." Without the "Windows," comparing Macs to PCs is like comparing apples to fruits... apples are fruits (think about it: if you were to say "Apples are way better than fruits," you'd sound like an idiot). Specifying "Windows" means now the comparison is specific and actually makes sense.


  1. I hear this a lot at work. That being said, you have to understand that language changes. I would argue that PC has its etymological root in the abbreviation for personal computer, but the fact that nearly all people use it to mean "Windows computer" (for whatever reason, that doesn't matter as to this debate), that is what it means due to the linguistic process of semantic narrowing.

    It's similar to how "meat" used to mean food, and now means animal flesh, or "hound" used to mean all dogs and now is specific to a hunting dog, or "engine" used to mean "mechanical thing" and now means something that gives drive or power; art becomes aesthetics, fowl becomes game bird, deer becomes specific type of animal, girl becomes female, the word verb now refers to a specific word...

    In essence, it's important to understand a word's root, but a root doesn't preclude a different meaning. So while technically not incorrect for saying a Mac is a PC, it's also completely correct to say PC to mean a Windows computer.

    The real question is if we can find enough data to support the fact that most people mean "Windows computer" when they say PC, which is the assumption I'm making. If most people (or an even split) mean a generic personal computer regardless of make or OS, then semantic narrowing hasn't yet occurred (at least not fully), and the above doesn't apply. But if 90%+ refer to the specific Windows varieties when they saw PC (which I anecdotally believe is the case), there's no fighting it. ;^)

    In the technological world, I find it's often not worth trying to be politically correct with terminology, since it will continue to evolve anyway. Otherwise you end up like France:


    Ironically, at one point they banned the word "cache", and came up with an alternative, and then realized that "cache" was a French word. Not that the general French public ever uses the officially-mandated proper terminology anyway...

    1. You bring up some really good points :) I guess this was just me (futilely?) trying to fight the (natrual?) evolution of these words. After all, if "PC" evolves to mean a Windows-based computer, what do we call a Linux (or any other OS) based computer? :P

    2. Well, if we care about the OS, we'd state the OS. Otherwise I would argue that The Thing Formerly Known As PC is now just "computer". What was originally a "computer" back then is more analogous to what we call "server" today (not exactly, but similar.

    3. I think that's a very good point. While I still prefer the term PC to refer to a generic personal computer, I can certainly see the evolution of the word you're pointing out. I've always wanted to tinker with an old mainframe.

  2. Wow, my counter-rant was longer than yours, sorry ;^)

  3. Besides being technically correct, one also needs to consider the fact, that the Mac OS is (officially) always bound to the hardware, thus if you're talking about "Mac OS", it's save to assume, that you're also talking about Apple hardware.
    That limitation of the relation between OS and hardware forces people to differentiate between Mac hardware and other hardware. Since the 'other hardware' is open for any kind of operating system and produced by dozens of companies, one can't related to them with a specific product name and thus falls back to the word PC.

    So don't judge people for using the term PC in less accurate way, but judge Apple for closing their hardware down, so only their OS should run on it. I bet if Apple would've gone the way every other hardware producer went, there wouldn't be the need to differentiate between 'PC' and 'Mac'.

    Personally I don't consider a 'Mac' as a full 'Personal' Computer, but rather an 'Apple' Computer, since I (officially) don't get the freedom I would want to.

    1. That's true, the ambiguity created by tying the OS and hardware together might be a little confusing to some people as they don't differentiate between hardware and OS. If I put Windows on my MacBook Pro, is it still a Mac, or is it a PC now? Now I just need a picture of a philosoraptor...

    2. Well today you're kind of officially allowed and be able to install Windows on Apple hardware, but that wasn't always the case.
      Personally I'd still call it a Mac, since it's still the limited hardware by Apple, besides that, you still need a Mac OS to get another OS onto your MacBook Pro.

      So if I talk about a PC, I immediately get the understanding of a system, that can run any OS from the beginning.

      Also I often get the feeling, that people using Apple product often want to show off and need to emphasize the product name. For example when talking about their notebook, they can only refer to it as their 'MacBook Pro', where as I've never heard other people referring to their notebooks, as their 'EliteBook 8640p' or similiar. But that's just a personal observation.

    3. Using Apple hardware since I touched a computer (had them nigh exclusively in the family since 1985), I'd disagree with the locked-down aspect of Mac OS hardware. While Windows was available on Apple hardware only after they went to Intel chips, older Macs still could run Linux. Back then, it was more difficult to install Linux, but it was just as difficult on any architecture (no easy-install for Ubuntu or distro-of-choice).

      Up until about 10 or so years ago, Mac was unmatched across the board for graphical editing, video processing, audio crunching, and so forth. They were high-end for a reason; they didn't always have the best of the best in specs, but they did have the most efficient use of hardware: thus you could get higher performance with lower specs. Now they still come out with prerelease chips, hence some of the higher prices, but other specs still tend to be lower than comparable high-end machines (yet with comparable performance). The capability gap is mostly gone, though. Ironically, most people are browsing the internet exclusively anyway, and it's almost a non-issue.

      I still stick with Mac because, contrary to what some people say, it's both easy to use and extremely flexible. The locked-down argument really only applies to the iPhone (and Android has cousin issues): I can install what I want on my computer, and I can customize it how I want (I used to make my own login windows back in the day). My real-life battery drain is much better than any others I've seen. My current server (until I get around to fully building my new one) is a 2006 MacBook (not Pro), retired from heavy abusive use (high temperatures, bouncing in the trunk of my car, intensive multiday processing at CPU peak), and has held up remarkably...uptime was well over 150 days until I ran an update that required a reboot recently.

      I like Apple products for their reliability and power. I once won over a Linux guru who had several of his own self-built industrial boxes: he now works for Apple. There's a place for any OS, though.

      And for most people, it probably is a status symbol. Stupid. But for some, it's ease of powerful use. And that isn't directly a negative in my book.

      Anyway, way too far off topic.


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