The Macintosh and the PC are getting more and more alike -- in appearance and price. Here's how they compare, feature for feature:
* OPERATING SYSTEM: In basic functions, the Macintosh System 7 is roughly equivalent to the PC's DOS 5 with Windows. Both operating systems got off to rocky starts, however, with early users experiencing many technical problems. Be sure you get the latest versions. Specifically, Windows 3.1, released in March, doesn't crash as much as earlier versions.
As for specific elements of the interfaces, which is better is a matter of whom you talk to. The Mac has a superior drag-and-drop function, said Andy Seybold, vice president of computer technology at Dataquest in Boulder Creek, Calif. Windows offers better advanced features, such as letting the user attach a document to an application, so the user can use the commands of one program when working in a file using another program.
* SPEED: The performance of a personal computer is more than the speed of its microprocessor. Add to this the confusion caused by the complex array of chips available in PCs these days -- 386 vs. 386SX, for example -- and it's even more difficult to put systems head to head.
Generally speaking, however, PCs based on the Intel 386 chip are roughly equivalent to Macs based on the Motorola 68030, which includes the Mac IIsi, Mac IIci and Mac LC II. Likewise, PCs using the Intel 486 are similar in speed to Macs using the 68040, which includes the Mac Quadra line.
But machine performance depends on software. The advantage of the Mac is that software is written specifically for the Mac operating system and usually performs appropriately, whereas on PCs software performance is sometimes hampered by running Windows.
* APPLICATIONS: Not too long ago, the winner would definitely have been the PC, and still would be if number of applications were the only factor.
But in virtually every area, the Mac user has many strong programs from which to choose. And when it comes to the Mac and Windows, the number of applications is roughly equal -- at about 5,000 apiece.
Of course, there are holes in both machines. Berkeley Mac User Group director Steve Costa concedes that the Mac still lacks in sophisticated computer-aided design software and doesn't compare with the PC platform when it comes to breadth of word-processing packages available. PCs are ahead in vertical applications -- programs intended for use in specific industries or jobs, according to Tony Bove, editor of Bove & Rhodes Insider Report. But he contends Windows is lacking multimedia and sophisticated graphics software.
* FONTS AND PRINTING: When it comes to font technology, the Mac has met its match with Windows 3.1. Through a joint development relationship between Microsoft and Apple, Windows 3.1 and the Mac operating system incorporate identical font technology, called TrueType. Both operating environments also are on a par with drivers, the technology that communicates between the computer and printers.
* COMMUNICATIONS: The Mac has it over the PC in that a networking device is built into every Mac, whereas it costs extra with a PC. Modems for the two systems are identical.
* VALUE: A few years ago Macintoshes were far more expensive than PC-compatible systems -- twice as expensive, in some cases. Today that isn't necessarily the case. But most observers still contend the PC is a better value, giving you the option of buying a generic brand computer from any of hundreds of PC manufacturers. PC customers also have the option of buying PCs through mail order, an inexpensive channel not available to Mac customers.