Does Mac OS X suck?

Apple's desktop platform has impressive technical chops, but it falls short from a business perspective

Paul Venezia bamboozled me into buying a MacBook Pro back in January, and I've been on it semi-daily ever since. And yeah, overall, I've been pretty happy. Of course, the only reason I was willing to buy one at all was because Parallels made it so easy to run Windows. But while my initial usage ratio was 85 percent Parallels, 15 percent OS X, over the last six months, that's changed dramatically to 45 percent Parallels, 55 percent OS X. Yup, the Orchard does slowly assimilate you.

But not everyone that uses a Mac is suddenly streaming sunshine from their palest nether parts. Scour the Web looking for unhappy Mac users and you'll find that they're just as vocal as those who hate Windows (like this guy off Google Video).

Just as I asked, "Does Vista suck?" last week, the question this week is "Does Mac OS X suck?" After six months playing with the platform, I figure I have a viable opinion. Plus, it's my second-to-last column, so I couldn't resist. Hope a sniper bullet doesn't take me on my way to my morning bagel, but I think I've been as objective as I can, given the nature of this column.

As with last week's column, I'm looking at the Mac from perspective of the Windows-centric network manager and grading basic categories on a pass/fail basis.

Windows networking

Nobody complains about this because it works. OS X has an excellent networking client, both wired and wireless -- due in large part to FreeBSD rather than anything coming out of Cupertino. Seriously, I think it's noticeably better than Vista for pure IP networking. Plugging Macs into enterprise-class server-based applications is often the trick, but I'm leaving that for the software section below.

Grade: Pass (with a smile)

Security

Short one because Apple's made good use of its Unix roots. It's a pretty secure system. Yes, ever since OS X has become more popular, attacks and breaches on the platform have become more numerous. And, yes, those numbers are high enough that if I were managing a portfolio of MacBooks I'd be installing anti-virus on them; you won't get away with saving yourself the AV expense -- at least, not without violating best-practice auditing.

That said, once the personal firewall is up and the AV installed, I'd fully expect to see far, far fewer security-related problems from my Mac clients than my Windows clients. Simple fact, there it is.

Grade: Pass (with a smile)

Reliability

I didn't have this category for Vista because -- well, really. But Apple users, including Sasquatch Venezia, make a big point out of how OS X and its applications "simply work" and "never crash." Sorry, but that's crap. Not only have I crashed both Mac apps and OS X, I've watched when Venezia did it. On the crash issue, the question isn't whether it can crash; the question is whether it crashes more often than Windows.

Pre-XP, no question Apple wins. XP Pro, post-SP1, I'd have to think a little, but I'd give it to Apple. Vista post-shrink-wrap ... that's tricky. Personal experience says they're about tied -- I'm talking about the OSes now, not the apps.

I've crashed more Vista apps than Apple apps, no doubt. But post-shrink Vista has locked up on me a grand total of once in six months, while OS X has died on me twice. To me, that makes them both fairly reliable and solid OS platforms.

Given the number of Vista crash reports on the Web, however, I'd say that my experience probably isn't the norm. Until SP1 or SP2 for Vista smoothes things out, Apple's probably less crash-prone overall. But by then, we'll be comparing Vista to Leopard (where the hell is that cat, anyway?), so who knows?

Grade: Pass

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Oliver Rist

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