Dude, you're getting a Dell! Well ... maybe not any more. According to the Office of Information Technology (OIT), 45 percent of computers purchased this year were Macs, more than in any previous year. In 2003, when this year's seniors arrived on campus, just 15 percent of them chose Macs. The next year, a quarter of incoming freshmen did, and the year after that, 38 percent. These statistics aren't comprehensive, because some students choose not to buy their computers through OIT. Nonetheless, the upward trend is real. Macs are where it's at.
The upswing is not limited only to students. "A relatively high percentage of faculty use Macs," said Steven Sather of OIT. "And that percentage has also increased over the past couple years." Many faculty members in the Engineering School have adopted Macs despite the fact that some engineering software programs only run on Windows.
The popularity of Apples on campus might seem surprising, considering that Apple holds only 4.8 percent of the U.S. market share, according to the July 2006 issue of MacWorld magazine. This figure has risen 16 percent over the past year but remains dwarfed by Dell's 32 percent of the market share.
Why is it that Macs have recently become popular and PCs less so among Princeton students? One possibility is the comparative reliability of the systems. In the freshman issue of The Daily Princetonian this year, Avi Flamholz '07 explained some of the advantages and disadvantages of Macs and PCs. "Windows is plagued by malware, which is software designed to infiltrate or damage your computer," he said, whereas, "there is almost no malware in the Mac universe." Even though more software is available for Windows, Flamholz wrote, "there is good software for the Mac that does pretty much anything you would want to do." In recent years, it may be this malware that has turned many students away from PCs.
Mac converts Andres Moreno '10 and Katherine Sanden '09 cited earlier PC and Windows problems as a significant motivation for the switch. Both of them had a Windows machine that performed slowly and had been subject to several viruses and spyware programs. Manuela Raunig-Berho '10 has not had problems with her current Dell laptop but she admitted that her family had a PC at home that did not perform well.
Despite the existence of malware, there are also many students with Windows machines who have had positive experiences. As a longtime PC user, Garrett Marcotte '10 has not encountered many problems with spyware or viruses on his Dell but he admits that it can be a problem for people who do not operate their computers safely. Though Marcotte has not had serious computer problems himself, he acknowledges that Macs generally offer a more stable operating system than PCs.
Maddie Lu '09 has always used IBM computers with Windows. She has not experienced many problems with her computers regarding spyware or viruses and she currently has the anti-virus software offered free from the University.
Many students may not be aware that the University has taken many steps to protect Windows machines from viruses and spyware. Dave Morreale, senior manager of OIT support, explained that "here at Princeton we have put services in place to prevent the spread of security risks on the Windows machines." These are services that much of the general public does not have for protection. Morreale agrees that "Macintoshes on campus are very secure" and that "there are many more variants of viruses and spyware for Windows-based machines." In any case, OIT can provide support for either Macintosh or Windows machines.
Sather offers a different explanation for Apple's tremendous success among Princeton students over the past few years. "Different types of computers gain and lose popularity over time," he said. "Apple has done a very good job over the past several years at developing computers and software that appeal to students." Apple designs and markets its computers to be fun and made for life while they portray Windows machines as dull and work-related — a strategy epitomized by Apple's recent ad campaign in which a college-aged hipster says "I'm a Mac" and a boring businessman represents a PC.
Despite being a PC user, Raunig was really attracted by the Apple website, which was creatively designed, fun and interactive in comparison Dell's "boring website." The website was representative of Apple's focus on attractive and functional design.
Moreno, who bought his Apple online, also appreciated Apple's unique website. Moreover, he has always been impressed with Apple stores, in contrast to their PC counterparts. "Apple stores are well-organized, the people are knowledgeable and they are passionate about their work," he said. Not to mention the company's trendy new Fifth Avenue store, shaped as a glass cube and open 24 hours a day.
Many current Apple owners say they first became interested in buying computers from the company because they were attracted to the unique appearance of the machines. Katherine Sanden really appreciated the sleek design of her laptop both in terms of hardware and software. Moreno, who has been an Apple user since 2003, describes his laptop as "elegant." It seems that to many, the simple, clean, and modern design of the new Apple laptops stands out in a world of dull, utilitarian PCs.
Moreno offers yet another explanation. He believes that Apple computers have become much more popular on campus because of students' positive experiences with the Apple iPod. "Young people are more open to trying new products," he explained. Since many students like their iPods, they are willing to try other Apple products.
Despite the popularity of Macs in recent years, there are still many loyal PC users who are not interested in switching to Mac.
Raunig purchased a Dell this year through the Student Computer Initiative and has been happy with it overall. She does not have any experience with computer programming and she admitted that she "knows very little about computers." Raunig is reluctant to purchase a Mac because she is not familiar with the operating system and she believes that it would be a frustrating experience to learn how to use it.
Lu has become very familiar with Windows because she has used the operating system for most of her life. Like Raunig, she would not want to switch to a Mac because she would have to relearn commands that are second nature to her in Windows.
"Macs are self-contained environments," said Marcotte, explaining that they come with their own sets of programs and can be hard to start using if you never have before. He has been a PC user all his life and prefers Windows because he is very familiar with it. He finds Macs more difficult to use for computer programming. Marcotte adds that the number of computer programs available for Macs is very limited in comparison to the number available for PCs. Even though his Dell did not come with as many standard programs as a Mac, he found that he could download free programs for Windows that accomplish the same tasks.
Though Marcotte would not consider switching to a Mac himself, he understands the benefits of the Macintosh system. "Mac people want their computers to just work without them having to be experienced," he said. "The Mac OS is very user-friendly."
Moreno agrees that Macs are user-friendly. He has been able to learn to use almost every included program on his Mac by himself, through experimentation. His favorite programs are those in the iLife package that allow him to manage pictures, music and videos. He finds that he is continually able to impress his friends and himself with all of the seemingly complex tools he has been able to master. Moreno said he has nothing against Windows; he simply believes Apple offers a better operating system.
Sanden, an engineering major, has faced the problem that some programs could not be used on her Mac because the programs were designed exclusively for Windows. Though this has been an annoyance to her, she noted that she has only had such issues with a couple of programs.
"Windows just offers more compatibility," Lu explained. She has never had to worry about a program not running on her computer because of compatibility issues. She also noted that "IBM laptop hardware is very customizable by the user" whereas Apple laptops cannot be customized, in most cases, without going through Apple.
On one hand, Sanden explained, it is sometimes difficult to get support for her computer without going to Apple directly. She has heard that Macs sometimes have to be shipped back to the factory for repairs that, for a PC, could be done at a local store or shop. On the other hand, she says the support that is available from Apple is excellent. She would not consider switching back to a PC because she has had a good experience overall and is comfortable with the Mac operating system.
Perhaps Sanden put it best: "Mac is like a cult." It seems that Mac users are much more loyal to their computers than PC users. One never seems to hear about a Mac user switching to a PC because most of the time it's the other way around. As a PC user, Raunig has many friends who own Macs and she has used them many times before. "If you have a Mac you really like your Mac," she noted. "You're part of a close Mac community." A type of community that doesn't exist in the PC world.
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