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So the question is which computer is better to do 90% of the work you do on a computer – which is -- surfing the web and creating/editing documents. Better here of course means more “FUN” and more pleasure because clearly it is not essential... I want to know what is so great about the experience so I can justify paying twice the price than a non apple computer.

First off, you should let go of the myth that Macs are more expensive than, say, similarly configured Dells. It takes only the slightest effort and awareness to realize that are a multitude of articles on the web and elsewhere showing how price competitive Macs are. They're only really more expensive than build-it-yourself boxes, and only if you work really hard to get bargains on components. And nowadays, given their ability to command component prices, even Dell and other big box makers are price-competitive with stuff you can build yourself.

Perusing this board or any other Mac-related or Mac-vs-PC board will give you a zillion answers to your questions. Eventually, you come to the conclusion that it's the totality of the Mac experience -- a combination of better security, better interface, less crashes, more intuitive apps, etc. -- that wins over most Mac users. Anybody can give you single reasons that are completely valid and correct, but then you can always come back with the retort "Well, that's not a good enough reason to choose one computer over another."

Personally, I have a lot of reasons. Some of them were mentioned above. I appreciate the strong integration between hardware and software. I also prefer the Mac aesthetic. I like iLife and Keynote. I like the fact that Mac OS X is Unix, so I can do all the X-windows and command-line stuff I have to do at work on my Mac, without having to use a separate machine or reboot into Linux (or BSD).

As far as Mac vs. Windows goes, if I had to reply with a single answer, I'd say, "It's better than Windows." But then, if you come back and say "That's not a good enough reason" or simply "Why?", then I'd have to go over a big list of reasons, any one of which you can try to dismiss in isolation.

It's sort of a Catch-22 situation that threatens to prejudice your post in the direction of being inherently unanswerable. It’s almost as if you preface your query with “Any reason you give me is not good enough.” Did you buy your BMW for the automatic wipers alone?

Here's something that comes back to me every once in a while: Back when I worked on and programmed small mainframes and minicomputers, before we used GUIs, a lot of the programs I encountered had what I vaguely recall were called "menu-driven" interfaces, or maybe "menu-driven command line" interfaces. It's not quite the same as what people mean today with menu-driven GUIs, but I don't remember what else it might have been called.

Without GUIs, "menu-driven" meant starting a program from a command line and being confronted with an often-numbered text-based list of commands or actions. Choose one command and hit return, and then you'd maybe be presented with a sub-menu of commands. Eventually, after probably no more than two or three layers of menus and submenus, you'd get to the final action, where you'd enter data or read data or something like that.

The point was for the program to guide the user, very strictly, toward a series of inputs that the computer would have to understand. It was understandable. Programs weren't as sophisticated as they are today, so they couldn't comprehend user actions deviating from expectations.

The problem, of course, is that it forced the user to learn the program, rather than having the program understand the user. From a user point of view, the latter is obviously better, if it can be achieved. Why is this important? Let me make a brief tangent to Linux. Back when I was a postdoc, I worked with a couple of physics grad students who were actually older than I was, one having spent time as an insurance actuary and the other having retired from being an officer in the Navy. The former was also a Linux geek, while the latter was interested in delving more into the world of Linux. When the former-officer asked the Linux geek how he should begin learning about Linux, the geek said he should start by learning how to program, preferably in C/C++. As I was also part of the conversation, I interjected that this mentality was what was going to keep Linux from widespread adoption, at least for the near future. I noted that if the Linux community expected its users to have a high degree of technical sophistication, it would take itself out of the attention of the vast majority of users who really want their computers to be tools or appliances. Apple gets that computers, operating systems, and applications should approximate the ease of use of everyday appliances as much as possible and that, otherwise, the process of learning the applications – the learning curve – should be as easy as possible. The developers have to meet the users far more than half-way, on the users’ turf and from the users’ point of view. It's why Apple TV and Front Row have almost identical interfaces, for example, or why Aperture has a light table interface. It's why the iPhone has a multi-touch interface, in its very first version.

Now, returning to my "pre-GUI menu-driven" experience and fast-forwarding to the Mac and Windows era, I see a lot of the "menu-driven" straight-jacket, limit-and-control-the-user mentality in Windows, in Microsoft applications, and in Windows applications that are ported to the Mac. It does indeed exist in the Mac and in Mac-only applications, but to a far lesser degree.

This mentality of guiding and restricting user actions is seen widely in Microsoft software through the use of Wizards. To make a chart in Excel, for example, you select your data, and then you bring up a Chart Wizard, which guides you through four panes (in Office 2004) to set up parameters for your chart before you get to see it. As long as the Wizard is up, you can't do anything else. Once the chart is completed, if you want to modify something, you end up bringing up other Wizard-like windows (see modal dialog boxes below). It's very inflexible.

Of course, the Mac interface allows things like Wizards. In Apple's old Human Interface Guidelines, these things were called modal dialog boxes. When you bring up a modal dialog box, the Mac won't let you do anything else in that application until the modal dialog box actions are completed or the box is dismissed. Although modal dialog boxes are allowed, the Human Interface Guidelines strongly discouraged the use of modal dialog boxes for their very inflexibility and encouraged more intuitive actions when possible, such as clicking and dragging, or the use of nonmodal dialog boxes (or palettes, or more modern inspectors), which don't lock up the interface the way modal dialog boxes do.

In contrast to Excel, in order to make a chart in Apple’s Numbers spreadsheet, you select your data, then you select a chart type from a pull-down menu. Boom. Your chart is created. You can then modify your chart afterward through the use of the nonmodal Inspector palette, using its Chart pane. I find this to be much easier, more intuitive, and more flexible.

(For the record, I think Excel is a much more powerful spreadsheet, which is why I use it instead of Numbers. However, I've been a spreadsheet jockey for a very long time and have learned the ins and outs of Excel over very many years. In Numbers' defense, it's still only in version 1.0.2.)

Overall, I find the Mac’s interface and its bias toward reducing the use of nonmodal dialog boxes to be much more responsive and intuitive than the use of Wizards so prevalent in Windows and other Microsoft software.

However, this is just one of many reasons I prefer the Mac.

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