Naive platform question: Mac versus Windows

ocular's picture

Hi everyone!

I’ve always used mainly Macs--never had a PC at home--but recently I’ve been thinking about switching to a PC and to Windows (mainly because the hardware is so much cheaper and freely combinable and the support is easier to get).

So I’d like to ask this: which platform is really better for a typophile? I know that graphic designers have traditionally used Macs, but the focus there tends to be in images and color, not typography.

I do plan to do some photo scanning and image editing, but that’s basically as a hobby, at least for now. My planned focus is in book composition with InDesign and, as an auxiliary to this, font editing with FontLab Studio (so I’m neither a real type designer nor a font production kind of guy). I might also use Illustrator e.g. to draw graphs from imported data. (You can’t do that in FL--but are there better programs for this?).

One aspect of typography is text display on screen. Windows has ClearType, but I have the impression that it doesn’t affect the way InDesign and other Adobe apps display text. Am I right?

There seem to be differences in OS-level OpenType support as well, but how much does that really matter for InDesign/Illustrator composition?

Also, from my experience with Windows XP it seems that the look of that OS is more freely customizable (I dislike the unnecessarily complicated look of Tiger, where everything is transparent and shaded). If I remember correctly, you can change the font, and most importantly the font size, of menus etc. It seems stupid that you can’t use the full resolution of your display (OK, my current one is quite bad anyway) because you’d then be unable to read any text and symbols outside the document/image window itself.

Of course, the comparison might be a little difficult or unfair at the moment because Mac OS X Leopard hasn’t been released yet; on the Windows side, I’d presumably use Vista (which I haven’t even seen “live” yet).

(I also know that doing serious font production, you’d have to use both platforms, if only for testing. But as I said, that is not really my field.)

I may be a little naive here, but I don’t want to start another platform war. I would just like to hear rational arguments for and against each platform. As you can probably tell form the above, I’m not very tech-savvy myself, and I would therefore appreciate your insights.

I must also say that the switch doesn’t seem quite as real an option for me now as it did when I first thought about starting this thread. One reason is the difficulty of cross-platform software switches/upgrades. (FontLab for one said they could only offer me a 30% second-copy discount. I haven’t asked Adobe yet.) Another reason is simple familiarity; and then there is the virus situation, of course, as I’ve known all along … But my hardware (and thus platform) situation is basically still open--and I thought this would be a fun thread to start anyway, in an open-minded spirit!

Olli

ben_archer's picture

Hi Olli

Before we get into this – did you try posting the phrase 'platform war' or 'platform rivalry' into the Typophile search engine? I'm pretty sure there have already been some exhaustive answers provided on this topic. Anyone else?

ocular's picture

I did do some quick searches. The phrases you mention return no results, as far as I can see. (Hmm ... "rivalry" does sound more positive than "war".) Even searching for "platform" alone, I can't seem to find anything directly relevant.

ADD: I did find this thread about generating different font formats and this very old one about Mac OS X. I would of course appreciate any pointers elsewhere!

Olli

William Berkson's picture

The typophile search seems to be down. Use Google instead, starting with typophile: as the first entry.

Here is one thread I found that way: http://typophile.com/node/8620

edit: for importing paper-drawn or printed glyphs for further work, do you know about ScanFont?

charles ellertson's picture

You seem to be in my line of work -- book composition, with the need to do font work in FontLab, and do image work in Photoshop. We're even moving to InDesign.

As to platforms, what I would suggest is to determine which platform is most apt to maintain support for programs you need, unless you want to add programing work to font work. For the basic programs this isn't an issue, it is additional programming you might need. An example might be High Dynamic Range Compression as a plug-in for Photoshop (something better than the little routine you get in Photoshop CS2 by going up to 32 bit & then back down to 16 bit).

By in large, most software is now written for Windows, and adapted for the Mac, for the simple reason that that the PC market is bigger.

Too, most authors write on a PC -- same reason. On the other side of the coin, most graphic designers work on Macintosh, so if you wanted to share files -- at least before InDesign & OpenType -- that meant a Mac. Of course, sometimes it's nice to say "sorry, we can't share files."

I've been doing this kind of work since 1980, and over the long haul, find these more important matters in book composition than the things you mention.

One note: I don't think you can judge type on the screen. Printing it out on a laser printer is the minimal step, and you don't really know what it looks like until the printed book comes in. If the publisher doesn't provide a complimentary copy, see of they'll sell you one at a discount. This will better help you judge word spacing, and any changes you make to a font.

Also, if you're preparing the art, you better learn the papers the books will be printed on, and determine the dotgain for both particular paper(s) and printer(s). If that's too much, at least the different kinds of papers, & a few grades -- with uncoated paper, offwhite & white, various grades of matt coated stocks, & glossy coated. But always best to work with the actual sheet being used.

ocular's picture

William, thanks for the thread you pointed out! I knew there must be something like that on Typophile. There wasn't much tech info though.

One note: I don’t think you can judge type on the screen.

Charles, I didn't mean to imply you could. But it still helps if you can easily read the type on screen (without zooming in) and if the look is as close to the real thing as possible.

The paper does, of course, affect even the look of type. (Images, as I said, are not really my strong point anyway.)

Olli

oldnick's picture

Since the advent of Windows 2000 Professional, the question of which platform is better has been pretty much moot, despite heated rhetoric to the contrary on either side of the debate.

On the plus side for Windows: cheaper hardware and more keyboard shortcuts. If you're worried about security, download and install Firefox, and make it your default browser.

ocular's picture

OK, the google search that William suggested yielded two further relevant threads (1 and 2). I'll take a closer look at those.

Sorry if my starting a new thread was a little hasty!

clauses's picture

A production system should be a Mac running OS X, as it has higher up-time than any Windows system. Further Apple builds both their hardware and software so that it simply works, that can not be said for any bamboo Windows box. So when you buy a cheap box you put yourself at a higher risk of having downtime – so ask yourself if it's worth it?

Dan Gayle's picture

You can customize OS X. My windows are all a nice and earthy woodgrain. Apple just makes things harder to break than Microsoft.

Si_Daniels's picture

Given the total cost of the set-up, CPU, monitor, scanner, OS, Adobe CS, FontLab Studio, fonts etc., the difference between an Apple CPU and a Windows based PC is probably minimal, maybe 5 or 10%? Beyond that you're using the equipment professionaly, so increasing your rates by .5% will likely cover the more expensive option in less than a year. So why not splurge on a top end Mac (and use Parallels/bootcamp for FontLab and other better-on-Windows software) or maybe just buy one of each and a switchbox.

schriftgestalt's picture

The two most important reasons to work with a Mac: You do not need to even think about viruses and malware. Second: you can simply clone your harddisk for backup (using SuperDuper or Disk Utility . if somthing goes wrong you simply plug your backup disk to any other Mac and continue you work.

@oldnick:
where do you find more shortcuts on Win. Since I have the option key to type letters (how do you type "guillemos" (»«) on Windows???)

Georg

www.reets.de
www.schriftgestaltung.de

ocular's picture

when you buy a cheap box you put yourself at a higher risk of having downtime

Well, I'm probably gonna have to take my G5 PowerMac to an Apple service place for a checkup because of the kernel panics I've had lately (I had an accident with static electricity that my insurance might cover).

But more generally, I've come to the point where the "closed" nature of Apple support/service seems to outweigh any inherent reliability that Macs might have (this may hold especially for Finland, where Macs don't seem to be very popular).

As for Si's arguments about money: that might be true in the long haul, but I'm just trying to get started (if I'm indeed gonna freelance in the 1st place).

Stephen Coles's picture

If you are familiar with OS X, take into account the time it will take to learn a new OS and the troubleshooting time when things inevitably go wrong. I doubt you'll find the savings of a few hundred dollars on hardware to be worth it.

dezcom's picture

You are going to find a split of opinion on platform pretty much by who uses what. There is not enough difference in the uses you explain to really matter much. There are crossplatform versions of the Adobe Suite, FontLab, and the Microsoft Office suite so sharing files is not a problem. You will find service issues on both sides. These are more a case of who you deal with directly, not which platform. Maybe Si has it right with the "both on one" scheme he described? The amount of money for truly comparable systems is not enough to be an issue. Higher monitor resolution reduces pixel size on both platforms so that is a wash. Adjust your interface preferences to increase typesize as needed. It is not that tough.

ChrisL

hrant's picture

They're both junk.

hhp

Si_Daniels's picture

>They’re both junk.

So what platform would you suggest for a professional book designer who dabbles in type design? Amiga? ;-)

The other consideration is do clients visit your office? If they do then expensive equipment - high-end mac, high-end printer, huge screen, to go with your top-end mobile phone, black Audi A6, etc., will help you justify higher fees.

•Prakash Nair's picture

Agreed with the "expense" comment from Simon. Also seems that other designers/some clients listen a little longer to people with Macs. However, I use a PC at home and quite honestly, if you're a good designer you can do either without any problems. Softwares are common on both. PC's have a bigger advantage in the hardware for sure. As far as trojans/virus..only people who go to the questionable sites get em. I have been virus free for over 6 yrs!...and going....

-I might get a MacBook soon just because of the cool factor. That, and I'm getting too old for playing games.

hrant's picture

I would suggest using either platform, but always keeping in mind that they're both junk, that what could have been was not allowed to. Not to feel down, but to increase the chances of a better future. If instead you celebrate mediocrity (by focusing on which platform is "better") you reward the people who treat us like dirt.

> just because of the cool factor.

Donate the $1000 difference to a good cause instead.

hhp

oldnick's picture

how do you type “guillemos” (»«) on Windows???)

­»ALT+0171 and «ALT+0187 (numbers on the numeric keypad); however, I wasn't talking about shortcuts to characters, but to operations (a couple of keystrokes vs. of several levels of mouse-clicks).

hrant's picture

Note that the correct spelling is guillemet(s).
The other one is a bird.

hhp

ocular's picture

- high-end mac, high-end printer, huge screen, to go with your top-end mobile phone, black Audi A6, etc.,

Si, if you were to visit my place, you'd realize that instead of a joke, this is more like a real reason not to have a mac ;)

They’re both junk.

Hrant, that was sort of my starting point--which got me thinking, "Why pay more for the prettily packaged junk?"

Well, in keeping with Stephen's point, I guess I'm gonna stick to my Mac for now (unless the repair is going to be very expensive). Thanks everyone!

Olli

webee's picture

What can i say, i worked on both platforms, and i must say MAC RULES, I don't know much about type, but for design it's much better then WINDOWS. Why? because windows gives so much errors and u always have to reinstall. And we don't have to talk about viruses, for MAC they almost not exist, for windows ..........

hrant's picture

A poignant reminder of why Olli used that bold tag in his original post...

hhp

jac's picture

The other consideration is do clients visit your office? If they do then expensive equipment - high-end mac, high-end printer, huge screen, to go with your top-end mobile phone, black Audi A6, etc., will help you justify higher fees.

I can never tell if this is offered in jest.

Jac
"pronounced by saying 'Jake' without conjuring imagery of lumberjacks or mans best friend."

mili's picture

I work mainly with Mac, and sometimes, like yesterday, when I have to work with Windows, I get rather irritated and confused with the different layout and shortcuts. Mind you, I'd guess that it depends on what you're used to.
A "PC Agency" I freelance for ask me sometimes to check photos, files and cds they can't open themselves. I rarely if ever have problems with file formats in Mac. Also I find that for example sending files to a ftp server doesn't affect my work, but the resident designer of the "PC Agency" always complains it slowing her pc down. As far as I know, our computers are about the same in age, capacity and speed.

Rob O. Font's picture

The type designer/developer no longer has to make these choices. All of our people will be using macs with windows installed by year's end. We of course, cannot WAIT for the first intel core quatro. With the time we save by not arguing about it, we can also afford to buy e-books so we can read up on the subject.:)

aluminum's picture

Sounds like you're leaning toward Windows due to lower price of the hardware.

If you are a serious graphic professional, then you need serious hardware, and, at that point, there really isn't much (if any) of a price difference between Macs and most name-brand PCs.* So, do carefully compare them both feature-for-feature.

Especially with laptops. Apple laptops are actually surprisingly affordable when you take into account the full set of features.

The other major advantage to Macs right now is that ease in which you can run multiple OSes at the same time. I have XP running seemlessly on top of OSX and you can toss linux on there as well. That's great for anyone that needs to test their product on multiple platforms.

"I would just like to hear rational arguments for and against each platform."

I use both Windows and OSX daily. Both are fine. And, really, it's a matter of personal choice for most folks.

* = at least, not in the US. Admittedly, it seems as if some other countries get a bit screwed on Apple's pricing system overseas. In that case, if the price is right, just go with a Windows PC.

hrant's picture

> there really isn’t much (if any) of a price difference between Macs and most name-brand PCs.

There is a difference, but it's not big. On the other hand (at least at the time that I was buying my current system) the Intel-based Mac (laptops) were exorbitant.

> ease in which you can run multiple OSes

If it really is easy, that's definitely a plus (assuming you need that).
Reminds me of the Amiga. :-/

hhp

dezcom's picture

"...that’s definitely a plus (assuming you need that)."

It would come in handy when testing fonts on both platforms. Web designers checking pages on muliple browser and platform combinations would find this a good way to go as well.

ChrisL

hrant's picture

On the other hand, from what I can tell with the money you save on not getting an Intel-based Mac (and a stand-alone copy of the Windows OS) you can buy a whole separate Windows machine! :-/ Sure that increases the file-transfer overhead slightly, but it still seems more sensical.

hhp

Stephen Coles's picture

Two boxes? Two pieces of hardware to troubleshoot? Two footprints? Two displays or (a switch box)?

You don't save that much money. I think David's got the right idea for offices who don't use Windows as their main working environment.

hrant's picture

Yeah, one a desktop the other a laptop. :-)
Certainly in many cases it's not worth the headache.
In many other cases though the physical separation is useful.

hhp

Mark Simonson's picture

You have to admit that this is pretty cool (not to mention useful):

(Parallels on my MacBook Pro running XP in coherence mode. Sorry about the giant image.)

dezcom's picture

Mark,
Tell us about the "Satelite of Love" thing :-)

ChrisL

Stephen Coles's picture

It seems that Mark is an MST3K fan. Makes sense, being that he is a Minnesotan and a lover of fine humor.

hrant's picture

Mark, it's way cool. I know because I used to do that sort
of thing (with three OSes) on my Amiga in the early 90s.

hhp

dezcom's picture

Stewf, thanks. I was not familiar with the show.

ChrisL

Mark Simonson's picture

Yes, the reference is to MST3K, which in turn was a reference to a Lou Reed song. I was a big fan of the show and almost got some work out of them. It didn't work out, but I did get a tour of the facilities and got to meet most of the people who worked on the show, which was way cool, too.

I really like this Parallels coherence thing. The big problem with running two OS's at a time is that their interfaces--mainly their desktops--get in each other's way. In coherence mode, the Windows desktop disappears giving the illusion that Windows apps are running on the Mac desktop. And it's not just an illusion--you can drag-and-drop stuff between the two OS's windows.

dezcom's picture

Sounds like the way to go Mark!
Thanks for the info!

ChrisL

hrant's picture

> you can drag-and-drop stuff between the two OS’s windows.

That is pretty nice.

hhp

paull's picture

re: mac v. pc cost debate. every reasonable comparison i have ever seen says pretty much the same thing. currently, equivalent macs and pcs cost about the same. the notion that pcs are cheaper, in any significant way, is a myth. i've found this to be the case from pundits on both sides of the equation.

http://www.macworld.com/2006/08/opinion/dellmacprofollowup/index.php

:p

hrant's picture

> equivalent macs and pcs cost about the same.

But the PC has a bottom end that the Mac does not.
For something like a mere testing platform this is a factor.
In fact good testing relies heavily on NOT using advanced systems.

hhp

Quincunx's picture

One thing I like about PC's is that I choose seperate pieces of hardware myself, and let someone (or do it myself) put it together. This way I always have the video card I want, for example. Or soundcard, etc.
So, when buying a PC, you can even put together a 'budget-system', or a monster machine. Whatever you want. Whatever your wallet allows.
As far as I know, you can only choose from a limited amount of different pieces of hardware, when ordering an iMac for example.

Then again, OSX is in my opinion nicer OS to work with, easier to use, nicer-looking and more secure. But in the long run, I don't really mind. I can work on both, can do the same things on both. I don't really like one over the other.

Rob O. Font's picture

" I think David’s got the right idea for offices who don’t use Windows as their main working environment"

Mild correction, main "creative" platform. I "work" just as mainly in Windows as I do on the Mac these days (hint, hint). But I very much like to pick and choose. I think best on the Mac (no one's watching;), and read best in Windows (someone's thinking about type there!), e.g. I need to read a pdf without muckin' about, Mac. I need to have virtual meeting, windows. The other big difference to me is that I can confidently see pulling into the next upgrade station without a care in the world on either platform...and to me, that is priceless!

Stephen Coles's picture

> read best in Windows (someone’s thinking about type there!

Totally. Can't you talk to someone at Apple with all your clout?

hrant's picture

Last Friday there was an Apple technology seminar at ArtCenter. I starting asking about type, as nicely as I could. I think he knew what type was. But when I moved to things like grayscaling and E-Ink I could see the vapor coming out his ears. But hey they gave me a shiny keychain!

hhp

paull's picture

> But the PC has a bottom end that the Mac does not.

true, but i think Olli was asking more about a primary-use machine, running all the major adobe apps as well as type-specific tools. i wouldn't suggest a bottom-line PC machine for that.

as an aside, while the mac mini only begins to approach the aforementioned bottom end, it is an excellent choice for PC users that want to foray into the world of OSX, even if just for testing.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Charles wrote:
By in large, most software is now written for Windows, and adapted for the Mac, for the simple reason that that the PC market is bigger.

That may be true for some apps, such as FontLab Studio, but not (for instance) for most Adobe applications, which are developed simultaneously and equally on both platforms. Neither is a "port" of the other.

On the other hand, FontLab Studio in particular tends to come out with new Windows versions well ahead of the Mac versions.

Cheers,

T

dezcom's picture

FontLab is also a quite small operation. There was a time when Adobe used to bring Mac versions to market first.

ChrisL

Si_Daniels's picture

>That may be true for some apps, such as FontLab Studio, but not (for instance) for most Adobe applications, which are developed simultaneously and equally on both platforms. Neither is a “port” of the other.

On the one hand this is great as you can expect compatibility between stuff generated on either platform, but on the minus side it means that you can't easily take advantage of system-level stuff like complex script support - you have to roll your own.

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