A: It doesn’t matter.
Fans of each system (and let’s not leave out Linux’s rabid fan base or Chrome OS’s growing one) have a litany of reasons why their choice is the only one that makes sense. But it really doesn’t matter. You can run a law practice just fine on any computer with an Internet connection and a document editor.
That said, there are some reasons why one or the other might suit you.
I now own a Mac mini, a Lenovo ThinkPad (running either Windows or Ubuntu, depending on my mood), and a Dell Inspiron desktop. My Mac and my ThinkPad get about equal use, and I remain quite happy with both — in other words, buying a Mac did not turn me into a raving fanboy, as far as I can tell.
So I feel more qualified than ever to discuss which you ought to buy.
Windows PC: pros and cons
Like it or not, Windows is the industry standard. That means most of your clients and most of the lawyers you deal with will be using Windows. The reason that matters is that Windows and OS X are different operating systems, and not all software and hardware is compatible with both. If you require specialized software for your practice, you may have to use Windows in order for it to work properly. I’m not talking about Microsoft Office, here. I’m thinking of specialized document review software or legacy practice management software.
(Yes, you can run Windows on a Mac, or use most Windows software using Parallels. It works well, but it’s not quite as easy as just running Windows software on a Windows PC.)
Likewise, there are still printers and scanners and other things out there that don’t work well with the Mac. The reverse is also true, but you will have far fewer compatibility problems using a Windows PC. The ubiquity of Windows also means it is widely supported. If your system breaks down, you can haul it to just about any IT support shop and get it fixed.
That said, every Windows user knows the frustration of hunting down drivers and software updates and struggling to get everything working properly. Windows “just works” better than ever, but not always. If you pay someone to help you, the cost savings from buying cheaper software can be quickly swallowed by IT costs.
Plus, Windows 8 is kind of a mess, so you’ll probably want to stick with the still-very-good Windows 7. Windows is in the middle of a massive transition — or else a massive mistake. Its future is a big question mark, and while Microsoft is extremely unlikely to ever sell out its huge enterprise user base, there is a decent chance you will have to replace all your software with Windows 8–style app versions in the near future.
In the end, though, there is no glaring reason not to get a Windows PC. They are unexciting, but they will get the job done. So why do I usually recommend Macs, especially to unsophisticated users?
Mac: pros and cons
The main reason I often recommend Macs is ease of use. Macs have always been designed for consumers, and they don’t even come with a user manual. You don’t need one. Pretty much everything is either intuitive or guided. That means you can solve most problems yourself. The rest, you can get solved for you at Apple’s Genius Bar. The name may be the cause of many jokes, but the fact remains that you can walk into any Apple Store with your computer and see a real person who does not talk to you like you are a moron and who will fix your problem. They will even help you deal with a lot of software problems, and teach you basic stuff like how to set up your email.
Macs also have a well-deserved reputation for quality. If you think computers are just a collection of components, you probably do not think the “Mac tax” is worthwhile. If you believe that there is more to quality and design than shoving a bunch of components into a case, then you might be willing to pay premium prices for well-designed, high-quality hardware.
This belief and willingness to pay for design and quality are, after all, 90% of what leads people to choose a Mac. And it is well-earned. Macs generally have high-quality components in durable, well-built cases, and they last. I know plenty of people happily using 10-year-old Macs. The only people I know with 10-year-old Windows PCs hate their computers.
That said, not everything is rosy in Mac land. Mac versions of popular software like QuickBooks and Microsoft Office work fine, but kind of suck to use (in the case of QuickBooks) or just fall short (in the case of Office) in comparison to their Windows versions. And as I mentioned above, lots of highly-specialized legal software is (shortsightedly) Windows-only. You may also run into hardware compatibility problems although this is rare.
Overall, I think the many small tweaks Apple makes to the computing experience add up to a noticeably better product. I also think Macs are much easier to use for an unsophisticated user, which is why I usually recommend them.
If you describe yourself as someone who does not know much about computers, I think you will probably be happier with a Mac, if you are not already tied to Windows by software you just have to use. For everyone else, I think you will be at least as happy with a Mac, and probably happier. At a minimum, there is no reason not to switchi, and a lot of reasons to try.
You can probably practice law using anything from GUI-less Unix workstation to a Chromebook to an iPad. Many lawyers do, at least some of the time. And if you are either geeky enough or adventurous enough, go ahead and do it. The vast majority of lawyers, though, should be using a Windows or Mac PC as their primary computer.
Why it doesn’t matter
In the end, though, as I said in the first place, it doesn’t matter. Windows or Mac, you will end up using pretty much the same software and peripherals. The hardware and operating system does not have much to do with your day-to-day work. Both can access the Internet and run Microsoft Word just fine, and that is 90% of what you need a computer to do, after all.
One thing, though. If you do get a Windows PC, don’t get a cheap one. They aren’t worth it.
Read the next post in this series: "Q: Do I Need Microsoft Office?."