By Anthony Fordham

When dinner party conversation turns to the subject of home computers, you can be sure there?ll be at least one person present who insists that, because they have a Mac, Mac is far better than PC and they?re so glad they made ?the switch?, blah blah easier to use, blah blah, user friendly etc.

To the casual computer user, it can be difficult to imagine what can be so different about the Mac as compared to the PC that makes so many people so passionate one way or the other. It doesn?t help that in the last 18 months, fundamental changes to the hardware that Apple uses in its Mac line of computers means the difference between Mac and PC is now even more esoteric.

In the good old days, Mac and PC represented two radically different ways of approaching the same problem: providing a small, easy to use personal computer for home use.

The PC, with the help of IBM, Intel and Microsoft, evolved into a platform that could use hardware from many different manufacturers, which guaranteed compatibility by adhering to a set of international standards.

Mac, on the other hand, was entirely built and sold ? hardware, software and retail – by a single company: Apple. Rather than ?cloning? what everyone else was doing, Apple tried to solve design and technical problems itself, with results that often varied significantly from the way the PC did things.

While there were many technical differences between early PCs and ?Macintosh? computers, as they were then known, actual objective differences in quality and performance were more difficult to pin down. Sometimes the latest Macintosh was faster. Sometimes the latest PC was faster.

But what became apparent after 15 years or so was that Apple?s practice of jealously guarding all its own hardware and software gave it only a fraction of the market share enjoyed by the the PC.

Indeed, as time went on, the ?IBM PC? became not so much a single appliance, as a set of standards by which any company could build a computer, use components from several other companies, and sell it running a Microsoft operating system ? initially DOS but now Windows.

Instead of offering an alternative to a single product, Apple?s Mac had to contend with PCs from the likes of Dell, Gateway, HP, Compaq, Osborne, IBM and more.

So Apple reinvented the Macintosh as the Mac, a sleek, trendy, beautiful computer in stark contrast to the ugly beige boxes of the ?PC clones?. The company still had only a small fraction of the total personal computer market share, but now it was enough to make Apple a major player in the world of home computers.

For the last decade or so, Mac has been the clean, simple and supposedly easy to use alternative to the ugly, unreliable and complicated PC.