If you’re buying a PC this Christmas, buy a Mac

As you’d expect, from time to time people ask me for advice on what machine to buy. Usually the answer is a question – what do you want to use it for? – and based on the response I’ll suggest a PC or a Mac, a desktop or a notebook. There’s no such thing as a computer that’ll suit everyone… or is there?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and, other than budgetary constraints – and to be fair, the difference in price between basic PCs and basic Macs isn’t much these days – I’ve come to the conclusion that for the average punter, a Mac’s the better buy. That’s partly because of the usual Apple reasons – lack of viruses, blah – but also because of Boot Camp and even more importantly, open source software such as Firefox, OpenOffice.org and so on.

Sure, there are still things PCs are better at than Macs, such as games, but an entry-level PC with integrated graphics won’t be a spectacular performer so it’s probably a false economy. If all you want to do is play games, get an Xbox or a Wii or a PS3. If you’re into modding, a PC’s probably better. And if you’re a hardcore gamer whose ideal machine has enough power to solve the meaning of life, a PC’s still the better bet. And if you’ve invested in digital music downloads and players that use Windows Media copy protection, or PC-specific hardware such as horrifically expensive internal graphics cards or sound cards, there’s not much point in switching.

But other differences have gone away, and the biggest such difference is compatibility – instead of slow emulation via Virtual PC, you can run windows apps via Boot Camp (or Parallels Desktop) if there’s a particular program you can’t live without.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still niches where a PC is the right machine. But for the average digital photo-collecting, web browsing, online chatting, emailing, music downloading, odd-letter-writing man (or woman) in the street, I’m struggling to come up with good reasons why a PC would be better than a Mac – beyond the marginal price difference (which I think is negated by the need to install 500 security programs on a PC and the bundling of iLife with Macs).

Have I missed anything important? I’m genuinely curious.