The Great Debate
Here we go … the big topic that has been debated and argued for years. Should you use a Macintosh or a PC running Microsoft Windows? Each side has its strengths and weaknesses, and each will let you run audio software. Let's consider the platforms separately.
Historically, Macs were the first computers to run music software, so more software was written to run on the Mac. Most professional studios still rely solely on Macs for audio. But Windows has caught up with the Mac. Even so, the Mac has a particular working style that appeals to some. If you're not used to it, you should spend some time using the Mac OS to see how different it is from Windows.
Apple is the only company that makes the Mac. Apple is the only game in town, and that's both good and bad. On the plus side, Macs rarely freeze or crash because the same company makes the operating system and hardware. Also, there is very little variation in the hardware, so software companies have an easy time making products that are compatible with Macs. On the downside, you can't select machines from different manufacturers. There may be some software differences that sway your decision. Some audio software is still Mac only, with no Windows version, so it's necessary to do your research. And Macs tend to be slightly more expensive than Windows computers, but that's becoming less of an issue as prices equalize.
The majority of the desktop market is PC-based, and most of those computers run Microsoft Windows. Windows is perfectly capable of running music software as well as the Macs do. Lots of music software is now available for Windows. With Windows, the version of the operating system is critical for music applications. Windows Vista continues to be slowly adopted by audio manufacturers. Many musicians still rely on XP for audio tasks. As Microsoft has worked hard at Windows 7, it's promising to be a more stable and accepted release industry-wide. Only time will tell how fast users and the music industry will adopt the new Windows 7.
Since Macs now run with Intel processors, you can also run real copies of Windows on a Mac. Apple has a utility called Boot Camp that allows a Mac to dual-boot between different operating systems. There's even new virtualization software from companies like Parallels and VMWare that allow you to run OS X and Windows without ever leaving OS X.
No matter which version of Windows you choose to run, makers of software for Windows have the unique challenge of trying to be compatible with literally millions of different hardware combinations. Unlike Apple, many different companies make Windows-based PCs. Apple makes all its hardware, which is designed to run its exclusive operating system, whereas Microsoft Windows is a program run by computers made by a variety of different companies. Each computer running Windows uses different CPUs, different RAM … you get the idea. Sometimes software compatibility can be a problem on the Windows side because of this.
In the end, the choice is yours. Whatever you have, you'll be able to run some kind of music software. If you're thinking of buying a second computer just for audio, make sure to give both platforms a fair look. If possible, talk with other musicians who have experience with PC and Macintosh versions of the programs you're considering.