Full disclosure: I've used windows all my life and will probably switch to Linux if I ever switch.
It's interesting to me that people are still having (on many forums) the Mac versus Windows argument. I've seen (and been a part of) big Linux, Mac, and Windows deployments in businesses and one large university. Every system has major kinks - even Windows desktop products sometimes fail to interact with Windows server products or worse (two server products by the same vendor don't work easily with each other).
IMO all three operating systems have reached the point where they do a large majority of what "average joes" and even advanced users (e.g. programmers need) and they do them with speed, ease, and stability on even older (5+ years old) systems. You could give any WORKING system to a person and they could use them without major complaints.
Linux, MacOS, and Windows in 1998 - now that's an interesting argument. Linux and MacOS users were delusional. Windows users had so many problems there was nothing to be delusional about :)
IMO where Windows and Windows based hardware vendors are failing is in a) selling to the general public and b) technical support after the sale.
To talk about a)
When I go into major electronics retailer I really feel sorry for a lot of the buyers. There is a cacophony of hardware, much of which seems to be configured to confuse the buyer and squeeze maximum profit from greatly increasing the possible twists from the salesman's mouth. Beyond that, Microsoft made the asinine decision of having multiple versions of their ONE operating system. So if the hardware isn't confusing enough, the salesman can say "Oh this one has Home Premium 32 bit so it's not going...". "You'll be upgrading to 8 gb of RAM in a year the future so you'd better get the X windows version."
Compare this to buying an Apple product. I'll bet you could narrow down the answer to "Which computer should I get" to 3 or 4 questions (e.g. How portable does it need to be). Figuring out which computer you buy is actually pretty easy. To a lot of people Apples restricted choices are better, especially since the variety of configurations on Windows systems really makes little practical difference (2.4 ghz versus 2.66ghz - big difference right )
To talk about b).
IME the service you get from Windows hardware vendors has fallen to a pathetic level. Back in 1998 a major online computer vendor called one of my friends and scheduled an at home appointment to replace a fully working hard drive that *might* be defective. Two years ago I went through an irritating process with the same well known vendor. The hard drive in my wife's laptop was failing. But since their "diagnostic" did not detect a problem it was obviously a software (read: Windows) problem not a hardware problem. I wasted 2 hours on the phone and so much for "at home" service. I'm glad hard drives are so cheap because I cloned the failing drive to a new one and voila - the problem went away!
Compare this to Apple. You typically have a store you can drive to, even if it's an hour or two away. If I get frustrated and angry, it's with a real person, not some voice on the phone. I can demonstrate the problem to them and they can't use the "We didn't make the operating system" excuse. They also can't say "Well this computer came with XP but you installed Vista on it so we don't support it." It's an Apple product from software to hardware so deal with it.
Maybe to a computer geek (like me) all this doesn't really matter. I usually build my own computer and can solve problems myself. But I know plenty of people who can't and have sat on the phone arguing with technical support about what requires and does not require "at home service" or what needs service at all (It's a software problem so it's not our problem).
As for the cost of buying a Windows machine versus a MAC, I think Apple kicks you in the privates when you buy the machine, but not later. Windows hardware vendors give you a lower buy in price, but then progressively kick you in the nuts when you have fill in some of the gaps (e.g. Windows 7 built in backup solution is only fully featured on some Windows versions and even then it's not that great...)
Apple simplifies things (sometimes way too much) but I think they've done a pretty good asking what they could to to keep the customers happy during and after the sale. I think vendors who sell Windows and hardware that runs Windows really need to kick themselves and realize a computer needs more support than a microwave or TV does. Dell tried with the Kiosks and Sony with Sony Style stores. I won't even get into those...
Small (read: local) vendors were pretty good at support the Windows systems they built. But most of those are gone and mostly people buy laptops now - local owners can't make those. It's just the big vendors now.
My apologies if I'm repeating what's said in this thread. I didn't read the entire thing.
*edit* - I'm not trying to say Apple customer service is magical or anything of the sort. I've read enough complaints to know people have had major problems. I'm just pointing out the benefits of having a physical location to visit (Apple store) and having the hardware and software from the same vendor.
Edited by odigg - 6/1/10 at 6:43pm