In a recent blog post, Integrated Computer Networks for Yachts: Pros and Cons, I discussed the proliferation of on board information technology.
These days, marine computers run everything from yacht management programs to audio visual systems. But as vessels add systems, more on board computers are required to access the systems and keep them running.
That leads to a question that we often get from customers: Should I use Mac or PC computers to run my yachts systems? Or can I use a combination of yacht computer types, depending on the software running on them?
I recently posed these questions to Great Circle Systems Chief Technical Officer and resident computer integration expert, Darren Mayhead. In Darrens many years as a Chief Engineer on submarines and yachts, he has witnessed all types of vessel computer configurations.
So Darren definitely has ideas about what works best in each situation, while understanding the importance of individual preference when it comes to working with computers. Here are Darrens answers to customers most frequently asked questions about yacht computers:
What are the main differences between Macs and PCs?
Although many individuals sit squarely in one camp or the other, usually because they are accustomed to using the Apple or the Windows operating systems, the issues that put them there have largely disappeared from the technical aspect. It really depends on which computer system you and your crew are more comfortable using, along with your computer budget.
Macs used to be considered more reliable and in some way "superior" to PCs. But todays Macs are built with basically the same hardware used in PC manufacturing, so there doesnt seem to be a great difference in overall reliability.
But Macs consistently have a very high quality fit and finish across the board, while Windows systems are more variable. This is probably because Windows computers can come from many different manufacturers and even different lines within the same manufacturer targeted at different types of users and budgets (such as students vs. business users).
One major difference to the end user is the way in which individuals use touchpad gestures to interact with their Macs. However, multitouch systems, both through touchpads and touch sensitive screens, are now becoming common place on PC laptops.
Ive also heard people say that "Macs dont get viruses," which is simply not true. Macs and Windows computers are equally vulnerable to viruses. I have actually removed more viruses recently from Macs than PCs, as the Macs had no virus protection whatsoever, making them an easy target.
The other obvious standout for the Macs is they just look cool. The new iMac line is a thing of beauty. But again, performance has been somewhat compromised for aesthetics and their ability to be upgraded is limited.
In a nutshell, you can generally get more processing bang for your buck with a PC, but many users prefer the Mac operating system and the Mac aesthetics and are willing to pay extra for them.
Can I use a combination of computers to run the vessels systems?
Many boats use a combination of machines. For instance, sometimes Captains want to use PCs for business and their Macs for personal use.
We often set up integrated systems using both PCs and Macs. We can also install special software on the Mac (Parallels or VMWare) that allows you to run a virtual Windows (PC) machine on your Mac hardware. This gives you more flexibility in the type of software you use (such as the many programs written for Windows), while allowing you to work on a Mac, if that is your computer of choice.
For example, I like the quality of my Macbook screen and touchpad more than any Windows notebook Ive had. But I actually prefer Windows software. So I usually run in Windows mode on my Macbook using Windows versions of software, such as Microsoft Office and Triton Administrator.
Are Macs business-friendly enough to run the business end of the yacht?
It used to be that if you were running a business, you bought a PC. But these days, the software available for Macs and PCs is pretty similar, although PC software choices for any given task are still more plentiful.
But there is still one element missing from a true "Mac-only environment": an enterprise-class mail server with all the email capabilities we have come to expect. For most businesses and corporations, I recommend Microsoft Exchange Server.
That does not mean that your yacht must run on an all-PC system to get the benefits of Microsoft Exchange Server for your email. If you want to primarily use Macs, you can design your Mac-based system with a back end Microsoft Exchange Server.
The Macs will happily exist in that environment utilizing Outlook from the Office 2011 Suite for email duties. This approach retains all the collaboration elements present in the Exchange/Outlook model, while essentially running in a Mac environment.
For power users and administrators, its usually easier to manipulate Windows systems than Macs. Due to the Macs user friendly emphasis, their more technical features are not readily accessible. On the other hand, simple tasks like adding printers and other devices are typically easier for novice users on Macs.
Do entertainment or A/V systems run better on Macs?
I wouldnt say the systems run better on Macs, but yes, audio/visual systems are often run through Macs. Some, such as Savant Systems, allow users to control their system with an iPad app. This is a convenient way for users and crew to control the entertainment system through a device, rather than having to access the computer on which the software is running.
Someday soon, all computers will incorporate iOS-type technology (the user interface based on the concept of direct screen manipulation and multi-touch gestures), making all systems more touch-based and easier to use.
The bottom line: should I purchase Macs or PCs for my yacht?
It really depends on your preference and your budget. Most boats choose PCs because they are less expensive and its cheaper to furnish an entire vessel with PCs than with Macs. And since PCs and Macs have virtually the same functionality, budget issues often dictate PC purchases.
However, many users enjoy the Macs touch features and therefore find them easier to use than PCs. But in coming years, PC hardware and software manufacturers will probably incorporate more touch and gesture technology. So the differences will become fewer with time, and ultimately the Macs and PCs will work very similarly.
If you decide to have an all-Mac environment on your vessel, I would still strongly advise purchasing at least one Windows server machine for the network. This PC should host Microsoft Exchange Server to handle email duties for the yacht.
However, be aware that when you have a combination of Macs and PCs running your yacht systems, you'll need people who can provide support for both if you encounter problems or want to make network changes. You can use consultants or crew computer experts, but be sure to secure the services of someone who knows how to make Macs and PCs work together on board a yacht.
Call us with your questions.
Hopefully, this article answered your key questions about yacht computers. But if you have additional questions or want to speak with a Great Circle Systems yacht computer expert about your particular situation, click the red button below to request information.