Are Macs more uncluttered than PCs?

There is a discussion board that accompanies our Unclutterer Workspaces flickr pool that I’ve been following since this summer. One of the conversations on the board is titled “Why so many Macs?” and covers the elephant in the room about most of the photographs in the group (ironically, not today’s Workspace of the Week).

From kellec:

“I love the pics so far but I can’t help but ask why are there so many mac systems? Since windows users vastly outnumber mac users, you’d think there’d be more windows. Unless, of course, windows folks are simply messier and less concerned about aesthetic than us mac users. ;)”

The conversation that follows is very interesting. Do Macs lend themselves to a more streamlined, aesthetic user? Is there something about a Mac that appeals to a person in search of an uncluttered space?

Please check out the discussion and feel welcome to add to it. I find this topic fascinating and would love to hear from more of our readers.

36 Comments for “Are Macs more uncluttered than PCs?”

  1. posted by Zed on

    Honestly? I think it’s just because uncluttered folks tend towards a minimalist aesthetic. I was in a surprisingly not-busy Best Buy yesterday looking for an external keyboard for my laptop when I walked by the Macs on display, and after getting over how peversely huge the display was on one of them, I saw the keyboard.


    Now I have no love for paris hilton… but that’s hot. Every other ‘board just looks bloated by comparison.

  2. posted by Pete on

    I grew up with various macs (and still use them when I visit my parents) but have used PCs ever since college.

    I think we should distinguish between the user interface and the physical components. With the interface, I just want everything to be as clean and simple as possible — and with various tweaks and shortcuts I’ve been able to achieve that with every version of Windows — solid blue desktop background with few or no desktop icons, very few icons on the task bar, very few options in the start menu, etc. Call me a crank, but I don’t WANT things to slide or morph around the screen, and I don’t want new ways to “visualize” folders or data or search everything from every possible location or upload my home movies with a single click or whatever else. So I get frustrated using macs. Windows is just as bad out of the box because they’ve copied so many Mac-like features (like the sidebar in Vista or the rounded-corner gradient-background folders and menus) but these things can be turned off with minimal effort.

    Or to put it another way, I think the Mac interface probably peaked with System 7 and the Windows interface peaked with win2k professional. And I find it easier to make the more recent versions of Windows look like 2kP than to make current macs look like System 7.

    As for the physical hardware, am I the only one who doesn’t find Mac hardware attractive? All that chintzy translucent plastic …yuck. Of course I find lots of PC hardware ugly too, but since there’s so much more variety I can buy the 5% of it that I like and not worry about the rest.

    Just my two cents though. I still have a soft spot for Apple and would love to be lured back, but I get the feeling curmudgeons like me are not a big market.

  3. posted by Derek on


    The user interface of System 7 was good, but the internals were, to stick with the theme of this website, extremely cluttered. When Apple moved to OS X, they found a whole bunch of converts from the halls of the Computer Science departments everywhere due to the internal structure of the operating system.

    The internals of Windows? Beyond cluttered.

  4. posted by Andrew on

    My personal opinion? Mac users are more inclined to be process-aware. Buying a Mac is a conscious decision to shell out a bit more for something you feel (rightly or wrongly) works better and makes you more productive. Therefore its more likely that people who buy a Mac would invest their time into streamlining their physical workspace as well.

    I have a Mac and a PC. I spend way more time on my PC when I’m mucking about, but the Mac is for pure work.

  5. posted by Frank on

    I’m like you, Andrew.

    PC Laptop + Mac workstation on the same desk. PC is used for general web browsing, “personnal archiving”, e-mails, watching dvd, etc etc etc. Mac is only used for photo editing and graphic work.

  6. posted by Andamom on

    I wanted to answer the question – why Mac versus PC back in the Spring when we migrated to Mac as our main home computer. Here’s my post about it back then…

    We’ve also been testing out the Apple TV (although I haven’t blogged about that yet)… It is another way we have been thinking about uncluttering our movies life. See, we get Netflix movies that sit scattered about. I don’t necessarily feel like watching the ones in our queue right when we get them. So, we’re storing them temporarily on the Apple TV for later viewing.

    And of course there is the iTunes — which is really all about the uncluttered way of life… We copied all of music from our CDs into iTunes and have not needed the physical CDs thereafter… We play the music from our iMac which has built in speakers.

    My husband has been a ‘Mac Geek’ all along – he just didn’t realize that he was an uncluttered one!

  7. posted by Ryan on

    Physically, my Mac is more uncluttered than my PC. It’s a MacBook so it’s only got the power cable. But digitally, my PC owns my MacBook in organization. I’m not really sure why. I guess it’s because I work on my PC and play on my Mac.

    Go figure.

  8. posted by Michael on

    I’d say out of the box mac’s are probably more “uncluttered” than pc’s. Maybe a bit too much so though (come on, 1 button mouse?). That’s not to say you can’t clean up a pc, it’s just that you pay mac to clean it for you and make it look fruity.

    Buying a mac simply for the sake of reducing clutter is just lazy.

  9. posted by Patia on

    I use a PC at work, but I own a Mac.

    I have always felt that Windows needlessly complicates things. And what is all that stuff on my C drive, anyway? i386? RECYCLER? hiberfil.sys?


    Mac = Zen.

  10. posted by Jon King on

    My vote is Mac users tend to place more importance on “design cleanliness & simplicity” which is represented in their homes and purchase decisions. Classic demographic segregation. I also suspect that since Apple produces not only software but hardware and peripherals, they have more control over the outcome of the item in use. Rather then Microsoft just making software and a host of players making equipment that uses it.

    For our family, Apples are the only computers that make any sense… and in the end, technology is suppose to enhance our lives not make it more frustrating.

  11. posted by John on

    My mac work area is equally cluttered to when I had a PC.

  12. posted by Rashid on

    I definately am a pc-guy. Most people jsut buy computers from places like best buy or whatever, but if you take the time to weigh your decisions and do research, there are some very sexy pc-cases and peripherals. If your not computer inclined, you should be able to get a small computer shop to oder it for you and have them put together your computer.

    You end up with a great looking customized computer, that does not look like everyone elses, but suited for you!

    oh and, macs have some of the highest hardware failure rates.


  13. posted by Geralin Thomas on

    Anyone think this is an age-related question? Or, to agree with an earlier post by Jon King, “Classic Demographic Segregation.”

    I’m curious because I’m in several home-offices every day & my observation is that that clients over 55 are more likely to be on a PC. (note: I said “more likely” no need to email me if you are 70 and using a mac–I know you’re out there.)

    Younger clients tend to own and use both, daily or, the parents have a PC and their teens own macs.

    Nothing uncluttered about owning a lot of “stuff” but, I like to think of it as “job security” for me.

  14. posted by Kathryn on

    There are two elements I ca think of that are filtering toward a Macish skew, both related to the high numbers of Mac users among visually oriented creative professionals who tend to favor Macs: first, it’s a known fact that Flickr itself skews Mac. Second, I think Unclutterer itself is most attractive to the same type of visual, creative/design type of person–the type of person who values uncluttering not just as a tool, but as an aesthetic; as a form and not just a function.

    If you’d said “show us your streamlined home office invoicing and accounting system,” you might have gotten a whole different hardware demographic vying for bragging rights! Yet, that’s just as much about uncluttering as tidying up your cables.

  15. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    As a professional organizer, I have helped a number of clients move computers/computer desks from area to another. Every time we move a Mac, it takes about 5 minutes, we plug it in and it works. Every time we move a PC it takes about 30 minutes, we plug it in, reconnect 5 bazillion cables and it doesn’t work. Then we spend another couple of hours trying to re-boot the damn thing. Once we get it rebooted it doesn’t every want to connect to the internet when it finally does, it requires 17 gadzillion updates from Microsoft.
    Once you go Mac, you never go back.

  16. posted by jay80 on

    You know it’s funny. I’m a bit a of neat freak. So when i saw this article I had to do some serious reflection. I own both a Mac and PC. Hardware wise iMacs are a lot neater then your standard PC, out of the box. But who uses a computer out of the box. Most have some other hardware attached to there computer. Be it, cameras, cells, printers, external harddrives, whatever. We’ve got something. I’d say the problem is more with the extras then the actual computers themselves. Same holds true for the OS. They are both so similar right now that it really is up to the user to be organized or not.

  17. posted by Bamboozler on

    I think the big difference that people don’t realize is that almost no one is starting with a clean Windows install. If you buy a computer with Windows preinstalled you’re also getting tons of add-on junk software. Try installing just Windows from a retail box onto a blank harddrive, then see if you think it’s cluttered. It’s like a religious awakening for most people the first time they see how windows is supposed to be, free of all the junkware companies like Dell and HP put in.
    You can have a fast, clean, stable, good looking machine AND have unlimited hardware options to get exactly what you need and not more than you want. Do you have that option with an Apple? No. I’m do a lot of photo work and a good amount of gaming. I build my own machines and run Windows, Mac is not even an option, it’s what people pick when they don’t want to deal with options.
    Get exactly what you need and not more than you want. That’s uncluttered and smart.

  18. posted by Minnie on

    I love my iBook. Totally uncluttered, easy to use, and reliable. Mac is the best IMO. I like their way of doing things, always have.
    Windows seems to make things overly complicated and somewhat redundant.
    I’ve never understood the attraction to windows, especially back when it was so user UNfriendly. But these days they seem to have moved more toward looking like a Mac, so maybe people are finding them just as easy to use.

  19. posted by Becca on

    Oh, I agree! I was so tired of my cluttered PC where files would be buried in folders and lost with no hope of retrieval. One of the primary reasons I got a Mac when I replaced my computer was because Macs always felt so clean to me, so inherently clutter-free. I love the finder window, and how folders can be docked on the side. When saving files, I can easily navigate to these folders. I’m also more likely to stay organized because 1) with a Mac, it’s easy and 2) I don’t want to clutter it up! My Mac is beautiful! I can’t even express how great it is, being able to see my desktop!

  20. posted by erik on

    I own both a mac and a pc and have to say I like both equally much. They’re both great (if u dont include vista anyway) and I think it’s just a matter of personal preference. Not a matter of “being better”. (especially if u also include linux in the mix)

  21. posted by Ben on

    Bamboozler has this exactly right. There’s no comparison between a Mac out of the box and a Dell or HP out of the box – I’m a PC person and I’d still take the Mac in that situation. But when you pick your own hardware, put the parts together yourself, and install a retail copy of Windows, it’s something completely different.

    In response to Becca a few posts up, there’s no difference between keeping a PC organized and keeping a Mac organized. You pick a place to store your files, and you put them all there. Don’t let yourself throw something on the desktop just because that was the default location – put in the slight extra effort and the clutter will never happen in the first place.

    I’ve used Macs quite a bit and still prefer Windows. Yeah, OSX has a nice shiny interface and makes many things very easy to do. But I don’t want a nice shiny interface – I don’t even want to notice my interface. It’s something that needs to be there, but it ought to stay out of my way and let me get on with things, not keep jumping up and telling me how pretty it is.

  22. posted by Aegir on

    I use both – the Windows PC at work, the iMac at home. I’m just to them in those situations, I think if they were reversed I’d be lost (though I’d like a Mac at work…)

    Mind, since the PC at work is networked, there aren’t any files stored locally. The only things on it are all the applications, and I must say Windows is pretty crap at how it stores and maintains applications. All those files splattered all over the place, with no user control! It’s just asking for trouble.

    As for the general ‘being uncluttered’ argument, one of the biggest selling points to my parents of the iMac was, as my Dad put it, “None of those silly litle boxes all over the place with the wires everywhere”.

  23. posted by Brian Bell on

    Why the lean towards macs?
    Its a long standing “trendy.”

  24. posted by dkong on

    My guess is that macs just have less crap.
    No tower= HELL of a lot less cables.
    Simple as that.

  25. posted by Tony on

    There are a few reasons I believe Macs are generally less cluttered than Windows PCs:

    1) Better tools. Macs have, by default, very easy to use “smart folders” that allow for some amazing de-cluttering techniques. There are even better add-on programs like Hazel for fully automating your workflow, and Quicksilver for launching any application (or even a single document) very quickly with only a few keystrokes. No need to have application icons cluttering up your desktop (and with Quicksilver, no need for even the Dock.)

    2) Packages. In Windows, when you install a program, you usually get a folder, with a whole bunch of sub-folders, and a plethora of files that you have no idea what they are or what the do. The one important file (the .exe) is in there somewhere…On a Mac, all those necessary files and folders are tidied up into a package, so each application “appears” to be just a single tidy icon.

    3) Workflow. This actually ties very closely to #1 above, and I guarantee there will be plenty of Windows users who will disagree, but this is from quite a bit of personal (anecdotal) evidence: Mac users tend to work more efficiently and have more clearly defined workflows. I say this as a long time Windows users (and DOS before that) who’s been a hybrid (both OS’s) user for many years, and made the switch permanently (except for firing up Windows at work to change some permissions in Active Directory or to check a web app in IE/Win) to Mac OS a year and a half ago. I’ve noticed that pretty much *all* of my Mac using friends have workflows, while very few of my Windows friends do…Look at the laptop (or desktop) of any of my Windows using friends, and you’ll see a desktop *full* of documents, folders, application shortcuts, etc. with little to no organization whatsoever.

    Now, for the poster who said this: “Maybe a bit too much so though (come on, 1 button mouse?).” C’mon…Macs haven’t shipped with a 1 button mouse for a long time. All Mac desktops ship with the Mighty Mouse, which is a multi button mouse (4). And the notebooks have right-click enabled by default (2 fingers on the trackpad + click the button = right-click.) Try to keep up there, champ…Your arguments are old and tired.

  26. posted by Stephanie on

    I had been a PC girl my entire life. Last year I got a job at a place that used Apple exclusively. I hated it. I also hated how my PC always had problems that required new software, better virus protection or needing this or that…

    Once I got more accustomed to using Mac, it is much more intuitive in the interface. I love design, clean lines and simplicity. That is why I love the MacBook that I bought. The attention to design is noticed from the moment you open the box. The styrofoam that it was packaged in was like a work of art. No endless books & leaflets from third-party software vendors or cables out the wazoo! I can take it anywhere because it is light and has everything that I need.

    I have always been neat & organized to a fault. I was the kid who declined an afternoon of play outside with the neighbors so I could organize the pantry. To me, my MacBook fits that lifestyle of organization that I have. It may not be for everyone but neither is organizing your spices alphabetically! Call me trendy… whatever.

    The one glaring downside, COST. While I consider myself to also be thrifty and NEVER buy anything that isn’t on sale… I will pick quality over quantity any day!

  27. posted by TomL on

    Rashid states:

    “oh and, macs have some of the highest hardware failure rates.”

    This is the first time I’ve heard this. What’s your source? Annual surveys of customer satisfaction have recently put Apple at the top of the heap.

    I’ve owned Apple computers since 1982 and had one hardware failure around 1994 when the fan on the power supply went out. The local Apple dealer replaced it under warranty in less than a day with a smile. That’s one hardware failure in 25 years of continuous usage practicing law.

  28. posted by nimbus on

    I guess Rashid have never heard of the Xbox 360 from Microsoft. That thing is STILL breaking.

  29. posted by consumer_q on

    WIN machines are a unitasker; I do not need a malware-only machine.
    I kid!

  30. posted by coyotebear on

    All of the Mac vs PC discussion with regards to Unclutter thus far, I simply think that the higher incidence of workspace pictures that have Macs in them is because sharing Mac setups (as well as screenshots) was already a part of the user culture.

    I do not think that uncluttering is in any way a Mac thing — if you pop by MacNN Forums and look at pictures of people’s setups, you’ll see that tidy workspaces are a rarity.

    That there are more pictures containing Macs is just a self-selection bias.

  31. posted by Scott on

    I have been a Mac ( iMac ) user for several years now and have gradually encouraged friend and relatives to make the switch as well. I am now spoilt by the lack of cable spaghetti that I used to have to endure as a PC user, and when I recently had to help an uncle setup a new Vista PC complete with scanner, printer, speakers, external microphone, external web cam, seperate PC and monitor I was horrified by the mess of cable that he was left with !

    In comparison when I setup my sisters new iMac a few days before I took it out of the box, plugged in the keyboard and mains lead and she was away !

    As I often say “Once you go Mac there is no going back !”


  32. posted by Karen M. on

    I got my intel-based Macbook because it can run both Windows and OSX and I could get rid of my behemoth PC desktop system. I can bring documents home from work if necessary, run Windows software.

    But I find it’s not necessary most of the time, because I can use OpenOffice to work on PC documents anyway, so I rarely fire up the Windows desktop. I just like working on the Mac when I’m at home, and no virus worries either.

  33. posted by Click Monkey on

    Jacki Hollywood Brown @ 12/22/2007 hit the nail on the head.

    I work Windows support for a large university. A few years ago, when several offices were moved across town, we had to move over 100 PCs — with the towers, monitors, speakers, sub-woofer boxes, and all the cables that go with that.

    Having owned an iMac at the time, I tried to convince my boss that we should switch the desktops to some kind of all-in-one device, whether it be an iMac running Windows, a Gateway One, Dell One, etc.

    For some strange reason, he — and many of my co-workers — are opposed to the idea. The logistics of an all-in-one desktop computer are just so much simpler, that I think that any corporate IT department that still uses towers must be run by myopic fools (including my own).

    Also, I used to do computer support for people at home. I never ceased to be amazed — and frustrated — at the type of furniture that had so many side and back panels that (1) I couldn’t reach components under the desk, (2) required six to ten feet to run a two foot cable, and (3) often left no slack in said cables to work with. Moving computers even a few inches under those desks was often 10 times more difficult than it should have been.

    Not to mention the amount of dust and lint that components on the floor — including the CPU tower — collect.

    The all-in-ones aren’t cheap. But if cost isn’t a factor, the only reason not to get an all-in-one is if you’re the type of person who enjoys periodically upgrading the components in your computer.

  34. posted by Rebecca on

    Well I’m also a duel user.
    Having done Graphic Design as a degree eventually buying a Mac Powerbook was a nessesary evil, and I still haven’t forgiven it.
    Personally I find Mac a lot less user friendly. I was brought up on PCs I know my way around them, how to fix them when mildly to slightly upset/not working. Macs freak me out a little, ‘unexpectedly quit’ does ring so true when its happening every five minutes when you’re trying to finish a project!
    Has anyone here had a look at some of the STUNNING Alienware PCs out there? *Drool*
    As regards reliability my PC has won hands down over and over again against Macs I’ve dealt with, but in Ireland Mac support isn’t great and once something goes wrong and you’re out of warranty, you have a very uncluttered paperweight!

    Its definitely down to the user as regards the general neatness of any tech set up! The machie is very rarely at fault, and more times than no its how well the user knows their machine and how to get the very best out of it anyway with the least amount of cables dangling out of the back (and cables in the right slots….)

  35. posted by Ellis Godard on

    Windows’s clutter is up front, in the StartMenu morass!

  36. posted by Mimi R on

    Mac users tend to be status- and trend-driven and, frankly, snobbishly left-leaning, versus the general population. They’re happy to pay more for less. PCs are better for 98% of possible uses. Given the political and social leanings of the blog, particularly at the beginning, there is little suprise that there were a preponderance of Macs.

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