The primary decision criteria for selecting a personal computer are:1. Windows, Mac, Linux or Tablet?2. Desktop or Laptop?3. Where to Buy4. The Small Business
1. Windows, Mac, Linux or Tablet?The first decision is the platform. As of 2019, a rough estimate of market share is Windows 85%; Mac 10%; Linux 5%. Mostly used as a second computer, tablets are a viable alternative to a laptop. It has been a Windows versus Mac world for many years; however, if a user's applications are only Web email and Web browsing, any operating system on any hardware device will suffice. See Windows vs. Mac.Windows Desktop/Laptop ComputersThe single advantage of the Windows world is the large number of PC vendors and software applications to choose from. One can buy a PC from big companies such as Dell and HP as well as from countless small dealers. A major reason Windows PCs dominate is that they have always been less expensive than Macs. In addition, there are more support people troubleshooting Windows than any other platform.Mac Desktop/Laptop ComputersFor the Mac, software is available that satisfies every common requirement, and Mac software is more consistent. When a new version of the OS comes out, there is no steep learning curve as there is with Windows. In addition, basic Mac applications from Apple are generally a bit easier to use, but not always. However, no matter which platform, all software could be made much easier to operate.With regard to applications that must be installed in the user's computer, the only drawback of the Mac is that new applications are designed for Windows first and Mac second, if at all. However, if the applications are Web based, it makes no difference which computer you use.Linux Desktop/Laptop ComputersA Linux PC is a standard PC running the Linux operating system. Basic applications are available, but there is no comparison to Windows or Mac in the number of available software titles. Typically used by IT professionals who prefer open source software, Linux has also been packaged from time to time with low-cost PCs for Internet access only. In 2011, Google lent its muscle to that business model with its Linux-based Chrome OS, which is popular in schools (see Chromebook). While the market share for Linux desktops/laptops is small, in contrast, Linux is dominant on the server side. See Linux and Unix.TabletsTablets are a viable alternative to a laptop, especially for users who never owned a computer before. The only drawbacks to tablets are the smaller screen compared to laptop computers and the tedium of entering a lot of text. The screen keyboard and the keyboards that are part of the tablet case do not have the springiness of regular keyboards.Although apps are available for iPads and Android tablets that offer the equivalent functionality of PC and Mac apps, the tablet apps are separate programs that must come from their respective online app stores. In contrast, Windows tablets offer the only pure compatibility between PC and tablet, which means proprietary, custom-developed Windows apps will run on a Windows tablet. See mobile compatibility and how to select a mobile device. 2. Desktop or Laptop?The major advantage of a desktop computer is that the keyboard, mouse and monitor can be changed at any time. In addition, the fastest computers are desktops, although very high-end laptops are available and expensive.The obvious advantage of a laptop is its portability. However, a laptop can also be turned into a desktop computer when at home or in the office by plugging in an external keyboard, mouse and monitor. Although better than tablet keyboards, laptop keyboards vary greatly in quality, and fast touch typists should test the keyboard before buying. See laptop, docking station and how to select a PC monitor. 3. Where to BuyThe best place to buy is where you get the best support. For Mac and iPad users, Apple dealers and company stores are generally quite good, and Apple's phone support is usually top notch. For Windows users, we recommend looking for a local dealer that specializes in service.Superstores are a good source for bargain prices, but the quality of support varies. If you have the patience to wade through myriad articles, the Internet is a major source of technical help, but it is one gargantuan overload of information.When purchasing online, help is by phone, which runs the gamut in quality. In addition, unless you have on-site support, you have to ship the unit to a repair center if you have unsolvable hardware problems. In general, Apple has the best tech support for a large vendor. 4. The Small BusinessThe small business looking to automate its internal operations may need consulting help because its information requirements can be as complicated as a much larger company. It is tempting to think a USD $100 software package can do the accounting for your entire company, and the fact is, in many cases, it can. But, even if you understand your detailed information requirements, matching them with the software's specifications is not straightforward. Most of the time, an application's limitations become apparent only after it is running for a while. Good Luck and Happy Computing!