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To many, comparing the Mac and the PC is like comparing apples and oranges. But the platform future may be far more fruitful.

As far as hardware goes, Melissa Tardiff's New York design studio, Indigo Information Designers, Inc. is typical of most. The Macintoshes grind away on the desktops, and one lonely PC stands in the corner. When it comes to the PC vs. Mac debate, though, Tardiff cuts right through the technobabble to human nature. "Whatever you use first, you tend to savor," she says.

That would be Macintosh platforms for most agency creative departments and design studios. There is still some legitimacy to the choice, claim Mac proponents, but most admit that the more recent incarnations of Windows, and friendlier PC systems, have made the issue of cross-platform applications both timely and thorny. Now that such popular programs as Quark XPress and Photoshop are also available for the PC, things are changing.

One of biggest catalysts is the unprecedented popularity of the Internet. Tardiff, who designs Web sites, needs the PC in the corner to check her web pages. Because most Internet users use PCs, those who create pages must know how they will look on a PC screen, which is calibrated differently.

Nevertheless, Macs remain the tool of choice. "Most people who are producing art work are doing it on a Mac," says Tardiff, whose clients include publications like The Village Voice. "But if we have to go one way or the other, we have to design it for a PC."

Agencies, too, are often caught in a cross-platform bind. At Wieden & Kennedy, creatives on the Microsoft account work with two machines on their desks. "We integrate the two," says Kristi Nelson, digital imaging director. "We do ads on the Mac, artwork on the PCs." The solution is an expensive one, but necessary to accommodate both the industry standard-separators and prepress houses, for example, aren't used to receiving PC files-and Microsoft's requirements.

At Wieden, all the screen graphics in television, print and Web advertising are pulled from the Windows 95 platform, and an image database must be maintained and referenced so users all over the world can grab visuals, adhere to standards, and stay compatible with various software versions. It's a daunting challenge, but one that probably won't last long. "I could see it changing pretty rapidly," Nelson says. "It's something we keep our eyes on, on a daily basis. Some day it will be a lot easier on the PC than across platforms."

Fallon McElligott, which has been a Macintosh agency for 10 years now, has come up against similar problems. One solution has been to install PC cards in selected Macs. "Almost everyone is on a Power PC," says Jennifer Bremer, assistant creative technologies manager. "The accounting people really use both ends quite a bit. Also the media department, who are dealing with vendors with proprietary software. They love it." The agency also uses an SGI Indy running on Drums software to communicate with its New York office.

In the creative department, however, non-Mac platforms can be found only at an occasional workstation. Asking creatives already well-versed in Mac technology to change is difficult at best. But more and more, Bremer says, clients are asking to share files with agencies, so documents can be opened and manipulated on both ends. And most clients work in Windows.

Nikon, for example, produces a newsletter in Microsoft Publisher. They'd like the agency's help, but agency designers work in Quark XPress. The two programs don't work together across platforms. So does the agency switch platforms, which requires retraining, or does the client refrain from editing onscreen? "It's a tossup," Bremer says. "It's been a challenge, and we're still playing with it." In the meantime, they cross platforms with programs like Acrobat and Remark, which allow comments to be made and transmitted on top of documents-much like electronic sticky notes-but don't actually go into the files.

Mark Loncar, marketing technologies partner at CKS Partners, San Francisco, which works for Apple, says he sees lots of cross-platform applications in his shop. "More and more every day, unfortunately," he sighs. "The thing that drives it is clients. They want Win95. But Win95 is still not the Mac. The Mac is still the best, and still the easiest to use."

Those in the publishing and collateral fields are adamant in their defense of the Macintosh. "I'd be surprised if anybody is doing serious design work on a PC," says Bride Whelan, executive director of the Society of Publication Designers. Major publishers such as Time Inc., Hearst and Conde Nast are going in the other direction; editors who used to be on PCs are switching over to Macs in order to be compatible with their design and layout departments. They complain that PC platforms still have much catching up to do. "Windows today is what Quark was three years ago," says Whelan.

Others, too, suggest Quark for PC lags behind Quark for Mac. Don Lohse, Quark product manager, takes issue with this. Although the Mac version has been out since 1987 and the Windows version didn't appear till 1994, they have the same tools available and are equally easy to use, he claims. "Both versions are at 3.32," he says. "They have exactly the same feature set," except for the frame editor function (it creates bitmap frames around the outside of a box), which is only available for the Mac. The order in which the menus appear across the top is different, but otherwise, someone shifting from a Mac to a PC should be quite comfortable. "Adjustment time should be less than five minutes," he says.

Obviously, Quark is experiencing its greatest growth on the PC side of the business. Much of this comes from Europe, and from smaller businesses that are looking to expand the capabilities of their business software and manage some of their simple design work in-house.

It isn't the program itself that is the problem, but the operating system, users argue. CKS' Loncar refers to it as the "general getting around." Things don't end up in the right folders, names are a problem, ways of doing ordinary things, like manipulating files, are convoluted. He also cites the lack of plugins, or extensions, such as filters, available for the Windows version of such programs as Photoshop. "They have to be compiled for the right operating system, and the vast majority are just not available for the PC," he says.

Robert Altemus of New York's Altemus Creative Services, a Web design firm, who is also president of the Society of Publication Designers, points out that PCs are still taking DOS code and translating it, which makes almost any program run slower on a PC-even one that should be faster than a Mac. The Windows platform is still a system trying to work on top of another system. And he, too, cites the convoluted way of doing things. "Designers just don't like that stuff," he says.

But fonts are by far the major bugaboo. Altemus, who licenses decorative fonts as part of his business, says some specific characters and kerning pairs aren't available at all on the PC. Others require an elaborate routine-depressing the number-lock key, typing in codes of three- or five-digit numbers, etc. "Fonts are also more difficult to install on a PC," adds Loncar. "There's no environment like Suitcase, where what you see is what you get."

"I hate fonts on the PC," says Peter Farago of Peter Farago & Associates, New York. "They're just hard." But he adds that new solutions-Adobe's latest Type Manager, for example, available in the next year or so-will create better cross-platform font technology.

With the exception of fonts, which make Quark difficult to use across platforms, other programs, like Photoshop, work just fine, he says. His shop uses several platforms-Macs for creatives, and fast and cheap PCs for account people, who have to be compatible with clients. The platforms include the latest incarnation of Windows NT, which again will revolutionize the industry, he says. It's a new operating system, rewritten from the ground up, thus eliminating the layering problems created by earlier versions. "I would never throw rocks at any platform," Farago says. "They're just different."

Although Macs are still winning in creating content, the most serious threat yet to Mac dominance is the Internet. Most browser tools, for example, are designed for PCs first, and "soon to come for Macintosh" turns out to be not very soon at all. Inputting and outputting information is also more difficult for the Mac; the ports are slower, claims Farago. He says they have trouble keeping up with the speed of networks. "And in the next couple of years, everyone will be using multiple processors, so it will be a whole new game," he adds.

The truth of that seems to be lost on no one. Loncar says PCs aren't making huge dents in the advertising and design market yet, "but they will very shortly. It's becoming harder and harder to go with a Mac blindly anymore."

And regardless of their platform preferences today, tomorrow is anyone's guess. As Fallon's Jennifer Bremer puts it: "More and more, it's something we need to

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