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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Apple September Announcement Recap / Why you should switch to iPhone

Why You Should Switch to iPhone





Although it may seem small to the big bloggers, TechGeekJay has passed 25000 page views - it is a milestone.  As I pass that mark, Apple has released the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, respectively, a larger phone, and a tablet-phone (no I won't use that ph-word).  Here's a rundown of what Apple announced yesterday, and how I see it playing out.  If you don't have an iPhone, I have a list of reasons why, if you care about those reasons, you may want to switch.
  1. The new iPhones sport a host of technological improvements:
    • NFC (Near-Field Communications) offers radio-wave technology for nearby events.  Especially, this is to enable the new Apple Pay service.
    • Faster - crazy fast, apparently on the second generation A8 64-bit processor, there are twice as many transistors as on the A7, and it is smaller.  That is crazy.  And yes, more means a lot - more transistors in less space means better energy efficiency, faster processing, and more capabilities.
    • Better screen, what they now call HD Retina display.
    • More LTE antennas, means a lot of things.  First of all, it works with more carriers throughout the world, and second of all, they use new technologies like:
      • Faster throughput over existing LTE signals
      • VoLTE - If you are not familiar with how LTE worked before, it uses LTE for high-speed data communications, but your voice was sent over old 3G signals on the same cell tower.  This means on some carriers (namely Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile in the USA), you couldn't have simultaneous voice and data (can't talk while surfing), and it also means that 3G signals take up more energy than LTE to transmit/receive, so it uses up battery faster.  VoLTE means your voice conversations also take place over the LTE frequencies, so you can do more (yes, those of use with AT&T have been enjoying that for years), at a lower power consumption.
      • WiFi Calling - First with T-Mobile, and then with other carriers, this will revolutionize phone coverage for all of us.  Before, WiFi calling meant if you are on WiFi, and don't have a cell signal, you can make a call (with a calling app like Vonage, MagicJack, Skype, etc.) - but if you walk outside range of the WiFi, you're dropped.  Now, the new iPhone 6 uses a new technology to seamlessly transitions calls between Cellular and WiFi, using whatever is available to provide uninterrupted service.
    • Apple Pay - Lots of people have been touting NFC as a means of paying by waving a device at the cash register.  However, that does not address fundamental issues with the way people pay now, namely security and authentication.  In true Apple fashion, they have rethought (rethunk?) the process from the ground up - and come up with a secure rework of the entire Credit/Debit Card system, and put electronic payments into that framework (of course, with AmEx, Visa and MasterCard on board, plus a whole list of major retailers).  Let me run down why this is so revolutionary, because it may not be obvious at first:
      • First, is the card number.  This is one critical piece, if thieves have, they have a huge first step in being able to use your payment method.  Apple Pay does not use your card number, in fact it is not stored in the phone, nor is it transmitted to merchants for payment.  How do they do this then?  They create unique, dynamic transaction information that is unique for each transaction, so even if thieves do get ahold of those numbers, they can't do anything with them.
      • Security code, again is a thing of the past.
      • Magnetic Strip - as Tim Cook said, is 50-year-old technology, and prone to all kinds of issues.  Gone.
      • Name - another key thing thieves want, is the cardholder's name.  This is also not shared with the merchant at the time of purchase, so your privacy is protected.
      • Authorization - in order to authorize the payment, you scan your fingerprint.  Even if someone does steal your phone, they won't be able to pay with it.  And remember, your card information isn't even directly on the phone.  What is on the phone, is stored encrypted in a special chip that is segregated from the rest.
      • In order to register your card with your phone, you have to scan it, then go to the issuing bank and have them signify that you are the cardholder.  So, even a lost card cannot be scanned and used in this way.
  2. iOS 8
    • iOS 8 is the new mobile operating system.  To say that it sports a list of x00 new features is meaningless.  i-Device users know that iOS 7 was a huge, major rework.  Normal users won't notice this for a while, but I would argue that iOS 8 is a huger majorer rework!  But that rework is under the hood - imagine if you will, if you buy a new car that looks a lot like last year's car, but it has a completely redesigned engine and transmission.  That's iOS 8.
    • What's so new and groundbreaking?  Most if it is targeted at developers:
      • Extensions.  This allows developers to write custom apps that are not just apps, but extend what your device can do.  Custom keyboards, custom notifications (including interaction within the notification), custom file targets (new destinations you can copy files to), photo editing extensions, and more - these mean developers can develop custom plug-ins to extend the built-in functionality of typing, editing photos, saving files, and more.  This is not at all new - Android has had it, and other systems.  However, the way Apple does it is secure, and most importantly secures your privacy.  You can use these Extensions and prevent them from unauthorized access to your private information - in fact, the keyboard extensions don't have access to what you type, so they can't log passwords or sensitive information - and you can restrict their access to the Internet so they can't send data back to a site.
      • Opt-Out of Group Chat.  This, alone, if I were to single out any feature, makes upgrading to iOS 8 worth it.  But not only that, you can set a chat group on do-not-disturb, opt out completely, create a group from the chat, and send text messages to a group.  The chat interface has been redesigned, so there is a Details button now, that gives you an overview of all media in the chat - at a glance, you can see all photos, sounds, etc. in the conversation, and interact with them.
      • Chat cleanup - you know how your free space keeps going down?  Now, photos, sounds, videos, and all those large attachments people send you in Messages will go away after a while, unless you tap Keep.
      • Simple gadgets in Messages to record and send audio or video selfies.
      • Quick access to frequent contacts by double-tapping home button.
      • Interactive Notifications, so you can reply to text messages from your lock screen, remove notifications from the lock screen (so they don't keep buzzing you), and more.  Developers can write their own interactions as well.
      • A new Programming Language.  Apple has used "Objective-C" as the programming language to develop Mac and iOS apps for almost 30 years now.  They have spent the last few years taking modern language developments, and fashioned a new language, Swift, so that developers can quickly develop new apps quickly, reliably, and with whole new ways of developing that reduces development time while improving stability and reliability.  Having had exposure to about 15 different programming languages, and having worked with Swift for a month, this is hands down the best language I have ever worked with.
  3. Apple Watch
    • I have not worn a watch for many years, and would consider myself a non-watch-wearer, because I have no desire to wear one.  However, the integration of Apple Watch with the iPhone is epic, and the ability to use Apple Pay with the watch is truly astounding.  I want one.  I don't need one.
    • Again, not first to market - but BEST to market.  Apple took its time, looked at Pebble, Galaxy Gear, and others, and noted what worked, what didn't work - and what needed to work together.  They have made a smart watch that I actually want for once.
    • With Watch Kit (the developer offering) coming out, the Watch can only get better.
    • Some people wanted round faces - I'm sure that's coming, but hey, this is a first go-round.  The fact that you can swap out options and accessories means you can customize your own watch with ease, and probably never see another one just like it in your life.

My Take

  • Extensability
    • I see this as providing a long-term growth accelerator.  There will be, in the next year or two, an explosion in capability within the Apple universe (yes, like there wasn't already!).
    • Coupled with Swift, we will also see a new class of app developers who can pick it up more easily.
  • Apple Pay
    • Just what we needed!  Don't just do NFC payments, but rethink it - because my jitters over the past few years when people talk about Apple doing NFC payments are solely around having someone standing next to you, with a NFC scanner, while you pay for something - and if they hadn't rethought it, it would have been Identity Theft Heaven (or ITH).  I see this, more than anything, revolutionizing the antiquated credit/debit card system.
  •  Big Phones
    • Apple now has entered the large phone market - and with a bang.  Haven't I said before, they are not the first to market, but the best to market?  This will eat into Samsung and HTC sales.
  • Apple Watch

Why Should You Switch to iPhone?

If you care about any of the following aspects, I believe this is why you should switch:
  • Virus and Malware Protection - Apple has achieved massive percentages of in-use devices on the latest updates, and this is so important.
  • Security and Privacy - although many of us are cynical in this day and age, we are more and more vulnerable to surveillance and identity theft than ever before.  Apple has done more than any one company (or any 10) to fight that - with hardware security, a closed and monitored app environment, and thought out every last detail of everything they enter into.  If you care about your credit cards - transition to this form of mobile payments.
  • Digital Interoperability - almost everything in life nowadays works with Apple devices - including light bulbs, appliances, sprinkler systems, door locks, cars, appliances, and more.  But that aside, if you do give in and buy Apple TV, Airport Time Capsule, Mac computers, and more - it all works seamlessly to provide a robust and modern vision of digital life, one that enhances your lifestyle and enables you to more efficiently accomplish your pursuits.
  • Phone Size - if you are one of those tablet/phone combo people, you no longer have that to complain about.  Get the 6 Plus.  Me, I'm sticking with a more reasonable 6, going on order tomorrow.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Yet Another Apple Product Par Excellence

As you might have noticed, I have become a raving fan of Apple's products (no, really!).  Recently, I purchased a new genre of product from them - the Airport Time Capsule.  This is a WiFi router that has a hard drive built into it, to support network backups.  The Airport boasts the following features:
  • 802.11ac standard, which runs from 433 Mbps up to 2.6 Gbps (this is 1.5x to almost 9x as fast as 802.11n standard)
  • Dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz
  • Optional Guest network (allows friends to come over and use WiFi, without having access to your computers and private systems)
  • Gigabit Ethernet wire ports
Now, as great as that all is, we are talking $299 for an ac router and 2TB backup drive.  I spent $80 for my D-Link DIR-826L, which is the same thing but 802.11n and minus the 2TB hard drive.  This actually is quite reasonable, considering it is a premium brand and current technology - but how does it stack up?

D-Link

This Airport router is replacing a D-Link DIR-826L, which is also a dual-band router (albeit 802.11n), with gigabit network ports.  Initially, I really liked the D-Link, but found the configuration pages very confusing.  I was also not impressed with their choice of Microsoft ASP.NET as a web GUI configuration platform - and suspect that played into the problems I experienced.  First off, there were a million configuration options.  Having that flexibility is nice on one level, but I found myself having to dig through many screens just to get to the configuration I wanted.  That also means a lot of trial-and-error, and constant reboots to have the new settings take effect.  After downloading firmware updates, and spending weeks on the D-Link forum, I eventually gave up what I was trying to do - bridge to my AT&T network so that my devices using the faster WiFi and media network could also communicate with my TV devices.  I also had trouble routing VPN traffic through the D-Link to my server, and it had replaced a Linksys router that worked great at that.

Second, the performance on the router admin page was atrocious - very slow.

Worse, after a couple of months I noticed that the D-Link router would only stay operational for a few weeks, maybe up to 2 months max - then it would just stop working.  Devices would connect, get IP addresses, but no Internet was available - until I rebooted the router.  There was no automatic scheduled reboot function available, and D-Link support could offer no better solution.  After 18 months of constantly rebooting the router after sudden Internet outages, I finally gave up.

Airport Time Capsule

In true Apple fashion, the Airport router way exceeded my expectations.  And, I was expecting it to behave very well indeed!  Installation was of course easy (how hard is it to plug cords in?), but the configuration was done through a utility built into the Mac operating system.  It seriously could not have been easier - and within 5 minutes I had my personal and guest WiFi set up, bridged to the AT&T network, and running at blazing speeds (all my devices are still n, but ac are coming soon -- boy do I hope the iPhone 6 has ac!).

Note that you must have a Mac or Apple mobile device to configure your Airport product - there is no generic web interface to configure it.  This may be a negative for some people, but I find it reassuringly secure, and greatly simplifies configuration.  Plus, you should switch to a Mac anyhow.

After running for a few weeks now, I am amazed by several things.  First, multiple devices from multiple vendors - Samsung, Roku, Microsoft, Lenovo, HP, as well as Apple just connect to the Airport WiFi quickly, and IP address allocation (via my AT&T router) is also snappy - much faster than the D-Link.

Second, performance.  About 2-3 times a week, I check SpeedTest.net for my home network performance - a habit I get into, especially when I find a slow web site.  Typically it has been about 12-16 Mbps, with peaks around 18 Mbps (on a service of 18 Mbps).  I have no idea how, but while connected to my Airport router this week, I have noticed speeds up to 24 Mbps - exceeding the bandwidth that I pay for.  I don't know if the bridging as opposed to NAT gives me a speed boost (as I suspect), but definitely life with the Airport router is really nice.

Cloud Drive

One reason why my routers must have a Gigabit Ethernet port, is that I bought about the same time as the D-Link, a Western Digital MyBook Live cloud drive.  This has a Gigabit Ethernet port, and hosts my video library.  Thus, I want streaming from the drive to be fast within my house, and not bottlenecked when we watch shows on 2 Apple TV's and an iPad at the same time (which we often do).  We also use the MyBook Live as a second backup drive (it supports Apple AFP protocol, and Time Machine backups natively).  So, we have redundancy in our backups of 5 computers, and lots of storage space for all those audio and video files.

As opposed to a cloud service (like Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, Apple iCloud Drive, DropBox, and more), a Cloud Drive gives you access to storage, but on hardware that you buy, own, and set up somewhere.  My WD drive is 2TB, so I have it partitioned into 800 GB for Apple Time Machine backup, and 1.2 TB for media (video/audio library).  I can access the cloud drive via an app on my mobile devices or computer from anywhere in the world, and from home I simply load the media into iTunes on a computer and share it, to watch from a computer, mobile device, or Apple TV.  For a price of $130 almost 2 years ago, 2TB is very nice.  And, I don't have to worry about anyone hacking into it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Get Ready for New Apples ("Wish We Could Say more")

As Fall rolls around, it is Apple season in Michigan.  That means, not only do we get a new batch of delicious fruit for our pantries (2014 is a bumper crop year - and the cider mills are always busy), but we also get a new set of electronics for our digital life (from Apple, Inc. of course).  In case you like Apple products, but aren't a big enough fan to follow all the rumor mills and blogs, here's a quick rundown of what's up:
  • Tuesday September 9 at 10:00 AM PST (1:00 PM EST), Apple is having a special media event - a.k.a. the iPhone announcements.
    • This event will be live broadcast on a special Apple Events channel on your Apple TV.
    • You should also be able to watch the live stream on Apple's web site.
  • Software Update to iOS 8 offers these major improvements, plus much more:
    •  Silence / Unjoin Group Chats in the Messages app
    • Instant access to Favorites and Recent contacts from anywhere on the phone with double-tap Home button
    • Instant record-and-send of selfies, voice messages, and videos from the Messages app
    • HomeKit allows developers to use standard Apple programming modules to develop their own apps to integrate with home automation devices (garage door openers, appliances, door locks, cameras, etc.)
    • Health app - Just like the Passbook where you store tickets and passes in one place on your device, you can now store personal health-related information in one place
    • HealthKit allows developers to use standard Apple programming modules to store and retrieve personal health data from your Health app, so health apps can better integrate with Health app
    • Extensions - Developers can now develop custom apps that not only provide you an app, but extend built-in functionality on your phone.  Custom keyboards, custom Photo app plug-ins, and more are now possible - but in typical Apple fashion, they have thought this through completely, with your data privacy and device security foremost.  This means that these extensions cannot in any way take over your device and perform malicious things.
    • Predictive Text - Again, in typical Apple fashion, they have re-invented predictive text typing.  All other devices, as you type a few letters, it guesses what you want to type based on the letters.  With Apple, you don't even have to type.  It learns from your history of typing, and even whether you are typing in the Messages app versus the Mail app, and to whom you address your messages, as well as word you have typed previously in the sentence - to accurately predict some follow-on word suggestions.  This gives you adaptive predictions for business versus personal conversations, in context of whether you are typing a short text message or an e-mail.
    • Continuity uses a set of features called Handoff that transfer your digital life between Apple mobile devices and your Mac computers.  You can start and pick up e-mail composition, document editing, phone calls, and more between your Apple devices (all supported by the new OS X Yosemite due for public release this fall).
  • Rumors have abounded, and many "news leaks" have abounded as well showing parts from the new device lineup, so many of these rumors are based on some basis in reality.
  • Apple should announce at least 1, if not 2 (or more) new iPhones with the iPhone 6 line.  The following features are expected:
    • Larger screen size options - it is probable the same iPhone 5 size will continue, but also at least one larger option.
    • Apple has signed partnerships recently with American Express and Visa/Mastercard, and so mobile payments via Near Field Communication (NFC) are expected to be included in the phones.
    • Better battery life is pretty much a given, as they constantly improve year over year.
    • More RAM (as you know, in computers your working memory size gives you your speed, so more is better) - this is not your flash storage, but how much memory the phone has to work with while booted.
  • Although this has been a tightly held secret, for years now analysts have expected Apple to enter the so-called "wearables" market (although they already are in it with the iPod Nanos), with a much-rumored iWatch.
    • The iWatch is speculated to be considered at the $400 price point.
    • It is rumored to show you notifications from your phone, like incoming messages, phone calls, etc. and may also have health monitors to integrate to the Health app (pulse, blood pressure, pulseox, etc.)
  • Persistent rumors throughout the years that Apple will release a new line of Televisions are probably false, as there seems to be no basis in reality that they are ramping up production.

Friday, August 8, 2014

LinkedIn Skill Endorsement Etiquette

Users of the popular business social networking site LinkedIn have made use of a popular feature called Endorsed Skills.  Members can list what skills they have, using their own terms - and as you type, popular terms entered by others appear so that you can use the same terminology across multiple people.

Then, people who know you can endorse you for your skills - that is to say, they are signing their name to the fact that you exhibit that skill, by their endorsement.  Of course, nothing in LinkedIn can determine if the endorsement is genuine, whether the endorser really does know if the endorsee has that skill.

So I have noticed an interesting phenomenon with my account.  I have listed the various skills and areas of knowledge that I have acquired in my career.  Many of my colleagues, friends, and family have endorsed me for those skills that they have seen exhibited.  I personally have endorsed many people for many of their skills - but I only endorse skills for people whom I know, and only those skills that I personally know about.  However, I also see complete strangers with whom I connect and establish a rapport, endorse me for skills which I know for sure they have no idea whether or not I truly exhibit.

If this were a single person doing it, I wouldn't be so intrigued.  However, I see many people who are not acquaintances at all, with whom I connected only on LinkedIn, do it.  Also, if they had done it once, again I would not be so intrigued - when using LinkedIn, it gives you a section of the news feed where you can endorse skills for people with whom you are connected.  Maybe they just accidentally clicked it.  But it occurs over and over again, so some stranger continues to endorse me for skills, presumably for which he is prompted to endorse.

And I wonder, why is that?  If, say, a prospective employer were calling you to interview about a colleague who is a prospective employee, and asked you if that employee exhibited skills about which the you had no idea - as an interviewee, what would you answer?  "Yes, he is great at that?"  Or "I don't know, I didn't work with him on that?"  I think the latter.  So how is it different in the online social media?  What is it that has us think it is OK to blindly endorse a skill for which you have no idea if that person really has it, or even more, if you don't even know the person but just "friended" them out of business networking convenience?  Is there something about the "online universe" that social norms about behavior, rights, and wrongs don't apply, or apply differently from our "offline universe?"  Does it occur that a simple click with a meaning, is different from actually saying something with the same meaning?  If so, why?

How many of you have done this, or some analog of this kind of action online vs. offline?  What were you thinking when you did it, or what occurred to you as you clicked?

How many of you have had this done to you?  How does it come off?  Are you bothered by the disingenuous nature of the endorsement?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Power User: Controlling multiple computers from one

Many of us have gotten used to having multiple monitors on your computer - simply drag your mouse off the edge of one screen and onto the other.  Administrators have for years been using "KVM" switches - Keyboard/Video/Mouse switches - to share keyboards and mice across computers.

However, the day finally arrived I have been dreading for years.  The little monitor I've had on my desktop for some 15 years finally died - and I no longer had an external monitor.  So, in searching for a solution that would allow me to use another computer across the network as a monitor, I came across a free, open-source utility called Synergy, that basically makes multiple computers behave like a single one with multiple monitors.  The most beautiful things about this software, are:
  • It works across platform - Windows, Mac and Linux
  • It supports clipboards - so I spent several hours today taking screen shots with Snag-It on a Windows machine, and pasting into Word on the Mac
  • It is fast and reliable
  • A simple setup dialog allows you to control the screen positions (e.g. dragging off the right edge of WIN001 goes to MAC005)
The machine you want to use the keyboard and mouse on, you set up as the server (check Server and then Start).  The others are clients.  You must add each machine by name to the server before you try to connect from it, this provides a bit of security for you.

The project is free and open source, but if you do end up using it, I highly recommend that you donate to support the software.

I did find a commercial utility that allows you to use another Windows PC as a monitor, but that to me seems wasteful - and I do not want more than one Windows machine at home.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Family Dinner: Tradition or History?


Ok, not really a geeky subject, unless you count it under food geek. So I read this story on NPR a while back (with the title of this post), and wondered if perhaps Allison Aubrey is perhaps living in a circle of what I call convenience lifers, or am I living in my own cushy bubble of food geeks? Our family is near one end of the extreme: we actually grow our own food, buy most of it from local farmers, and the food we eat is almost entirely made from scratch with natural raw ingredients (the most complex ingredient in some of our dishes is ketchup - Organic, of course).

True, we know a few people who never cook, or whose idea of cooking is to heat up frozen dishes. However, it seems without having an actual survey, that most of the friends, family, and neighbors cook and eat at least some meals at home. At our house, it is a rare evening that not all 6 of us is at the table for dinner. And we are a busy family. In fact, the busier we are, the more important it is to take the time and prepare meals (and eat them together). 

My wife Lisa often teaches classes on cooking, including the organization and planning of it. With our lifestyle, our meats are bought in quantity and frozen, so we have to plan ahead (and make fewer trips to the store for them). On very busy weeks, we have our "fast food": dishes that are done ahead or quick to cook, that we can hear up from the freezer -- or cook in the crock pot so we can leave them unattended for long periods of time. 

So if this is truly a bygone ideal, then I say that family and cultural traditions are also bygone ideals, and we may as well live like a pack of individual animals.  How about you?  Do you live a modern life of total convenience, where you have become separated from how and where your food is grown, when it is in season, even don't care about the ingredients?  Or are you the veritable pioneer, living off the land, suspicious of any store-bought foods?  Or somewhere in between?   Do you think that social values are disintegrating in this age of convenience and technology?  Or do you strive to make it more relevant?  Respond in the comments below.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How Good Is Your Backup?

I have covered this before, but it's so important, it's worth talking about again.  I am only addressing this article to any who use a computing device - computer, notebook, tablet, smart phone.  If you don't use any of these things, you can ignore this article!

I cannot for the life of me understand how it is that people put up with mediocrity.  If someone cuts your lawn, and they forget to trim, or leave wisps of long grass because they miss parts as they criss-cross, do you keep them on?  If someone cleans your home and doesn't do the fans, window sills, or corners - do you let them come week after week?  Heck no for me!  So if someone wants me to buy or download their Operating System, why would I even consider it if they don't provide me an easy way to back up my data?  Let's take a look at Windows and Mac.

Backups

What should a backup be?  In order to understand that, we need to understand how computers work.  And let me be clear, everything that requires electrical signals nowadays is a computer - from your smart watch to your phone and tablet.  Computers have 2 types of storage - a working set of more expensive memory, that can only hold contents while powered (this is called RAM or Random Access Memory), and longer-term memory for storage of data while it is powered off (typically non-volatile Flash RAM or hard disks).  Let's call the long-term storage a hard disk, for simplicity's sake.

The hard disk stores basically 3 types of files on it, which are used by the system.
  • Operating System files - these are data files, programs, and the like that run your device.  Without it, you have a very elaborate brick.  These may also contain configuration settings that are modified as you tweak the system to your preferences.
  • Program, or app, files - these are programs that you may add, and all the configuration and resource files they use to run and do their thing.
  • Data Files - these are what typically people think of when they think "backup" - your music, photos, documents, etc. that you download, share, create.
Now, in a well-organized system, these files should be segregated into 3 distinct locations.  Why?  Well, if you have 3 people living in the same house, and no drawers to keep their stuff - they can throw their things all over the place.  How do you know whose is whose?  Whose underwear is that?  Whose toothbrush?  Yeah, you don't want to share some things.

Organized systems means it is easy to back up.  Also, it means it is easy to restore - and restore to a different version of the Operating System, to some degree.

Now let's address another important aspect of backing up.  When you back up electronic data, you back it up (typically) to another electronic system - usually another hard drive, could be a tape or something.  This electronic system is susceptible to failure, or some kind of disaster that affects an area like your home or office could affect both the system you care about and the backup system that has its back.  So off-site backup is important as well.

However, here I would say is the great equalizer.  Offsite backup is typically handled by a service, in which case they support Mac and Windows equally.  What wins here is ease of backup, so the more organized your files are, the easier it is to include the right ones to incorporate a full backup.

Restore

From a professional standpoint, I have advised dozens of clients over decades that making a backup is great, but it is completely useless unless you actually restore it and make sure it works.  If a backup is not restorable, it is a false sense of security.

Any backup that you do perform, you should immediately perform a Restore to make sure it works.  Best, is to restore to a fresh system - so wipe the system, and restore - and see exactly the results of the restoration.  Did it get you everything you expected?  Was the backup complete?

Windows

Is this a rant?  You decide.  Let's take a look at the 3 types of files.  Windows is an Operating System.  As such, it keeps its files in the Windows folder (e.g. C:\Windows).  Under there are a whole mess of things - from the Windows Heap, Registry, Global Assembly Cache, to Windows system programs and configuration files.  But wait, some things are under C:\Program Files.  And if you are on a 64-bit Windows, some things are under C:\Program Files(x86).  Confused yet?  Wait, it gets better.

When you install a program, let's say you install it to C:\Program Files.  Your program goes there (the EXE file) and a bunch of resource files - but many settings get written to the Registry and loaded into the Heap, which is managed by Windows (yeah, what a heap).  Many are copied to the Global Assembly Cache, or other Windows system folders.  So, if you want to copy your program from one computer to another, it is practically impossible to just copy the Program Files folder, and have that work.  Good to keep people from illegally copying your program if you are a developer, but bad for backup.  And, there are better ways to prevent software piracy.

So, how do you back up a Windows machine?  Let's start with the Windows Backup, that brilliant utility that comes with your system, and lets you back up.  First, it prompts you where to put your backups.  This, it says, is where it is going to put the system image.  What is a system image?  A complete backup of your entire hard disk - everything.  This is great if, say, your hard drive takes a dump, and you have to buy a new one, and restore everything.  This really sucks if you say, buy a new computer, and want to transfer everything.  Because the entire hard drive - including the Windows system folder containing all the drivers specially loaded and configured for your hardware - will be transferred to the new system, where they almost assuredly won't work.  Not to mention that a system backup takes up a massive amount of space (good thing I didn't mention it, eh?).

So where do your little data files fit in?  Sure, you can back them up.  And this is good if you lose a file, but it doesn't take care of the important things in life.  How and when do your backups get initiated?  Do you start them manually?  Hopefully you remember.  Do they go nightly?  What happens if you lose something at 5PM after a whole day's work?  Now here's where it gets really insidious that they are so shortsighted.  You know where I talk about all those configuration files spread throughout the system, some for the app, some for Windows - all over?  Those, I would argue, are just as important as the apps to how you use your system.  Things like what printers you have set up, what passwords your system remembers, to all the little tweaks on where you put your task bar, gadgets, and colors and more.  It takes hours and days to restore a "restored" backup to all these little preferences, and you will never get them back if you have to restore a partial backup.

True, you can take a full system image.  True, Windows is better than it was - you can restore the image to different hardware, and let it go through its redetection to fix all the drivers to the new hardware.  However, this is a hack, and not a robust, well thought out solution.

More importantly, how would one go about getting a good backup?  That, to me, is the mystery here.  The tangled mess of files strewn throughout the file system is the first problem.  Let's cut to the chase - the only thing you can reasonably expect to reliably back up in Windows, are your personal data files.  These are, after all, the most priceless part of it.  Apps you can struggle with re-entering license keys, trying to get the vendor to issue you new ones, or just give up and buy it again.  Personal preferences, just give it up - you are going to have to start over each and every time you restore your system from anything other than a system image.  You get what you pay for.


OS X (aka Mac)

Let's contrast a disorganized, eclectic mess with a well-organized, streamlined symphony.  In OS X (and iOS for mobile devices), Apple has organized everything with strict respect to the purpose of the file.  An app, in fact, is a bundled "zip" file containing all the files the app needs to run inside it - the binary EXE, DLL's, text and image and other resource files, and more.  So installing an app is simply dragging and dropping it into the Applications folder.  Deleting it, simply removing it.  Configuration files are kept in well-defined system and user locations.  So too with data files.  This makes it easy to back up.

More importantly, you can back these up irrespective of what version of the OS you have.  You can restore forward and back, with some limitations - of course, config files may not be able to go back to an older OS.  All kinds of preferences - your keychain (where it keeps your stored user names and passwords), printers, graphical tweaks, sounds, etc. are included with the backup.

The Time Machine software that comes with OS X is designed to work the way people work - and the way problems occur (and the way people realize the problem occurred).  It takes hourly backups of all changed files - in the background, as you work.  If you realize suddenly you have an issue with a file, you can scroll backwards in time to find the right version of the file, and restore it.  All from your desktop.  (Specifically, hourly for 24 hours, and daily for a week, then weekly as backup space permits.)

Every aspect of what you consider "yours" is backed up, so that when you restore, your computer is precisely back to the way it was before the problem.  And, it does so as a series of changed files - you don't have to take an entire system image.  Remember, that system image includes a complete backup of the operating system, which you don't need to back up.  That is already backed up on the Recovery Volume.

I personally have done a few system restores from Time Machine backup, and let me tell you, they are so easy and complete I am left wondering why anyone puts up with anything else.  And file-by-file restore is amazing, it is so easy to flip back through time in folders and restore specific files.

Mobile Devices

Yes, as you can guess - what am I going to talk about here?  If you have a Windows phone, you already know what you're in for - more of the same as above.  A mess.  But what if you have an Android phone? Surely they have thought of this more than Microsoft?  Well, you can throw that idea out the window - backups are just as fragmented, incomplete, and haphazard as Windows.  They rely on you to know what files you want to back up - and believe me, on a mobile device that is even more difficult than on a full PC.

Which brings me around to Apple.  Yet again, they have you covered.  If you synch with iTunes on a PC, it backs up a complete backup of all your files (minus the OS), so that you can do a complete restore of a lost or damaged device.  I myself have done this dozens of times (transfer to a new device, or re-stage the device I used for iOS beta testing).  It is absolutely 100% complete and reliable.

But then they go you one better.  If you go to your iCloud settings, with the flip of one switch, you can turn on iCloud backups - which backs up all your personal data (not app/music/etc. purchases which are already on record anyhow through iTunes) automatically, in the background, over the air.  You are 100% covered, 100% of all your data, without having to think about it or spend your precious hours on it - over and over and over like those manual operating systems.  I mean, come on, is this the 1990's or something?

So, if all you ever care about is your contacts and e-mails - then you don't have to worry about backup if you use cloud-based services.  But, if you do anything else with your computer - use apps, pass files around - you can guess where I prefer to be.  Where I don't have to pay to buy backup software, where I don't have to worry because it's covered.

Conclusion

I'm not even going to say anything at this point - you can draw your own conclusion.  Are you willing to put up with mediocrity, or do you value yourself, your time, your piece of mind, and your data better than that?  It is hard to bring a system to market, and kudos to Google, Microsoft, and others who have done so, successfully.  But what I am saying here, is from a consumer's standpoint - the company who goes the extra mile, who gives a complete thought to every aspect of the product, who is organized, has a plan and executes it par excellence - that is the company whose product I will buy.  That is the one I will admire, support, and use.  Think about how important the data you manage with your computer is, and who has the system to best protect you.  The choice is clear.