By Alan Deutschman

(FORTUNE Magazine) – A few words of polite advice to people who get really fired up by debates over the relative merits of PC operating systems: Get a life! All the mainstream choices -- the Mac, Windows, and even clunky old DOS -- are quite adequate for the rather mundane needs of most users.

After all, what do the huddled masses actually do with their ever-increasing computing power? Create 3-D virtual reality models of human embryos? Calculate the value of pi to 10,000 decimal places? Nope. According to the Software Publishers Association, by far the most popular applications are word processing and spreadsheets, the same as a decade ago. What's more, people tend to rely heavily on relatively few basic features of these bread-and- butter programs. The folks at Microsoft, who conduct painstaking research on how people use PCs, say that 70% of all documents churned out with word- processing software are one-page letters, memos, or simple reports. When we work with spreadsheets, 70% of the time all we want is for the software to add up numbers. Sure, techno-hipsters can do incredible things with today's PCs, like link them in powerful networks that reduce or eliminate the need for middle managers. But for most of us, PCs are merely typewriters and calculators on steroids. From this standpoint, there's not much difference between Windows machines and Macs. To be sure, the Mac's technical purity does pay off in little ways. For instance, the Mac lets you give your files long names (e.g., MY VIEW ON MAC VS. WINDOWS). Windows 3.1 allows file names of up to only eight characters, forcing users to invent cryptic abbreviations that are harder to remember (MYVUMCWN). Well, la-di-da. Anyway, Microsoft is expected to address this and Windows' few other remaining deficiencies with the release of Windows 4.0 next year. If Windows is really so inferior to the Mac, then why has Apple sunk millions into a lawsuit, now in its sixth year, claiming that Windows copied the Mac in virtually every conceivable way? Either Apple is right, and both systems look and feel pretty much the same, or Apple is wrong, in which case the company is trying to pull a fast one on the American judicial system in hopes of pummeling a competitor. I, for one, am shocked -- shocked! -- and morally outraged.

FOOTNOTE: You can reach Alan Deutschman electronically via America Online at DEUTSCHMAN.