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Summary:

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer set the proverbial cat among the pigeons last week with his contention at the McGraw-Hill Companies’ Media Summit in New York that Mac buyers pay a $500 price premium for merely a designer logo. “Apple gained about one point, but now I […]

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer set the proverbial cat among the pigeons last week with his contention at the McGraw-Hill Companies’ Media Summit in New York that Mac buyers pay a $500 price premium for merely a designer logo.

“Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction,” Ballmer declaimed. “The economy is helpful. Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment — same piece of hardware — paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that’s a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be.”

Perhaps Mr. Ballmer actually believes the only substantive distinctions between Macs and Windows PCs are the logo and the price. It would be politically incorrect for him to say otherwise, since the Mac’s most profound superiority is that it runs Mac OS X instead of Microsoft’s Windows OS.

In that very important respect, the never-ending controversy over whether Macs are gratuitously more expensive than PCs is futile, being an Apples and, well, PCs comparison. It is true there’s great commonality on the hardware component side between Mac and PC CPUs these day, which of course begs the question: “What’s so special about a Mac anyway?”

There’s the cachet of the Apple brand of course, and I suppose that’s important to some, but not especially to this longtime Mac aficionado. I would rank Apple’s sublimely elegant aluminum chassis designs far higher than the logo, but for me the key to Mac desirability and superiority is the operating system. The Mac is not just another PC. Only Macs can (legally) run the Mac OS (plus Windows as well), and that is huge, because the OS is the main course of the Mac feast for many of us, who would and do pay an admittedly substantial price premium — if not happily, at least resignedly — in order to benefit from the manifold superiorities of the Mac OS.

PC World’s David Coursey observed this week that “Many people will happily pay $300 to not be subjected to Windows Vista…” As long as Apple continues (sensibly, in their interest) refusing to license the Mac OS, the argument is moot as far as many of us are concerned.

That doesn’t make us mindless “fanboys,” but rather connoisseurs of a more elegant and hassle-free computing experience with a low tolerance for aggravation, who just want to get our work done with a higher degree of enjoyability and efficiency. PC World’s Coursey, a cross-platform user himself, observes, as many others have, that Mac users tend to be more productive than Windows users “because they spend less time ‘messing’ with the computer and solving (or not) various Windows hassles,” adding that “In a business environment, this saving of staff time can offset the Mac premium so quickly it will make your head spin. Ease-of-use saves money,”

There are many ways to parse “expensive,” with up-front capital outlay being a rather simplistic one. The real value arbiters are TCO, total cost of ownership, combined with the quality of user-experience, and in those more-complex contexts, the Mac is the big winner.

For example, I’m typing this screed on an 9-year-old PowerBook Pismo running what was Apple’s current Mac OS version a year and a half ago (ie: OS 10.4.11 Tiger), and enjoying still satisfactory performance for the things I do with this computer. Try running Vista (which was the current Windows version when OS 10.4.11 was released) on a PC laptop built in early 2000.

I do have an up-to-date Mac laptop, a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo unibody MacBook with Nvidia GeForce 9400 graphics, and it’s great. I could have bought a similar-sized and powered Dell or Acer with a lot more RAM and hard drive capacity for a lot less, but I’m not complaining. The MacBook has a look and feel reminiscent of a fine Swiss watch, and runs the Mac OS, which are attributes that are difficult to monetize in a pricing abstract, but they do represent substantial value added, in my opinion.

In this economy, I can’t fault anyone for deciding a Windows PC is a better fit for their budget in straitened circumstances, but as long as I can manage to scrape together the up-front cost, I’ll be using Macs, satisfied that I’m receiving value for the deeper wallet-siphoning.

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  1. You get what you pay for. For a small premium you get superior quality, a great user experience, worry free computing, and a machine that is eay to administer and where things just work. On the other hand my PC friends are always having virus issues and are needing to hire support to manage their machine … in the end they pay much more than mac-buyers.

  2. The premium of adding Microsoft office should be noted – reduced on amazon.co.uk from£349.99 to £274- still extra money to shell out after purchasing the hardware, reducing the overall initial investment value.

    Plus the ease of use and the productivity that my mac provides and the pure enjoyment from using OSX is worth the extra pennies.

  3. I wish people would just stop with the “worry free” or “hassle free” computing experience with Macs. Like the author of the article said, it is a matter of up front cost. Macs are more expensive at the register, period. There is no debate on that front. After you leave the store is when the debate can be carried on. Also, there are a lot of quality FREE antivirus solutions for PCs like AVG, Avast, Antivir, etc. So, people can stop saying that antivirus protection is an added cost to PC users.

    I have always been a PC user but I bought my first Macbook (unibody aluminum 13″) for my wife for Christmas. Since then we are now on our third Macbook because of hardware problems. All you have to do is go to the Apple support forums and see there are thousands of people with issues. Not really hassle or worry free when I am consistently wondering if my hardware is going to fail.

    However, I really like my experience with OS X. OS X puts Vista to shame and the increase in productivity is real (for me and my wife). Having said all that, if I could use OS X on someone elses hardware I would.

    1. lol u got that right macs are a RIP off!!

  4. Yes, this debate *is* futile. It’s not that Macs don’t stand up to PCs at a given price point, it’s that there are several popular Windows system price points under $999, some of which do the job quite well, depending on your definition. Some people want their screen bigger/smaller, some people can’t live without a dedicated Delete key, some people just like having stuff festooned with stickers, switches, and lights. It’s all about choices — some for the better… some not.

  5. Another point to include that doesn’t always get mentioned is the margins each company uses.

    The reason Windows boxes are cheap is that the vendors are operating on razor thin margins, whereas Apple’s margin is about 32% on everything. That’s why the prices are “high” but also why Apple is able to offer better quality products and a better experience all around. It’s the same argument as taxes. European taxes are higher, but you get more government service as a result. In the USA you don’t pay as much tax, but you are pretty much on your own for everything.

    The thing about all this that is *NEVER* mentioned, …. Microsoft’s average margins on it’s products????

    82%

    While Apple’s margins are actually pretty standard retail margins, it is Microsoft that is robbing the customer blind, just because they can. If there was competition and Windows was priced at a market value with similar margins to other software sellers, it would be maybe a quarter of it’s current price.

  6. About a month ago, my Sony Vaio laptop’s motherboard fried on me after just 2 1/2 years. It always ran hot, as it had an Nvidia card in it, so im not surprised. I ran Ubuntu Linux on the computer and Ubuntu’s OS almost had me buying a new PC (Windoze certainly wasnt a selling point). However, my experience in trying to get my Sony fixed by Sony scared me away from PC’s forever. I ended up buying a new MacBook aluminum and I love it. It’s amazing that it has an nvidia card in it and yet it runs cool and quiet. Great engineering!

    I live in New York City, so it is great to have an Apple Store to go for tech support, rather than calling a stranger in India who knows nothing about computers.

    As for Linux, Im still using it on an old Dell Desktop and it does what Linux does best, speed up old hardware. To me, if Vista doesnt scare you away, the experience of having to trash a perfectly good computer after a short amount of time will certainly change people’s minds about buying “PC”. As someone said, you get what you pay for.

  7. “Macs are more expensive at the register, period. There is no debate on that front.”

    I will happily debate that point. I have a Mac because it was $2,200 less than a comparable Dell. If not for that initial price difference, my former boss (who had ascended to the company presidency via accounting) would never have approved it.

    Now… does this mean that the cheapest Mac out there isn’t more expensive than the cheapest Ms Windows–based PC? Of course not. There is *definitely* no debate, on that front. But if you want the same features, the Mac is virtually always less expensive, and as my own experience proves, often significantly so. (The fact that I’m still using the same computer, six years later, is just gravy.)

  8. The argument is pointless. The end solution is not Mac or PC; Windows or Mac OS. It is that system which best meets the user’s needs/requirements. I know many PC/Windows users that are now looking for Macs because of their experience with PCs and Windows. They found that in the long run PC/Windows machines didn’t meet their requirements. And to be fair, I’ve seen people that have moved from Macs to PCs for the same reason.

    If price was the only consideration we would all be using computers made from parts collected at the local swap meet running a free OS like Linux.

  9. @Cad

    I will agree with you that the argument that Macs are “hassle-” and “worry-free” is a bit exaggerated. Apple hardware is not perfect. However, I can say from personal experience that I’ve had less problems with my two Macs than I’ve had with any single PC I’ve owned in my life, and I’ve owned quite a few.

    As for the cost of an antivirus: it’s not just the price. Antiviruses use quite a bit of system resources to run as well. You are correct, though, to point out that the cost of software cannot be figured into the debate.

    For me, it’s OS X and it’s the hardware. My iMac and MacBook have given me no problems, and they feel much more solidly built than any non-Apple hardware I’ve owned.

  10. Jeff,
    I dont know what features you compare but i don’t see how a mac is ‘virtually always’ less expensive up front.

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