MacFrugal, It's My Way or the iWay

by Kenneth Hess

Cover Your Assets: Is buying a Mac for your business frugal or frivolous?

Are you still struggling with the decision to stick with XP, Vista or wait for Windows 7? Have you actually considered Linux as an alternative to find peace on your desktop computer? Alas, there is yet another alternative: The Mac. No, seriously. Macs are no longer just for high-end graphics nerds, interior designers or deranged anti-Microsoft zealots — Macs are serious business machines.

Mac OS X (X is the Roman numeral for 10 — the latest version of the Mac OS) is a Unix-based (FreeBSD) system that melds the best of what Unix and Apple have to offer to you, the business user. Macs, historically known for their cool design, ease-of-use and productivity applications, are finding their place in conference rooms, airports, convention floors and office desks.

How can I possibly write about using Macs (also historically known for being pricey) in business when this is a technical column about frugality? The answer will surprise you. Macs are a frugal choice for your business although they are significantly more expensive than their Windows and Linux cousins are. How can spending two or three times the money for a Mac translate into a frugal business choice? The answer to that one will shock you, and it's not sticker shock.

It's true Macs aren't cheap to buy, but purchase price is only part of the story as you know from Is Linux Cheaper on the Desktop than Windows?" entry back in February. Several factors that affect price all boil down to total cost of ownership (TCO). TCO is the total amount of money you spend purchasing, supporting, fixing and upgrading your computer from acquisition to disposition.

For comparison, Dell 15" laptops range in cost from $520 up to $1,600 while the 15" MacBook Pro starts at $1,999. Dell 17" laptops range is $649 to $3,400 and the 17" MacBook Pro starts at $2,999. The MacBook Pro is more mobile at 6.6 pounds and just a hair under one inch thick and is made of lightweight durable aluminum instead of high impact plastic. The Dell XPS M1730 at about half the price of a 17" MacBook Pro weighs in at a whopping 10.6 pounds and is 2 inches thick. The new Mac batteries last up to 7 hours. Dell provides no equivalent battery life, but typical laptop battery life is approximately 2 hours.

What about the cost of support? If you own a Windows-based PC, you already know the answer to that. Ask a Mac user how much it costs to own his computer. Your answer will be in gadget currency (e.g., iPhones, iPods and cool software) instead of in support dollars (e.g., viruses, spyware or software problems). As most any Mac user will tell you, "Macs just work." No endless rebooting. No dependencies to resolve. No legacy this or compatibility mode that — they just work.

Having something that just works is smart spending. Not only do you save money on support costs with a Mac, but you also save countless hours of frustration and lost productivity while your computer reboots, downloads updates, freezes for no reason and collects viruses and spyware. How much has your computer cost you from acquisition to disposition? Did it ever just work like you wanted or expected it to? How difficult is it now to justify that Mac?
I'm not suggesting that you'll never spend a penny on support for your Mac but look in your local phone book's yellow pages. How many Windows support companies do you find compared to the number of those that support Macs?

There's also no need to worry about compatibility — most software available for Windows is also available for the Mac. For example, Mac users enjoyed Microsoft Office years before a Windows version existed. Of course, becoming MacFrugal has its downside, too. It takes away your excuses. Your productivity issues can't be blamed on "computer problems" anymore. You'll have to be more creative, and with a Mac, you can be.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

This article was originally published on Wednesday Apr 29th 2009
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