Cost: Mac or PC? A Look at TCO!

I’ve owned Macs for about four years now. I use them daily. One of the biggest complaints I hear surrounding Macs is that they’re more expensive than their PC counterparts. This recent article in CIO examining total cost of ownership (TCO) for businesses using Macs left me wondering. For personal use, are Macs really that much more expensive than PCs, especially when factoring in TCO? Unfortunately, it’s not so black and white. Let’s look at some numbers.

For this little exercise, I’ve decided to compare sample TCO over a period of time (ie. 2 years) for a Mac and a PC. This includes the initial purchase cost, ongoing support costs, and software purchases. It does not include any personal time that you would need to devote to maintaining and managing the device, such as reinstalling the operating system, cleaning up unused applications, dealing with anti-virus software and configuration, and general troubleshooting tasks.

I’ve made my most valiant effort to present an unbiased view and have arguably given favor to the PC. It would have been easy to close the price gap much more quickly if I were to toss in a few not-so-easy to measure items, such as the likelihood that you’ll have to take your PC to a professional to have it saved. But I’m sticking with hard numbers; the stuff that’s easy to measure. Let’s get started.

The Initial Purchase

I picked two models, fairly equal in their capabilities – a Dell Inspiron 15 and a 15″ MacBook Pro. When purchasing the Dell, I had to configure it so it had specs equal to the Mac. Let’s look at purchasing and configuring the Mac first.

The MacBook Pro

The 15″ MacBook Pro we’re going to purchase comes already loaded, so we aren’t going to make many customizations to it. We’re going to go with the entry level model, which prices out at $1699. The general specs include a 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 duo processor with 4 GB of RAM. All we’re going to do is increase the hard drive to 320 GB, which adds $50 to the price, and purchase iWork, which adds $49 (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote). For those not familiar with iWork, this is what we’ll use on the Mac instead of Microsoft Office.

Total price for the MacBook Pro: $1798.00.

The Dell Inspiron 15

Keep in mind that the Inspiron is under Dell’s “Home” category. What this generally means is that it comes pre-loaded with a whole bunch of useless trial software that expires in either 30, 60, or 90 days. After that initial trial period, you’ll have to purchase a license to continue using it. For a business, you’d probably purchase the Latitude to avoid all of this unnecessary garbage. To keep the price down, I’m going to go with the Inspiron 15. See…told you I was giving favor to the PC!

To get a somewhat even comparison, I’m going to have to customize this thing to bring it up to equal specs as that of the Mac we’re going to purchase. The initial cost of the base machine is $499. But without any further customizations, that machine doesn’t offer much horsepower. First, I’ve got to add a Core 2 duo processor clocking in at 2.53 GHz. This adds $225 to the price.  We do need the wireless -N card, which adds $40. Why would this not be standard? Odd!

Next is Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, which adds $119. We need this if we want to create spreadsheets, documents, or presentations. I recognize I could have gone with OpenOffice, but I find that most people choose Microsoft Office, so that’s what I’m doing here. Since we’re running Windows, we need anti-virus software. With the Dell model, there’s an option to purchase a 36 month license of McAfee. I’m going to jump on that because it only adds $40 to the price.

At this point, we’re finished with the Dell. There are a few things we could have done to even out the playing field a bit more. For an additional $45, we could have upgraded to the 9-cell battery that would have given us up to 8 hours of battery life. Keep in mind the Mac has a battery that gives us about 7 hours. Additionally, the version of Microsoft Office we purchased doesn’t come with Outlook, so we’ll still need to find an e-mail client once we get our laptop. But I just couldn’t see spending another $160 to purchase the Small Business edition that comes equipped with Outlook. The Mac will have preinstalled for us, which is a nice e-mail client with Exchange integration. Already, the cost of software licensing is a sign of things to come that’s going to factor heavily into TCO.

Total price for the Dell: $883.

The Software

While these are each good machines, to get great things done requires software. Each of us have different needs surrounding the software we use, so I’ll offer up a few samples based on what I use. It won’t take long to get a clear understanding of the significant impact this has on TCO. Choose your own software stack, and see how it adds up. Then, let me know if you’re findings are consistent with mine.

First, I want to purchase software that allows me to create some nice drawings. For the Mac, I’m going to purchase OmniGraffle, which comes in two versions, standard ($99.95) and professional ($199.95). For Windows, Visio is a good option, which also comes in two different versions, standard ($259.95) and professional ($559.95). Let’s go the cheaper route on each. This brings the total price for the Mac to $1897.95 and the price of the Dell to $1082.95. Note: If I had purchased the professional version of each, the TCO at this point would be 1997.95 and 1382.95, respectively.

Next, I want some screen capture software so I can create some short training videos for online publication. For this, we’ll use Camtasia. The Mac edition of Camtasia prices out at $99.00, and the Windows version comes in at a rather lofty $299.00. TCO for the Mac is now at $1996.95 and the Dell is at $1381.95.

See a pattern developing here yet?

Keeping this post at a reasonable length, I’m only going to make one more purchase. At some point throughout my time as owner of one of these wonderful products, it’s likely that a new version of an operating system is going to arrive. And I’m going to want to upgrade. When Snow Leopard for Mac hit the market, the cost to upgrade was a paltry $9.95. Alternatively, the price to upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium comes in around $119.95. In fact, a full license of Snow Leopard is only $29.95. A full license of Windows 7 Home Premium? $199.99! Again, the pattern is developing. TCO for the Mac is now $2006.90, while the Dell is at $1501.90.

Additional Analysis

At this point, the Mac is still slightly more expensive. But an initial price difference of $1200 was quickly dwindled down to just over $500 by the time we were finished. Clearly, the stark difference in the initial price is quite different from TCO. I could easily keep going, purchasing software that I want and need, and each time find that the Mac edition of the software comes in priced far below the Windows version. But I think I’ve illustrated the pattern here. The cost of software for Windows is more expensive than corresponding software for the Mac, and throughout the lifetime of ownership, TCO for Windows will approach, if not exceed, that of the Mac. For instance, Apple offers the option of purchasing a 5-license family pack of iWork for a mere $20 more than a single copy. A 5-license copy of Office is going to be quite expensive ($595).

Additionally, I have not broached the subject surrounding the time you’ll spend maintaining the Windows machine to keep it running smoothly. In four years on a Mac, I haven’t devoted any effort to tuning the machine for performance. It just works. After about six months on a Windows machine, I find that I’m always tinkering with it to maintain optimal performance. Since I can’t put an accurate price tag on this, I haven’t discussed it. But it is significant. Ok, I’m a little biased here, aren’t I?

Finally, I could have gone with the 13″ MacBook Pro with the exact same specs (just a smaller display) as the Inspiron 15 for an entry price of $1448.00. And the 13″ Mac is a great machine. After purchasing the software I want, the price for the 13″ Mac comes to 1656.90. That’s only $155.00 more for the Mac!

The Clear Winner Is…

The winner…you decide! All too often we compare Mac and PCs based on initial cost, failing to factor in the longer term TCO. When comparing Apples-to-Apples (errr…I mean PCs) though, the difference isn’t as stark. If you want a low end machine with a short lifespan, Dell (and many other PC manufacturers using Windows) offer this, including their line of netbooks.

It is possible to purchase a Dell for under $500. But remember, you get what you pay for. And side-by-side, machines of equal horsepower and capability are going to result in similarly equal TCO. By the time you spec out the machines evenly, and factor in TCO, the price of a Mac is arguably equal too, if not less than, that of a Windows PC. Either way, I know what my choice is!

Mac Migration

Yeah…check out that battery life. That’s not 7 minutes and 26 seconds, that’s 7 hours and 26 minutes. Last weekend, I migrated to a new MacBook Pro.

Starting the Migration

Before migrating, I had some questions on the migration options. I knew about the OS X Migration Assistant, but I also create daily backups to a Super Duper drive. From a reliable source, I found that I should be able to simply restore my new MBP from the backup of my old MBP. He’d done it and was up and running in about an hour. But I was still a tad skeptical, since the old MBP I was using was built atop older hardware and I’m assuming had to have different drivers. Specifically, it was a 2.0 GHz Core Duo with 2GB RAM, but without the multi-touch trackpad found on the new machine. For reference, the new MBP is 2.53 GHz Core 2 Duo with 4 GB of RAM. Both were of the 15″ variety. I just wasn’t confident about compatibility between these two machines with such different birth dates.

I started by setting up the new MBP, but chose not to run Migration Assistant. Instead, I figured I’d try booting my new MBP from the Super Duper drive. If that worked, I’d use the Super Duper drive to setup my new MBP. If not, I’d run the Migration Assistant. I’d booted my old MBP by simply holding down the option key upon startup, and then selecting the drive I wanted to boot from. Upon trying this with my new MBP, the only bootable disk presented to me was the MBP hard drive. This concerned me, and I couldn’t bring myself to try restoring from the Super Duper drive. If I couldn’t get it to boot from the Super Duper drive, would restoring cause similar issues when booting? I was concerned, so I opted (ie. chickend out) to use the Migration Assistant. Here’s that story.

Migration Assistant – Pass 1

As I mentioned, I chose to setup my new MBP while foregoing the option to run Migration Assistant at the same time as setup. This was a mistake. Once I setup the new user account on my new MBP, use of the Migration Assistant was problematic. It worked, just not the way I wanted it to. If I wanted all of my preferences, applications, settings, and data, I needed to copy the user account of my old MBP. Unfortunately, I couldn’t copy that on top of my new user account I had just setup on the new MBP. At least, I didn’t know how. Instead, the Migration Assistant created a new user that represented my old MBP account. That’s not what I wanted. I wasn’t really sure how to merge two user accounts, and since this was a new machine, I didn’t want a hack right out of the box. So I decided it was time to start from square one.

Installing OS X

I pulled out the OS X install disk, and did an Erase and Install of OS X on my new MBP. This took about an hour and put me back into the factory default settings so that when I turned on the machine, it’d walk me through the setup again. Bingo. Worked like a charm. Now, when booting my new MBP, I selected that the option to transfer files while performing the first time setup. Because it asks to do this before setting up any user accounts on the new machine, I figured it would just clone my old MBP onto my new MBP. And it did.

Migration Assistant – Pass 2

During setup, the Migration Assistant prompted me to connect the two machines via Firewire. Because I was using an external drive connected via Firewire on my old machine (that was the Super Duper drive), I had a Firewire cable handy. I connected the two machines, opted for the default settings in migration assistant, and it started the copy. The copy took roughly two hours, and when I was done, I had a complete clone of my old MBP on my new MBP. It worked like a charm.

Everything appears the same on my new MBP as it did on the old MBP. Right down to the wallpaper on my desktop. All the applications (at least those I’ve tried to this point) were copied over, and all are accessible. I didn’t have to re-enter any license keys. Didn’t have to reinstall any FireFox plug-ins. Nothing! iTunes even worked, and my library was copied over perfectly. All I had to do upon starting iTunes was authorize my new MBP.  While it’s possible restoring from the Super Duper drive would have also worked, the Migration Assistant worked very well for me. But I could have saved a bit of headache had I opted to run the Migration Assistant first time around.

Overall the migration took about 5 hours. But had I run the Migration Assistant the first time through, I estimate it would have taken about two hours. As interesting developments unfold, I’ll update the Miscellaneous Notes section below. Right now, I’m working on my new MBP.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • After running Migration Assistant, I ran a software update. I’m glad I did. I found that there were a few applications that weren’t copied over (or at least updated when copied). iTunes was one of them. I can’t imagine the mess I might have had if I didn’t upgrade to iTunes 8.2 before connecting my iPhone, especially since iTunes 8.2 is required for iPhone 3.0 software which I had just upgraded using my old MBP.
  • I’m still getting acclimated to the multi-touch trackpad. I had grown very accustomed to resting my thumb on the clicking device on my old MBP. Now when I do that on the new multi-touch trackpad, it thinks I’m trying to give it a gesture of some sort.
  • When installing OS X, I was forewarned that I may need to resinstall some of the applications (iLife). This never materialized since the migration did move those applications over from my old MBP.
  • The new MBP uses a Mini Display port for an external monitor. The old MBP used a DVI port. So I had to purchase a new adapter because none was included “in the box.” I bought the wrong one. I thought (silly me) that I could use a Mini Display port to DVI adapter and then use the older DVI adapter to VGA adapter from my old MBP. Not so. The pin configuration for DVI was slightly different.
  • I often times work with my MBP on my lap. It’s amazing how much cooler the new MBP is than the old MBP. The old MBP got very hot. The newer…not at all. I’m guessing that’s because the new MBP has the battery encased within the solid aluminum body of the new MBP. But I’m not sure…I just know it runs much cooler to the touch.
  • Even after installing OS X, running through the Migration Assistant, wiping out my Super Duper drive completely, and creating a new backup of my new MBP, I still cannot boot from that drive. I do not yet know why. I’ll have to troubleshoot.
  • I love the new magnetized mechanism that holds the LED down when closing. It’s aesthetically pleasing. However, I don’t like the finger prints that accumulate at the top of the display.
  • I’ve discovered that my scheduled Super Duper backups haven’t run for the past week. Strange. I tried initiating the scheduled copy manually and receive an error stating it can’t find Macintosh HD. Wow. I deleted that scheduled copy and created a new one and the copy appears to be executing successfully.
  • As I mentioned, I wasn’t able to boot my new MBP from my Super Duper drive. So I was curious. I tried booting my old MBP from the Super Duper backup I created from my new MBP. The old MBP booted up fine, and I was able to see all the application upgrades and file changes I had made on my new MBP. That’s cool!
  • I find it absolutely fascinating that I’m able to boot my old MBP using the Super Duper backup of my new MBP. The old MBP must have different drivers and hardware. I don’t know the details surrounding OS X architecture, but it must have a cool abstraction layer somewhere that deals with this.

Programming Language Classification

Below is a table that shows some popular and emerging programming languages classified according to the following:

  • Type system – Dynamic or Static type system
  • Problem space – A General Purpose language versus a Domain Specific Language
  • Runtime environment – A Managed environment (ie. garbage collection, etc.) or an Unmanaged environment.
  • Paradigm – Object-Oriented, Procedural, Functional, Imperative, or Declarative

Is this a relevant classification scheme? Are languages classified correctly? Are certain qualified languages missing from the list? How would you modify this list?

The XO Laptop – Give 1, Get 1

The OLPC has instituted their “Give a laptop. Get a laptop.” program again this year. If you’re not familar with the XO laptop, it’s a cool little deviced in a pretty small package. The picture at left shows the XO sitting next to a Dell XPS with a 15″ display (click to enlarge).

The OLPC offered the same deal around the same time last year when I ordered mine, and their was quite a backlog. It took almost six months for them to ship, so if you’re interested in getting your hands on the XO, it might be wise to place the order soon.

You can order your XO through Amazon. For $399, you give a laptop to a child in need, and also get your own laptop.

SpamBots Getting Through

I use WordPress as my blogging system, and a while back, I installed the Challenge Captcha. But recently the SpamBots broke it and have been able to find the correct answer to the math questions. As a result, they’ve been leaving their nasty comments. So, I’ve reconfigured the Challenge to ask the question in a more English style. I guess it’s pretty easy for the SpamBots to evaluate “3 x 4 + 2”. But now we’ll see how easy it is for them to evaluate “What is the sum of 2 and 4”.

I really don’t know who has the time or energy to waste on such things. And I don’t know what they are trying to accomplish other than being a nuisance.

Palm Treo 700p

About a month ago, I went out and purchased a Palm Treo 700p (yes, I purchased it even after the release of the iPhone). Prior to the Treo, I had a regular ole’ LG (model unknown) that I used as a phone, and a BlackBerry (model 7250) that I used for my data needs (browsing and e-mail). I decided to use the Treo to serve both my phone and data needs. So far, there’s been good, bad, and ugly.

First, the good.

  • The phone is decent, neither better nor worse than my LG through U.S. Cellular. Reception with Verizon is about the same, and I still experience the same volume of dropped calls and missed calls due to the phone failing to ring. The touchscreen keypad works well, with fairly large numbers that help prevent mistyping the numbers. The Treo is a bit large for a phone, and it’s shape doesn’t feel entirely natural pressed against the side of my head. The detailed call log is nice.
  • The Blazer browser accesses most of the sites I need when in a pinch. For a more pleasurable browsing experience, I can always tether the phone to my Mac anywhere I get reception. The lack of built-in WiFi isn’t a huge concern because of the ability to tether the 700p to my Mac. However, after seeing Safari on the iPhone, I was a bit jealous.
  • Initially, I used VersaMail as my default mail client, but quickly abandoned that experiement because of a few minor annoyances related to the user interface and my inability to configure VersaMail in a way that wouldn’t download duplicate messages without deleting them from the server. I installed a Java VM and went with the GMail client instead. Since I send e-mail using GMail (web-based), my Mac, and the Treo, the GMail client for my Treo is nice as I minimize the number of Outboxes I have that require searching when I want to find a sent mail item.
  • I use iCal on my Mac which syncs well with my Google Calendar. While it’s pretty easy to sync between iCal and the Palm’s Calendar using iSync, since I use Google Calendar as my system of record, I preferred to sync with Google Calendar directly. GooSync allows me to do an over-the-air two-day sync with my Google Calendar. That’s a pretty nice feature, but I did have one instance where a future appointment wouldn’t sync correctly. I couldn’t repeat it and it hasn’t happened again, so right now, I’m treating it as an anamoly. It’s nice knowing that I can enter an appointment on my Treo or in Google Calendar and the two-way sync takes care of the rest.
  • Messaging on the Treo is much nicer than my old LG as the display shows the entire history of a conversation.
  • Tethering my phone to my Mac via a Bluetooth connections gives me web access anywhere I get cell reception. This is similar to how the Verizon Wireless Card works. Connection speed is suitable for most of my browsing needs (around 200k), but the connection seems to get lost if I remain idlefor longer than 30 seconds to a minute. While somewhat of a pain, it’s quick enough to reconnect that it’s tolerable.
  • I really like the 1.2 MegaPixel camera as the quality is obviously much better than the VGA camera on my old phone. I’m constantly using it to snap pictures of the kids. The camcorder video is rather choppy, but capturing a precious moment in the absence of my Sony camcorder is better than not.
  • Palm has a pretty healthy development community and subsequently, there’s a plethora of software available for the Treo 700p. Google maps is a definite sweet spot that offers turn by turn directions. BackupBuddyVFS offers a way to backup the entire contents of the device to my SD card.
  • Mac integration is fairly solid with the 700p. Using iSync, I can easily sync with Contacts and iCal, though syncing for me is primarily for backup purposes over anything else. I use GooSync to sync with Google Calendar and have seutp iCal to subscribe to my Google Calendar, so there isn’t any need to sync my Treo Calendar with iCal.

Now, the bad.

  • I find the keypad more difficult to type on than my BlackBerry. I’m sure a good part of this is due to a protective plastic case that covers my keyboard, but the keys do seem a bit closer to each other than on the BlackBerry. Text messaging on the Treo is better than my LG phone due to the QWERTY keyboard…obviously.
  • The ergonomics and look and feel of the device and applications lack appeal. A good example of this is the Contacts, which is just a black and white listing of all contacts in the directory. The touchscreen feature works well if I use the stylus, but is marginal if I try to use my finger. I don’t really mind the stylus, but I’m always worried that I’ll lose it. Not so much with my finger. I’d think that a few UI and usability tweaks would go a long ways toward improving the aesthetic appeal of the device. As Neal stated during a conversation at the Green Bay NoFluffJustStuff symposium…”it’s so Phone 1.0″. True.
  • Overall reliability hasn’t been terrible. Essentially, the phone works exactly as advertised, but unfortunately, with a few tweaks, it could work so much better. The boot loop and tethering issue are two examples.
  • Performance is choppy and delayed at times. Attempting to access the web via Blazer or hanging up a call are two instances where the phone tends to lock up for a moment, causing some minor annoyances.
  • Interoperability between applications isn’t great. At one point, I tried to impress a friend by accessing a webmail account and downloading a word document that had been sent. While I’d never tried it before, I figured since the phone came with Documents to Go, it’d be easy to download a Word document and open it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to save the .doc file, and when I clicked on the link, the Treo 700p opened it up showing nothing but a bunch of binary garbage. Why wouldn’t it just send it to Documents to Go? Don’t know. My friend was not impressed.
  • Many folks complain about the feeble storage capacity on the Treo 700p, with only 128MB. Since I use my iPod for music instead of pTunes (and I don’t listen to music other than the radio all too often), storage isn’t a huge issue for me. I purchased a 2 GB SD card, and I suspect that’ll be plenty for me well into the future. I could be wrong, especially if I begin to load my Treo with custom applications. Of course, I can’t imagine increasing the storage capacity of the Treo would be a significant undertaking for Palm, and the number of users who desire more storage should serve as a compelling enough reason to do so.

And the ugly.

  • Ah yes…the dreaded boot loop. For no apparent reason, the phone gets caught in an endless boot loop where the screen shows the “Access Powered” logo following by a startup screen followed by the “Access Powered” logo followed by a startup screen followed by the “Access Powered” logo followed by…ok, you get the picture. The only way to correct this nasty little bug is by performaing a hard reset, which in turn results in total data loss and restores the machine to it’s original state. The first time this happened, I freaked because I hadn’t done a hotsync recently. While a warm reset allowed me to backup most of my data before performing a hard reset, I immediately purchased BackBuddyVFS to hopefully avoid future loss of data concerns. It hasn’t happened again yet, but when it does, I’m hoping BackupBuddy makes recovery easy. Regardless, this is a serious issue, and not one that users of a well-built device should be worrying about. Fortunately, it’s only happened once over the past month of usage.

Overall, save for the few ergonomic and UI quirks, minor instability issues, and the dreaded boot loop, I’ve enjoyed the phone. Camcorder, tethering, and Mac integration were important features for me. My BlackBerry/LG setup had none of these (possibly newer BlackBerry models have some), Obviously, the iPhone fits the bill with great Mac integration. The iPhone appears to be an amazing device, and as it evolves, I’m sure my interest will increase. To this point, as a replacement for my LG and BlackBerry, the Treo 700p is working nicely.

New Blog Home

If you’re reading this, you’ve found the location of my new blog. I’ve just recently switched from Nucleus to WordPress, and so far couldn’t be happier. The URL for the blog has changed to, so be sure to update your bookmarks and rss feed ( Here’s why I like WordPress:

  • Easier to modify the look & feel. I look forward to experimenting with plugins, and continuing to mess with the theme.
  • Better captcha. I’m using the Challenge Captcha. Leave a comment, and you’ll see. No more sifting through what the spambots left, and approving the valid comments.
  • Ability to Blog by e-mail, whereby I send an e-mail to a private personal account, and voila…it shows up as a blog entry.
  • Easy, straightforward blog entry and admin panel. Just cleaner.
  • Does a lot right “out of the box” such as pretty urls, and likely a whole lot more I don’t know about yet.

In the past, I’ve used PmWiki for a lot of content management, which is the technology behind my home page. As of now, that site isn’t going anywhere, and is where you’ll continue to find JarAnalyzer, AssAnalyzer, and other non-opinionated information related to my work.

Because I find WordPress easier to use, I’m hopeful this blog will be a bit more active. The Blog by e-mail feature is very nice, especially since most of my ideas come to me at odd times, and it’ll be easy to shoot an e-mail to the account I’ve setup for new blog entries, meaning I can do it on plane, train, automobile or anywhere else I don’t have a connection and simply leave it in my outbox till I’m back online.