Why Buy a Product You Don’t Like?

November 28th, 2006

Over the many years I’ve used Macs, I’ve often wondered how many people really choose a PC because the prefer the product, find it easier to setup and use. While some power users might be able to make that claim, if only for the built-it-yourself concept, where you have full control over configuring the parts you want and making them perform to your personal specs.

Clearly the Mac isn’t designed that way. It’s meant to be a complete, functional product that’s ready to turn on and use, with minimal options to expand the hardware. Yes, I know how there are lots of ways to customize the Mac Pro. But you still can’t build one from scratch, although I suppose you can assemble something that would function from a bunch of parts from old Macs.

Now businesses don’t necessarily buy personal computers because they like them, but because they need them as tools to get work done. This is hardly different from choosing one screwdriver over another, although I’m certain some hobbyists will tell me that certain parts are the only ones they’ll use to build a cabinet or fix a car.

However, that shouldn’t apply to home users looking for a PC, however. You have choices when it comes to which product to buy, and not just among Dell, HP or Gateway, obviously. For the most part, your needs in terms of applications ought to be well met whether it’s a Mac or a PC. Even for a home business where you might require software that’s only available in Windows form, you should be able to fare quite nicely with Apple’s Boot Camp or Parallels Desktop.

Many people, however, don’t buy a PC because they like it, but because the price fits their budget. If all they can afford is $399, there are models that fit into that category. This isn’t to say you get very much for that price in the way of computing power, features, or software. But if that’s the best you can do, who am I to complain?

Clearly, Apple won’t play in that arena, and no wonder. There’s not much profit in it, and the companies who have tried hope, often in vain, for sufficient volume to make up the difference. Or they use them as loss leaders, hoping that you’ll buy something more expensive by clicking a Customize option or depending on a salesperson to sell you up to costlier choices.

On the other hand, I have to wonder whether the folks who buy those products really dig their computers, or just put up with them. Certainly Microsoft’s infamous setup process is usually more complicated than it should be, even if the color-coded hookup steps go well. In fact, some years back, I read an article that indicated that many of those home PC boxes ended up in closets because their owners could not overcome one problem or another. It may well all right out of the box, but perhaps a problem is encountered in installing a new printer, or a scanner, or spyware slows things down to a standstill.

Of course, Microsoft doesn’t care in the scheme of things, as they are only selling user licenses to operating systems. Aside from providing support for Windows and their various software products, what you do with the hardware is your business from there on.

When it comes to a consumer electronics product, folks may not adore their iPods as much as their Macs, but that doesn’t stop millions of the former from flying off the store shelves. With lots of failures under its belt in licensing third party products, I really wonder if Microsoft’s marketing people truly expect lots of people to become excited about their Zunes in the same fashion.

The conventional wisdom is that Zune is already a failure, and Microsoft is going to have to wait for the latter part of 2007 to try again. The big question is whether they really believed that such lame marketing slogans as “Welcome to the social” and “squirt” — the latter sending songs via Wi-Fi to another Zune — would somehow reverberate with young people. You can’t be cool simply by inventing silly words or resurrecting a phrase that dates back to the 1950s.

You see, Microsoft can’t depend on the IT person to make you buy a Zune, and you shouldn’t necessarily depend on them at the office either when they recommend you purchase a Windows-based PC. Do they tell you, for example, that a Mac is, in the long run, cheaper to operate? Or that maybe you would need fewer people in the support department as a result? I suppose not.

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10 Responses to “Why Buy a Product You Don’t Like?”

  1. S Clark says:

    I had an intesting experience in trying to get a hospital IT dept to set me up with a Mac in my office. After much haggling they finally agreed to buy a minimal Mac Mini (Core Solo, 500MB RAM). The IT director took it home over the weekend after it arrived to “config” it. He returned the following Monday with a smile on his face, as if he’d just seen the Second Coming. “Now, this,” he said holding the Mini in its elegant little box, “is how to build a computer.” IT now uses Mini’s as its default box for remote use, booting it directly into Windows. The Mini is a price competitive quality unit whose fit and finish far outstrip any comparable offerings from the build-to-order PC world with more than ample processing power for most all office uses. The main reason most people don’t choose Macs is ignorance, inertia and fear of the unknown.

  2. Andrew says:

    Sorry Gene, but some of your logic is flawed here. Lets look at that $399 PC as a good or bad value. You say that it is complicated to set up and lacks features, but neither is the case. Is it any harder to plug a USB keyboard and mouse into a $399 PC than to plug the same USB keyboard and mouse into a Mac Mini or iMac?

    And just how stripped is that $399 PC? Computers are constantly improving, with the budget models of today offering far more power than the professional models of not too many years ago. About 10-months-ago I bought a Compaq Presario desktop PC for my office, it cost $299. It was somewhat stripped, and needed a wireless network card (Atheros PCI – $17), a ram upgrade from 256MB to 1.25GB (Crucial.com – $100) and a monitor (19″ Viewsonic LCD – $240). My total price came out to $560, which is still cheaper than the cheapest Intel Mini. Upgraded as it is, that desktop PC is now quite well-equipped. It has 5 USB 2.0 ports (2 on the front, 3 on the back), 2 powered FireWire 400 ports (1 front, 1 back), compact flash, SD and Smartmedia card readers and audio in (both Mic and Line) and audio out on BOTH the front and back. It has a Combo drive and an empty bay for another optical drive, a 100GB 7200 RPM desktop-sized hard drive, an open PCI-Express slot for a high-end video card should the integrated ATI video be insufficient, and 3 PCI slots, one of which I’m using for the wireless network card.

    That doesn’t sound particularly stripped to me, and in what way is it any more difficult to set up and use than a Mac Mini would be? The Mini requires the same external keyboard, mouse and monitor as the Compaq does, and while the Mini comes with wifi built-in, it is much more difficult to upgrade the RAM in a mini than in the compaq, which opens easily without tools. I own a G4 Mini and like it quite a lot, but I won’t lie and say that the RAM upgrade was easy or that it is any easier to configure and set up than the Compaq was.

    Of course there is also the 800lb gorilla in the room, price. No, not the price of the computer itself, which may or may not be a significant difference. The Mac Mini is significantly more expensive than my cheapo Compaq, but a MacBook is not significantly more expensive than a comparable ThinkPad. No, by price I mean all of the software that many users already own. $400 for a new copy of Microsoft Office ($150 if you have a student at home, and no, OpenOffice doesn’t cut it for many), new copies of Adobe Photoshop ($500) or Elements ($50), a $70 copy to Toast, all to replace applications that many home users already own for the Windows platform. In many cases, replacing all of the software that a person uses can cost a lot more than replacing the computer. Oh yeah, as for Boot Camp, it won’t work without a $100 to $300 copy of Windows, and no, the restore CD from your last PC won’t work, even if the license will.

    Gene mentioned love or mere tollerance of a product, and this is the difference between the Mac Mini and the cheap PC. At home or for the attorneys and manager at my office, I went with the Mac because they I and they prefer it. For my paralegal, I went with the PC because she prefers it. The Mac user interface is better to a Mac user, but the Windows interface is better to a PC user. Its all about what you know.

    My native language is English, and while I can speak fairly fluently in Spanish, I still prefer English as my “user interface” for verbal communications. English is considered by most in the world to be a much more difficult language, with horrendous grammar and spelling rules born of conquest and assimilation of immigrants as well as exploration and expansion abroad. There are Germanic words, Danish words, French words, Latin Words, Greek Words, and a whole lot else mixed in to make English one of the most complex and difficult to learn languages in the world. Still, like Windows, it is spoken by more people than the much simpler, more elegant and easier to learn Spanish. Spanish is a much better “user experience” to a a native speaker of say, Chinese, but just like the world uses Windows, the World uses English.

    Finally, there is the hardware factor. Yes, Mac hardware is cool, and a lot of us make our purchase decisions based on that coolness. My manager uses a 20″ G5 iMac because not only is it a powerful and functional computer, but it looks VERY good in my front office. Ditto the Mac Mini at home with its 19″ widescreen LCD, its small, quiet, and very, very cool, perfectly fitting my 12-year-old daughter’s sense of style and need for a capable computer. But there are also just as many examples of where PC hardware is much cooler than the Mac alternative, if there even is one.

    Until a few months ago, I used ultralight laptops almost exclusively for my work, and Apple simply doesn’t play in that market. The 4.6lb 12″ PowerBook was close, close enough that I used one for three years, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the latest 2lb Vaio or 3lb ThinkPad. The MacBook, at 5.2lbs doesn’t even try to fit into that class. There is also the Tablet PC, which is my current primary computer. Apple doesn’t make one in any size or shape, but on the PC market you can them large and fast, small and light, or just about anything in between. My current tablet PC weighs a hair under what my old 12″ PowerBook did at 4.5lbs, is a bit bulkier, but has a fast CoreDuo processor, built-in optical drive and the ability to connect a second battery for 8-hours of runtime. Most importantly, the tablet interface really does get me excited and improve my productivity. Is it better than a keyboard and mouse, not for many things, but how fast can you type while standing up and holding your laptop in one hand? How easy is it to drop your laptop while typing with one hand and the computer balanced precariously in the other?

    Apple gives a terrific user experience, but only in the markets in which they choose to compete. They don’t compete in the low-end desktop, ultralight laptop or tablet markets, and so in those markets they lose by default.

  3. Sorry Gene, but some of your logic is flawed here. Lets look at that $399 PC as a good or bad value. You say that it is complicated to set up and lacks features, but neither is the case. Is it any harder to plug a USB keyboard and mouse into a $399 PC than to plug the same USB keyboard and mouse into a Mac Mini or iMac?

    That’s a good starting point, and it misses what I said, which goes beyond plugging things into the neatly colored jacks on the cheap PC. That’s not where PC issues erupt.

    As to features and all the rest, it’s not the processor, hard drive and basic ports we’re comparing. Consider the extras put into the Mac mini, for example, such as built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and a remote control. Then add the fact that you need to upgrade to Windows XP Pro for comparable functionality, and then add a decent digital lifestyle software package, and you’ll find the Mac is priced similar to the PC in nearly every case, and sometimes it’s cheaper.

    The low-end desktop, below the price of a Mac mini, isn’t worth competing in. The other PC makers have shown there really isn’t any profit in it. What’s more, Tablets haven’t shown huge sales traction yet, and there are rumors of an ultralight notebook, assuming the 5-plus pounds of the MacBook is too heavy for you.


  4. Andrew says:

    There are features of the mini that are missing on the cheap PC, but also features In the PC that are missing on the mini.

  5. Andrew says:

    the 5+ lbs of the MacBook is definitely too heavy in the ultralight class.

  6. Eduardo says:

    You see, Andrew, it seems to me your reasoning fits into the “good enough” category. Windows and PC boxes are “good enough” for so many people.

    I’ve worked with windows since 3.11 and been a programmer since CP/M. That era is long gone and now I’m (thankfully) just a normal user. I discovered the Mac three years ago… And will never ever go back to Windows.

    I won’t discuss specs or even prices, although my Powerbook G4 has absolutely all I need and price was comparable to equivalent PCs.

    You say a USB keyboard is as easy to use in a PC as it is in a Mac. That pretty biased, as USB keyboards might be the only easy-to-use things in the PC universe. I three years I’ve used five different printers and never installed a driver. I’ve installed dozens of programs (shareware, freeware, postcardware, you name it) and never any of them made the system to crash or become unstable. Never reinstalled OS X. Never had a virus, spyware or malware. I look for something and it’s easily there. Never had a stupid message like “Windows could not find the driver. Do you want to install the driver?”. Never a blue screen.

    IMHO, every sensible user who cares to compare with an open mind will realize Mac OS is much better to Windows. The features comparision, so frequent, is for me beyond the point. I don’t think there is a single feature (hardware or software) you can’t find in the Mac world (and viceversa, anyway) some way or another.

    It’s much more simple: when you use a Windows PC, you work in spite of the OS. When you use the Mac, you work with and helped by the computer. And, at least for me, this has been a liberation. I agree with the previous post saying most people use windows out of ignorance, inertia and fear of the unknown

    By the way, I’m a native Spanish speaker and don’t think English is so difficult to learn. It’s not big deal anyway as with the Mac I can change the language of the whole OS and applications with just a few clicks. Try and do that in Windows!!!

  7. Andrew says:


    Drivers and conflicts exist on both platforms, they are just more common on Windows, most likely because there are just so many more of them and they have to interact with such an ungodly number of combinations of other drivers and the like. Drivers, in my opinion, are the biggest problem on PCs today, and are the reason why I favor business-models from major vendors and stick to brand-name devices. You can have all sorts of problems installing a generic $10 wifi card, but an Atheros, Lucent or 3Com will work every time, without any fuss.

    Your assertion that in Windows you work in spite of the OS is a bit over the top though. Windows does not interfere with writing a document in Word any more or any less than OS X does. Launch Word, type, edit, format and save. The process is identical, with the only real difference being whether you launch Word from the dock (OS X) or the Start Menu or Quicklaunch Toolbar (Windows). Either way, Word is up in one click (I use the QL toolbar) and once open, the biggest difference is whether you use Command (OS X) or Control (Windows) to activate keyboard commands.

    Ignorance is certainly one reason why people use Windows, but there are other valid reasons. Familiarity is a valid reason, it easier to do a task in an environment you know than in one that you don’t. Expense is a real one, as OS X does not run the Windows applications that people already own.

    Sensible users are the ones who look at their situation and then use either the best, or best value tool available. Starting from scratch, I agree, Mac is a better tool. Few of us, however, are that mythical “new user” that can buy every application again from scratch. And lets not forget about games. Many people like playing games on their computers, and while Boot Camp is a revelation for playing games on a Mac, you still have to buy an expensive full version of Windows to use it.

    Finally, how is it ignorant to use Windows in a role for which Apple makes no product? For the frequent traveler who wants a small and light laptop, no amount of OS X goodness can overcome the fact that the smallest and lightest Mac laptop weighs more than double what he or she is carrying now does.

  8. Eduardo says:


    While it’s true there can be driver conflicts in both platforms, they are far more frequent in the windows world. So far I had none with my Mac with a wide range of different devices, while in W it was more the norm than the exception. It’s not just the fact that there are many more different vendors for PCs: in the Mac world you use lots of external peripherals designed for W which actually work better with the Mac. You see, the five or so printers I said before I have used; In a W box I would have had to install the drivers. Not here and no conflicts.

    But it’s not only that. So very often when you have a problem in the W world, you read messages which give you no clue about where the actual problem might be, and W help is simply hopeless. In OS X, it seems the guys who wrote it actually took their time and care to make it useful.

    You are right when you say that my sentence “you work in spite of the OS” is a bit of an exageration, but that’s the impression you have some times. But even opening a Word file… I’ll give you an example: I have MS Office as well as iWork installed in my computer. I received a Word file last week with some frames which were displaced. As I double-clicked it, Word launched and opened the file. I tried unsuccesfully to re-format the document (it was only six pages or so) by moving the frames into new pages… I gave up after five minutes, opened the file with Pages and did it in no time. I’m sure you can do such a simple thing in Word, but it’s a pain in the ass. Windows DOES interfere with its silly “Update me” windows (the OS, the antivirus, the whatever program) in the middle of a presentation, for example. And in general, with the need to waste time in maintenance chores. You have to pay much more attention to simple things like installing programs (because of viruses, because all those dll files everywhere, because of tasks of uninstalled programs running forever), installing drivers…

    You are also right when you say it’s not very practical or attractive for old windows users to have to re-learn to use a new OS, although the learning curve of the Mac OS X flat for me. Again, I might not be the average user.

    About expenses, in a medium and long term basis, OS X is cheaper. Switching to Mac is a one-time expensive proposition, of course, but then Mac hardware and Mac software have a way longer useful life. My three-years old Mac is still very much in the frontline of OS updates and software.

    You’ve got a point in your last paragraph. The smallest Mac is 13” big, and that might be too big for some people. But, come on, not that many people.

    I’m not Mac fanatic, I’d switch again to any other OS as long as it proves to be better for me, and in my opinion right now OS X is far far better than Linux or Windows in basically any sense.

  9. Eduardo says:

    Ops, I forgot about the games, maybe because I just play Tetris!!!

    Yes, for games, buy a Windows PC, that’s obvious. But these days you can have Boot Camp and Parallels, so you still stick with the best.

  10. Andrew says:

    Parallels lacks high-end 3D video accelleration, so its right out for gaming. Boot Camp works great on an Intel iMac (not the bottom model) or MacBook Pro, but an Intel Mini or MacBook with its integrated graphics makes a very poor game machine, just as a Windows computer with integrated graphics does. Don’t forget, Boot Camp is probably more than most people are willing to put up wiht, buying and installing Windows is a pain and an expense.

    You’d be surprised how many people like small laptops. Next time you fly, count how many small laptops and how many large ones you see. Small ones travel well, big ones don’t, plain and simple.

    My 7-year-old Power Mac G4 is also running the very latest OS X with all patches and updates, has the latest Office 2004 and Adobe Photoshop. It is an outstanding machine that I still really like to use. I’ve also got a 4-year-old ThinkPad X22, a 3.4lb ultraportable that is well out of date with its Pentium III processor. That ThinkPad also, however, runs the very latest Windows (Vista RC2) very nicely (no Aero) and dual boots into XP Professional (many applications not working in Vista yet). Again, its got all of the updates and is a delight to use. My Tablet PC is brand-new, has roughly the same power as the MacBook (slower processor), weighs .7lbs less, is smaller in all dimensions except thickness, and of course has tablet functionality that no MacBook has. Windows has its annoyances, but for this particular role, there is no other choice, and as an advanced user, I find it gives me almost no trouble or hassles other than the hour I spend ever Monday updating and maintaining everything.

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