Mac Reality Check: More Myth Busting

May 14th, 2009

You’d think a company that’s been in the public eye since the 1970s would be pretty well known as far as products and strategy are concerned. But that doesn’t stop the myths and the FUD (short for Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) from being spread by people who may have vested interests that prevent fair treatment of Apple Inc.

These days, the few media pundits who believe anything Microsoft says continue to repeat the claims without taking the time for critical thinking. The one that persists is the alleged “Apple Tax,” the supposedly higher price you pay for the privilege of owning a Mac.

Now in the past, Apple really did charge excessive prices to get as much profit as they could for their gear. Certainly perceptions are slow to change. These days, Apple does exist at the higher end of the PC universe, but not because their products are overpriced. They simply provide a full-featured product, and avoid stripped down gear.

Comparing the Mac versus the PC actually requires careful matching. First you have to make sure, as much as you can, that all the hardware is the same, from processor speed, to RAM speed and amount, to the size of the hard drive. The operating system is more troublesome, because Microsoft sells a load of versions of Windows Vista — and that greedy approach will continue with Windows 7.

Apple sells but one full featured client version of Leopard. So you’d naturally want the full-featured version of Vista, which is called “Ultimate.” Now some of the folks who try to argue around this choice will tell us that you don’t need all the features of the highest priced version of Vista, so why buy it? Well, it’s a question of comparing Leopard with a non-crippled Vista, pure and simple! What you need for your particular purposes is besides the point. This is just a price comparison and nothing more, and we’re trying to be as fair as possible to both sides of the equation.

Now I’ve done this sort of match-up on a number of occasions in recent years. When all is said and done, the price difference is usually very slight. I remember configuring the cheapest Dell desktop recently against the $799 Mac mini. The Dell reached $709 before I hit a brick wall. There was no available suite of applications to approach the quality and features of iLife ’09, nor could I add the 802.11n draft Wi-Fi capability to the Dell. My conclusion is that the cheaper Dell was a poorer value and that if it did came with the extras I couldn’t order, it would end up real close to the Mac mini.

On the high-end, a Dell workstation that is equivalent, more or less, to a Mac Pro is often more expensive, and even Dell admitted that to me once, although they could not explain why.

Unfortunately, once Apple developed the reputation for selling overpriced gear, it was hard to lose it. Since Microsoft seems to be living in the 1990s with their marketing schemes, you can imagine that Steve Ballmer never forgot the fact that Macs were once expensive, and so he continues to do his best to exploit something that is, as a matter of fact, simply not true.

The other fallacy being perpetrated by the fear merchants is that malware will shortly overwhelm Mac OS X users. They’ve been saying that for over eight years now, ever since the initial release, 10.0. Yes, there have been proofs of concept, meaning stuff created in a test setting, and some limited outbreaks. But nothing that’s overwhelmed the Mac community and caused lots of damage, financial and otherwise. That compares to the Windows platform, where malware infections still cause losses estimated in the billions of dollars each and every year.

In passing, you wonder how many people have lost their jobs and, worse, how many companies have gone out of business because issues with Windows have overwhelmed their system administrators and caused huge losses.

Of course that hasn’t stopped some companies from releasing Mac-specific security software. Some of it may be useful, such as expanded firewall protection and enhanced methods to protect your kids from getting exploited online. However, I think it’s premature to recommend that you try out any anti-virus software — at least not yet.

I’m not so foolish as to claim that Macs are invulnerable to malware, and that a major epidemic won’t come at some time in the future. The problem will be, of course, that the programs that protect you against such things will probably have to be updated before they can help. That, and watching the news as it develops, is one way to protect yourself. Another is to, as one security software developer said some years back, practice safe hex.” Don’t download a fils attached to an email message unless you expected it, even if it comes from someone you know. It doesn’t hurt to check, in case their system (particularly if that person is a Windows user) got compromised. If you get a letter purporting to be from one of a financial institution you deal with, asking you to reset your credentials by clicking a link, open your browser directly to check your account. Don’t assume anything.

Of course, the myths about Macs will keep on coming. As The Night Owl nears its tenth anniversary, we’ll definitely be here to continue to set the record straight.

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17 Responses to “Mac Reality Check: More Myth Busting”

  1. slappy says:

    “As The Night Owl nears its tenth anniversary, we’ll definitely be here to continue to set the record straight.”

    Wow, almost ten years. I for one am glad that you continue to set the record straight. I swear, I think 95% of journalist/bloggers never do any kind of fact checking anymore. It’s pathetic.

  2. @ slappy: I don’t think I’ve done anything for more than 10 years, other than being married of course. 🙂


  3. Perry Lund says:

    I used Numbers and some website searches to run the numbers, and of course as I have known for years, an Apples to Apples comparison yields a close horse race. I just finished a 3-way comparison of the Mac Mini, Dell Studio Hybrid and HP Slimline s3710t. All machines are within $89 of each other. HP the lowest at $1007, Apple next at $1046 and Dell at $1096. Gave them all Office Home and tried to match CPU, HD, etc… It was touch given the choices at hand.

  4. Jon says:

    I, for one, will gladly continue to pay (as I have for 2 decades) an “Apple Tax”…
    just like I pay Nissan’s “Altima Tax”…
    Mitsubishi’s “62 inch DLP rear projection TV Tax”…
    favorite author’s “newly released title Tax…
    etc., etc., etc.

    I guess some people will just never “get it.”
    Some things are simply worth more than what you pay for them.

    When anyone uses (low) cost as the primary buying consideration, they are
    basically saying they determine value by how little they pay for something…
    that something has more value when it is worth less.

  5. David says:

    “What you need for your particular purposes is besides the point.”

    No it’s not Gene, it’s the entire point. Each customer is unique. Each one of us places value on different things. Apple does not give us any choice in the matter. They believe they know what I want better than I do.

    What if I’d rather have an accessible drive bay instead of mini Display port? Apple’s response is one I’d expect from the HAL 9000: “Sorry Dave I can’t let you do that.”

    So many Apple defenders get the price comparison backwards. It’s not about making a PC that matches a Mac. It’s about making a PC the customer wants and comparing that to what Apple has to offer.

    Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’m going to reiterate that I place high value on the Mac OS and on the build quality that most Apple products exhibit. I’m willing to pay a substantial premium for a Mac because I know it’ll cost me less to maintain and cause me a lot less grief during it’s useful life.

    What bothers me so much is that I do not fit into one of the customer type boxes that Apple expects everyone to conform to. I want to be an Apple customer, I want to pay more up front, but Apple simply doesn’t make a computer for me.

  6. @ David: I’m not addressing the value equation or the desirability of any specific Mac model compared to the PC. I am only doing a price comparison in the only reasonable way it can be done, by allowing for equal configurations.

    As to Apple: Their marketing strategy is to offer a limited number of models with some level of factory configuration. Yes, I realize that one may have to compromise to get what you want, and it’s quite possible Apple doesn’t have a model that meets your needs. But that’s a different argument entirely.


  7. DaveD says:

    Back in the days, there were commercials depicting detergent brand “A” comparing to detergent brand “X.” At the end of the washings, the customer would be amazed how much better brand “A” was.

    I would like to see a similar comparison of PC and Mac. In my commercial Microsoft provides a “real” computer user with a PC and a Mac of equivalent hardware specifications. The user would spend a week with each machine. At the end of two weeks, the user is asked which one, the PC or the Mac, to keep and why. Would like to see the responses from those that chose the PC.

  8. John says:

    Why don’t you all do price comparisons with the MacBook Pro models and the competition. Is it because the Macs costs so much more? That’s what my neighbor and I found.

    I love Macs and have a Mac mini and an iMac. But I need an affordable 15″ notebook, and my neighbor, who is also a Mac lover, needs an affordable 17″ notebook. When we compared the MacBook Pros to the competition, we couldn’t believe how big the price difference was. The Macs cost almost 2 to 3 times as much. We’re both are willing to pay more for a Mac, but come on, surely Apple can make more affordable bigger notebooks. They’ve got $29 billion in cash!

    We’re angry because we don’t want to look to HP or Dell for our new notebooks, but we may have to.

  9. @ John: What are you willing to sacrifice to get the price lower? That’s the key.


  10. I wanted to add one more thing: I just went to Dell’s site and configured a Dell Precision Mobile Workstation as close as possible to the 17-inch MacBook Pro. They are intended as comparable products in their respective lineups.

    I could not find any application suites to match the functionality of iLife ’09, nor an extra-life battery from Dell. The price for the Dell came to $2,790, compared to $2,799 for Apple’s entry. This is quite typical of the sort of price comparisons I’ve conducted, and the results are always similar. Apple is fully competitive with equivalent PC products when it comes to the price of admission.

    You start cutting out features on the PC, it will be cheaper, but you still get what you pay for.


  11. Andrew says:

    In John’s case and his neighbor, they may be willing to sacrifice quite a bit, but clearly not the screen size.

    I have a 15″ unibody MacBook Pro that I really like, but for travel I really want a machine with at least 8 hours of runtime, preferably without having to swap batteries (and carry spares). I want it small enough to use while sitting in coach on an airplane, but with discreet graphics so I can play games on lonely nights in motel rooms.

    The 15″ MacBook Pro is great for the games, but a very tight fit in coach. It needs two batteries to get through a long day at a conference and battery swaps aren’t the most convenient.

    So I use my MacBook Pro everyday when not traveling, but for my frequent business travel I use a Lenoco ThinkPad T400. With a 9 cell battery it runs over 9 hours, 11.5 if I swap the DVDRW for a bay battery. Apple’s response to my need for 8 hour battery life is a monster 17″ machine, when I’d rather have a 13 or 14″. The regular MacBook is the perfect size, but again is short on battery life and while the 9400M integrated graphics are extremely impressive for an integrated chip (my daughter has one), it is severely lacking for the high-end games like Crysis and Fallout3 that I play in my hotel rooms.

    Apple just doesn’t make a machine for every user, so how do we compare. My T400 was $1000 with specs close to my $2000 MacBook Pro (slightly faster processor, slightly slower graphics card, same FSB, same LED backlit 1440X900 resolution on a smaller LCD, same RAM and HD). I didn’t buy it on price, but in terms of hardware it has more than the MacBook Pro does

  12. Not the T500?


  13. SunnyGuy says:

    Microsoft is desperately trying to use marketing to stave up their shrinking empire,
    and the way to distract the argument from the cost of Windows added to every PC
    for decades, (the very real “Microsoft tax”), is to promote the idea of a hypothetical
    “Apple Tax”.

    Microsoft also preempts the idea of “choice” to try to force consumer thinking back
    into the Windows (non-choice) venue.

    It’s clever marketing by Microsoft — FWIW.

    Sunny Guy

  14. Jordan says:

    Good defense of Apple’s truly-competitive pricing.

    I’m into filmmaking, and most PC people in that field build their own Windows machine a la carte. Is there a good price comparison between a Mac and a build-it-yourself PC? I’d like to have one handy to send my friends to when they say, “Macs are more expensive because I build my own PC.”

    • If you build it yourself, you’ll definitely save some money. Not a whole lot, I don’t think, but it would certainly be cheaper, since you’re not paying someone else to assemble and test it for you.


  15. Scott says:

    >>So many Apple defenders get the price comparison backwards. It’s not about making a PC that matches a Mac. It’s about making a PC the customer wants and comparing that to what Apple has to offer.>>

    I couldn’t agree more. With respects, this article really does miss the point. The price argument has little to do with any direct comparison of components. Such a comparison can very easily be turned the other way…

    How many Apple laptops ship with a media card reader? Zilch.
    How many Apple laptops can play a movie without booting the OS? Zilch.
    How many Apple laptops ship with a dedicated numeric keypad? Zilch.
    How many MacBooks can connect to an external monitor without the need for a proprietary adaptor? Let me see…

    Mac pundits seem to suggest that the bundled iLife package is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Many folks couldn’t care less about it. I’ve been a Mac user for years and I never touch the thing. It’s also unfair to suggest that inexpensive PC’s ship with nothing but a “crippled” OS and a load of adware. Vista Home Premium is pretty much the baseline now, with few exceptions, and a full copy of Works is practically a given. Poor little Lauren won’t HAVE to rush out and spend hundreds of dollars on software.

    The real argument is whether the “Apple Tax” is indeed a fair tax. For me, it is a worthwhile premium. I am still willing to spend more – considerably more – for a Macintosh computer.

  16. Perry Lund says:

    If the point of the article were to point out that Apple’s computers need to have more custom build options or model variety, I think the article would have been written that way. The question of value for the amount of money per Apple product varies, but in most respects, Apple’s pricing structure is reasonable.

    I do still have an issue with the crapware installed on most PCs. The variety of CD/DVD and media applications on HP, Sony, Dell and other brands is not standardized and mostly junk. The trialware version of MS Office 2007 (like the earlier MS Office x or 2004 on Macs) is something most people will have to uninstall.

    Lastly, Microsoft has too many Vista and Windows 7 OP varieties.

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