Microsoft's Lauren vs. Apple's Yau-Man

Microsoft wants laptop buyers to fret over Apple's higher price tag, but one CTO isn't convinced that the cost factor is higher.

Red-headed Lauren, meet bespectacled Yau-Man.

Lauren is supposedly a real computer shopper who appeared in Microsoft's "laptop hunters" television ad campaign earlier this month. Her only buying criteria: a 17-inch screen for under $1,000, which pretty much rules out an Apple computer. She chose a cheap PC over a pricy Mac, with cameras rolling and Microsoft footing the bill.

Score one for Redmond, right? Nope. Lauren was outed as an actress last week, although it isn't known if she was on Microsoft's payroll. Does it really matter? She's an actress in front of a camera.

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Yau-Man Chan, "Survivor" contestant and CTO. Photo courtesy of CBS Television .

[ CIOs argue that the Mac makes up the cost difference with PCs in many ways. | Even Windows geeks are warming to Macs, reports CIO. ]

Then there's Yau-Man Chan, CTO of the College of Chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley and a non-actor who gained some fame on the reality television show Survivor, known simply as Yau-Man. He toils in a windowless office in the bowels of a basement under a library. Chan doesn't appear in an Apple ad nor has he received any kickbacks.

But Chan bought himself a Mac anyway—and now he's lovin' it. "I needed a laptop that's portable, fast, reliable, easy to connect to the network and have good graphics," he says. "Since I'm using an iMac at work, I also wanted a Mac for home so that I can keep the same versions of applications."

Chan's selection criteria for a computer was a wee bit more thoughtful than Lauren's 17-inch-or-bust computer challenge. He wanted a powerful, reliable machine that's light enough for the 56-year-old to commute with everyday. His old Dell notebooks were just too bulky. Chan settled on a MacBook with a 13-inch screen for around $1,400 with his academic discount, only a couple hundred dollars more than a Windows notebook with comparable computational power and memory.

For less technical folks, Chan says the premium for a Mac is well worth it because Macs require less support. Chan's IT department, which has undergone budget cuts, provides installation and support services to end users under a recharge model. And so Chan advises end users to pay a little more for a Mac because the extra cash will be paid back in recharge savings within the year.

If Lauren isn't technically savvy or runs into problems with her new Windows notebook, her under-$1,000 price tag can backfire in support costs and downtime. "When someone has very little support for their computer, the Mac suddenly wins hands down," Chan says.

Lauren's 17-inch screen requirement also doesn't make much sense to Chan. A 13-inch screen is plenty for most people, he says, unless you're a photographer or graphic designer. "A laptop is more about being portable and reliable," Chan says.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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