Mac OS is the hands-down operating system winner, from the perspective of cost effectiveness.
By Jacqueline Emigh
The advent of Vista and Mac OS X, along with the ascension of Linux, add new dimensions to a long-time controversy. Now more than ever before, the Mac OS is the most cost effective operating system of all.
The debate over the financial advantages of various OSes first sparked around 15 years ago, when the Gartner Group industry analyst firm came up with the concept of total cost of ownership (TCO). Since then, a number of other theoretical models have also been coined to weigh the business pros and cons of various OSes.
In 1999, for instance, Gistics released a landmark report analyzing Macs and PCs in terms of return on investment (ROI). Gistics’ study was limited strictly to the publishing, graphics and new media fields. Among many other findings, the authors concluded that Mac creative professionals were producing $26,000 more each in annual revenues for their employers than their Windows counterparts.
Some six years later, soon after the advent of OS X, computer security expert Winn Schwartau created a widely publicized tool geared to helping companies in any industry measure the TCO of Macs versus Windows PCs. Schwartau emphasizes that results from the tool can vary considerably from one business to the next. But at his own small enterprise—then known as Interpact and now dubbed The Security Awareness Company—three-year TCO turned out to be twice as high for Windows than Mac.
Whether or not they’ve undertaken formal TCO or ROI studies, many customers today claim to be attaining substantial economic advantages from using Mac OS, either instead of or in conjunction with other OSes.
In contrast to the largely server-based Linux OS, Mac remains an operationally viable choice for widespread use on servers and desktops alike. And despite all the energy Microsoft has poured into the new Vista, Mac is still king of the hill when it comes to desktop ease of use—translating, at the end of the day, into higher productivity and lower tech support and training expenditures.
In OS X, Apple has innovated with an underlying Unix kernel for better security and less costly management on large networks. But Mac OS continues to run only on Apple’s own well-engineered PCs, attested to by many enterprises and other business as more crash-resistant, reliable and long-lasting than other PC hardware. Furthermore, Mac OS continues to require fewer patches than Windows, for easier and less pricey maintenance.
Meanwhile, some industry analysts predict that Apple will garner new business out of Microsoft’s Vista from longtime Windows customers who are unenthusiastic over the lack of driver support and other costly aches and pains of Vista migration.
Here are the details on a few of the myriad reasons why Mac OS is the way to go, financially speaking.
Macs bring a better overall value proposition
OK. You can buy a very low-end Windows-based PC for less than $300, if you know where to look. Good luck trying to find a Mac anywhere near that range. Even a Mac Mini will probably run you around $500.
But most enterprises are unlikely to buy ultra-cheap PC hardware anyway, points out Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at JupiterMedia. “Generally, businesses are not looking strictly at the most budget-minded hardware. They’re interested in things like reliability, build quality, manageability and overall value. And from that perspective, Macs deliver very well,” he says.
In Gartenberg’s opinion, Mac machines compare favorably in pricing to similarly outfitted Windows-enabled systems from OEMs such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo.
“If you consider a Mac and a low-end [Windows] PC, the Mac will carry a higher price tag. But let’s not compare a Lexus with a Hyundai,” Gartenberg says.
A couple of years back, Tayco, one of the world’s largest makers of office furniture, reached similar conclusions upon first pricing Mac servers for use on its network.
“The initial hardware costs were pretty much the same as for Windows PCs. But Macintosh has turned out to be much more cost-effective, due partly to its scalability,” according to Przemek (pronounced “Chemek”) Wozniak, IT manager of the Toronto, Ontario-based manufacturing firm.
Tayco is currently running three Apple X servers, 15 Windows servers and two IBM iSeries midrange computers on its back-end infrastructure. Meanwhile, all but 15 of the company’s desktop PCs are running Windows.
Ultimately, though, the IT manager eyes replacing most of the remaining Windows servers and all of the desktops with Macs. He’s also considering swapping out the two iSeries, which are running Lotus Notes mail and calendaring applications,with Apple’s upcoming OS X version 10.5—code-named “Leopard”—which is slated to come with its own open-source versions.
Much of Tayco’s reason for switching to Macs boils down to hardware costs. New IBM iSeries servers go for $100,000 and up, according to Wozniak. He also finds IBM PC servers consume more space in the data center than Xserves, while adding extra costs for rack hardware. “You can only fit 10 of them in one rack, versus 42 in a rack for Xserves,” he adds.
Macintosh licensing fees are cheaper
On the strictly OS side, Wozniak cites scalability of a different kind. “With one Xserve license, you can support unlimited numbers of users,” the IT manager notes. In contrast, Microsoft’s client access licenses (CALs) for Windows servers impose extra costs based on number of clients. As a result, customers can save money by deploying Mac servers to support both Mac and Windows, suggests Mike Silver, VP of research in the Gartner Group’s Client Computing Group.
But meanwhile, many other businesses have either already implemented Mac-only deployments or are moving in that direction. Beyond customers with mixed OS architectures, VSM.net, a Web design and IT outsourcing firm in Neptune, Fla., services several companies that have gone 100 percent Macintosh.
After using VSM.net to host its website and e-mail system for several years, The Powerhouse Group, an event production company, hired the outsourcer to implement a Mac-based WAN across all three locations of the agency, according to Rene Garcia, a network manager at VSM.net. The new Mac gear includes Mac servers, iMacs, and Mac laptops for salespeople.
“We’re seeing a lot of that right now. People are running away from Windows because there are more choices,” says Garcia.
“Linux first paved the way for choice. But personally, I prefer [doing systems administration] with the Mac OS. The various distributions of Linux—Novell SUSE, Ubuntu, Red Hat—are all the same in a way, but yet they’re different, because [administrative functions] can be located in different places.”
The Mac desktop spawns fewer calls to the help desk
Mac desktop software has always been known for its ease of use, and rightfully so. “Even little children are able to use Macs. A kid can open up ‘Johnny’s folder,’ and there are Johnny’s little docs and applications,” says Roger Kay, president of market intelligence firm Endpoint Technologies.
“The Mac is the simplest machine you’ll ever put your hands on,” agrees Lannie Hall, a RE/MAX Realtor in Atlanta, Ga. After rather effortlessly teaching himself to use the Mac, Hall has managed to produce all of his own brochures and other marketing materials, working only with his assistant. This spares him the considerable expense of outside designers and printing firms. Hall showcases his work on the Web at http://www.hackberrycourt.com.
Some might argue that Microsoft has been gradually closing the desktop usability gap through Windows 98, Windows XP and now Vista. But although the differences might be more subtle now, Macs are still easier to use, according to Schwartau. “Those new UACs (user access controls) in Vista can really be murder for ‘Ma and Pa User,'” he says.
Due to the Mac’s greater ease of use, as well as a greater tendency toward informal peer-to-peer support, Mac users tend to place far fewer help desk calls—and this, in turn, helps to lower tech support costs, according to Gistics CEO and President Michael Moon.
Also in the usability arena, in-place upgrades tend to run more smoothly on Mac OS, according to Gartner’s Silver. “Reinstallation of Mac applications, data and user settings is more elegant, and this can work as a cost benefit,” the Gartner analyst says.
Mac users are more productive workers
Whether in publishing/graphics/new media or in other fields, Mac desktop users also tend to be more productive at work, a finding that’s long shown up in TCO and ROI analyses.
Over the past few years, Gistics has stopped producing large-scale ROI reports in favor of doing custom consulting for individual customers such as Hallmark Cards and Nintendo. Hallmark, by the way, has purchased a whopping total of 10,000 Macs over the past 20 years for use in its creative department.
“But Macintosh remains the most productive platform for workflow in professional publishing,” Moon maintains. He attributes the greater productivity largely to the Macintosh’s advantages in managing color profiles and achieving “single-pixel precision,” for crisper graphics. “You certainly don’t want a client telling you, ‘I’m not paying for the ad because the color is incorrect,'” Moon says.
Schwartau’s TCO tool, too, uses productivity as a major ingredient. In addition to productivity losses/gains, the tool incorporates such factors as reliability costs, downtime per user per year, reboots, system maintenance and administration, and the prorated costs of per user upgrades and patches.
Macs last longer
Users also concur about the Mac’s relative longevity. Hall, for example, is still using the same Mac G4 system he purchased six years ago, although he’s since bought two more Macs for use in his real estate practice.
“Before that, I was fortunate if I could get 12 or 13 months out of a Windows PC. It usually got corrupted long before that,” he explains.
Mac OS is more secure
Hall is hardly alone in his frustration over Windows crashes and viruses. “With Mac OS, you don’t have to worry as much about malware. So you don’t have to run as much software in the background for dealing with the problem,” says VMU.net’s Garcia.
From talking with his own customers, Schwartau has estimated that Windows adds anywhere from $1,300 to $4,000 to the TCO of each PC, based on support alone. He blames the extra expense mainly on the costs of security software.
Macs are less prone to viruses for a couple of reasons, according to Schwartau. First, due to the much higher preponderance of Windows, far fewer viruses and worms have been written specifically for Mac. Beyond that, however, Schwartau contends that OS X’s Unix kernel makes Macs practically impervious to malware at the OS level.
Mac is just as cost-effective as Windows to manage and administer
OS X’s Unix kernel also carries other financial advantages. With OS X, it became possible for the first time to administer Macs through the Unix command line. Ever since then, companies embarking on Mac deployments have been able to pull systems administrators from the much bigger pool of Unix and Linux administrators, instead of relying strictly on skilled Mac OS specialists.
This puts Mac OS deployments on the same par as Windows when it comes to the costs of hiring systems administrators, according to IT recruiters. “Unix and Windows administrators both start out at the same salary levels. Salary differentials are based on experience, certifications and specialized skills, not on the OS in use,” says Brian Green, executive director of Lloyd IT, an arm of Melville, N.Y.-based Lloyd Staffing.
The hiring field opened up earlier on the network management side. In Macintosh System 7, Apple started to replace Appletalk, its original proprietary network communications protocol, with industry standard TCP/IP communications. Consequently, businesses with Mac-only and mixed-OS implementations didn’t need to pay a premium for network management support, either.
Add Macs while hanging on to your investments in other OSes
Because Macs are such good citizens in multi-OS deployments, there’s no need to abandon existing investments in other systems by “ripping and replacing.” Beyond running Unix applications directly on OS X, you can also operate Windows apps in emulation mode.
In fact, Mac has gotten somewhat of a head start on other OSes in the virtual machine (VM) arena, notes VSM.net’s Garcia, who is using software from Parallels and VMWare for Windows virtualization on Mac OS. “This whole virtualization thing is bringing Macs into the mainstream. You can use virtualization to run Windows applications seemingly natively on Mac OS,” he says.
The bottom line for Mac OS
You’re probably not going to see Fortune 500 firms marching in droves to 100 percent Mac OS deployments, are you? Not yet, anyhow. But something else is afoot. Observers are already noticing a lot more penetration among enterprise departments and SMBs, as customers grow more aware of the multiple financial benefits of Macs. It’s certainly a start.