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Running the numbers:
Is abandoning the Mac prudence or paranoia?


By: Rick Johnson

Many IS/IT managers are claiming that it will save money to switch to "All PC's". They claim standardization will save money. Let's look at some of the costs.


Say your company has an older Macintosh computer that is due for replacement. You ask yourself, "Would it be wiser to replace it with another Mac or with a Windows PC?" Nobody can predict the future of Apple--its impending demise has been widely prophesied since the early 1980s and heavily escalated in the last two years, even though Bill Gates himself recently said that the Macintosh will not be going away any time soon.

We do know, however, some of the economics of using each platform, thanks to a GISTICS Inc. study of 30,226 media professionals in more than 10,000 companies. We can take these numbers and play out a few scenarios. This exercise is not meant to establish total cost of ownership, but rather to explore the potential difference in the cost of the two paths.

Say it's September 1997. Two small publishers each have four Macintosh computers to replace. Company A chooses to stay with the Mac, while Company B decides to switch to PCs running Windows.

COST TO CHANGE

Company A
4 Macintoshes

Company B
4 Windows PCs

Sell old computers

($400)

($400)

Purchase new computers

$23,200
four 300 MHz 8600s
with two-page displays
extra RAM

$22,400
four 266 MHz Gateway 2000s
with two-page displays
extra RAM
plus replacement Wacom tablets

Upgrade software

$200
PowerPC native versions of three utilities (which hadn't been kept up to date)

$10,040 (Four each)
Adobe Illustrator @ $390,
Adobe Photoshop @ $560
QuarkXPress @ $660
Fractal Painter @ $300
Microsoft Office @ $450
twelve fonts @ $50

Additional support/training (1)

n/a

$19,800

Tme "futzing" with files (1)

n/a

$4,560 @ $30/hour

Lost revenue (2)

n/a

$58,200
$14,550 per employee @ $12.22/hour, 24.8 billable hours/week (48 weeks)

Upgrade costs (3)

$23,000

$114,600

ONE YEAR LATER

September 1998: Company A has saved $91,600 by staying with the Macintosh platform.

Under an optimistic (and not unlikely) outcome, Microsoft Office 98 has been released for the Macintosh and, as Bill Gates promised, it is more advanced than the Windows version. Rhapsody Unified has been released, and applications run almost twice as fast (as demonstrated during development in 1997) and are much more stable. The Rhapsody version of Adobe's products are even faster and extremely stable, and benefit from protected memory, virtual memory and preempted multitasking more in line with Windows NT than Windows 95. Mac users also have available the applications originally developed for NeXT (OpenStep). New Mac OS Hardware has increased its performance edge over Intel-based PCs by a wide margin, making this year's upgrades even more attractive than last year's. On the Windows side are a few more ports of Macintosh utilities, some incremental upgrades, and Windows 98 (which makes Windows even more "like a Macintosh").

Under a pessimistic outcome, the Mac OS continues to lose market share and developer support. The major players continue to provide upgrades and support, but more smaller developers offering alternatives to the "name brands" have dropped out. New Mac OS hardware continues to be on par with Intel-based PCs. On the Windows side are a few more ports of Macintosh utilities, some incremental upgrades, and Windows 98.

Either way, the current Mac systems are usable, and Company A chooses to stay with Macintosh.

YEAR 1's COST

Company A
4 Macintoshes

Company B
4 Windows PCs

Upgrade OS

$600 estimate for Rhapsody

$400 estimate for Windows 98

Upgrade Software

$3,600
Upgrades and Rhapsody versions of software

$1,200
incremental upgrades

Additional support/training (1)

$16,000

$19,800

Tme "futzing" with files (1)

$4,000

$4,560 @ $30/hour

Lost revenue (2)

n/a

$58,200
$14,550 per employee at $12.22/hour, 24.8 billable hours/week (48 weeks)

2nd year costs (3)

$24,200

$82,760

TWO YEARS LATER

September 1999: Company A has saved an additional $58,560 (for a total of $150,160) by staying with the Macintosh platform.

Under an optimistic outcome, Rhapsody Software continues to improve in both selection and performance, raising its market share. On the Windows side are a few more Windows ports and growing acceptance of Rhapsody for Intel, despite its performance disadvantage compared to the PowerPC version and lack of support for Mac OS applications. Windows users begin to feel the pressure to switch to Windows NT.

Under a pessimistic outcome, the Macintosh remains a niche market, and some of the software, although current with the Windows versions, is no longer supported. Running Windows software on the Mac hardware is, as has been for years, still practical under SoftWindows, VirtualPC, RealPC or Blue Label, most of which are widely available for under $100. The Windows situation is same as above.

Either way, the current Mac systems are usable, and Company A chooses to stay with them.

YEAR 2's COST

Company A
4 Macintoshes

Company B
4 Windows PCs

Upgrade OS

$400 estimate for Rhapsody

$1,200 estimate for Windows NT

Upgrade Software

$1,200
incremental upgrades

$2,400
Upgrades for NT compatible versions of software (4)

Additional support/training (5)

n/a

$19,800

Tme "futzing" with files (5)

n/a

$4,560 @ $30/hour

Lost revenue (2)

n/a

$58,200
$14,550 per employee at $12.22/hour, 24.8 billable hours/week (48 weeks)

2nd year costs (3)

$1,600

$86,160

THREE YEARS LATER

September 2000: Company A has saved an additional $84,560 by staying with the Macintosh platform.
 
A three-year total of $234,720!

 

Under an optimistic outcome, the MacOS/Rhapsody market is strong and the hardware has another 1-3 years life ahead of it. Windows users prepare to replace their hardware again as their PCs reaches the end of their cycle and they continue to adjust to Windows NT.

Under a pessimistic outcome, the Macintosh becomes an even smaller niche market, and most software is no longer supported (although Microsoft Mac software remains current per a 1997 agreement). Using the Mac as-is with the few upgrades available, as well as running Windows software under emulation, remains a viable option. The Windows situation is same as above.

Summary

Even if the Macintosh platform doesn't rebound, Company B's switch to Windows still left them looking for new computers and adjusting to a new OS three years later. Company A's decision to take a chance on the Mac led them to the same juncture as Company B, but with one important difference: Company A has $234,720 more for shopping money.

Rule of thumb

The Macintosh will pay for itself in about four months. If the system is still usable at the end of that period, it then becomes an asset to the balance sheet, not a liability. Each month that you continue to use the Macintosh protects your higher profit margin and saves you $1,600 in the hidden costs of operating a Windows PC. So when would be the wisest time to switch to Windows? At the last possible moment, when (and if) your Macs become no longer functional. (If it's true what we're told about Windows' ease-of-use, you should be up and running on the new platform in a day or two.) So, considering your bottom line, staying with the Mac looks much less like a religion, and a lot more like common [business] sense.


I [Rick Johnson] freely admit that I may not have applied all relevant data and may have made mistakes in how I applied what I did, which may have affected the figures, but probably not the outcome. I encourage you to review the GISTICS study and apply their data for yourself.


(1) Both Mac and PC users spend time with support, training, "futzing" with files and recovering from crashes, but the figures shown here represent only the difference between the two. For this reason, the total costs should be increased by an equal amount for both platforms.

(2) Lost revenue is the difference in income between Mac-based and PC-based firms, not a cost to each platform.

(3) Figures shown here do not include all costs common to both platforms (1), but rather the difference in those total cost.

(4) Figures assume all current software is compatible with Windows NT, which is not likely.

(5) As in footnote (1), these are differences in total cost. Figures assume cost of supporting Windows NT is the same as supporting Windows 95. Preliminary research shows this figure is actually likely to increase, but is left unchanged, giving Windows the benefit of the doubt (even though Rhapsody was given an estimated penalty for expected transition and training costs).


GISTICS statistics

[4 Page Summary of the GISTICS Study]

The study in a nutshell

Macintosh users have a few advantages over Windows PC users, in that Mac users:

  • Spend 38 fewer hours/year "futzing" with files
  • Save $4,950 annually on support and training
  • Use more tools (14.3 vs 8.3)
  • Save $2,211 in 3-year cost of ownership
  • Earn $5.01 more per hour
  • Constitute 62% of top 10% in personal income

Macintosh (vs. Windows-based) firms:

  • Earn $12.22 more revenue per hour of labor
  • Create $14,550 more profits year per person
  • Earn 32% more net profit per project

Copies of this study are available from GISTICS Inc. -- eMail research@gistics.com with your request. More information is available in this article by Henry Norr at MacWEEK Online. I encourage you to study it further.


Related data

According to an article by Dan Stets at Philadelphia Online:

  • Last year the total annual operating cost per machine hit $9,324 at Intel, a Silicon Valley technology company where you'd think someone ought to be able to figure out how to control costs.
  • Gartner Group, a consulting company, says the average cost for a business to operate a networked PC is $9,092. That's up more than 135 percent from 1987, and the costs keep climbing.


Created: 08/13/97
Updated: 11/09/02


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