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Understanding the ownership costs of personal computers

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

The most overlooked value of computers is how much they can save you via your increased productivity.

PC users often look at the cost of the computer but not how productive the computer makes them. There are a few studies done on this, and they always conclude that Mac users are more productive (not to mention happier).

Not only are Mac users more productive, but they also use more applications per machine than PC users. This means that they use their computers more often and for more things. If you are placing a value on a computer - it only makes sense to amortize the costs against how much it gets used.

Productivity is everything-

  • How easy the machine is to install? Macs take a fraction of the time to install that PC's do. This makes Mac users more productive.
  • How hard is it to upgrade or maintain the machine? Macs are easier maintain, easier to upgrade, need to be upgraded less. This means Mac users spend less time maintaining their computer and more time working (being productive).
  • How easy is it to add devices and make the machine do new things? The Mac excels at this too. You can plug devices in, without it being a game of Russian roulette - like the PC's. You don't have to fear IRQ conflicts, driver conflicts, etc. The Mac works - allowing you to work.
  • How easy is it to learn and use? Macs are are by far easier to learn and use. So Mac users learn more, that makes the computer more productive. If it is easy to use - then you use it more. The User Interface is the key - and Apple created the micro-computer user interface, and the Mac is far superior to anything else.

User Interface and productivity

User interface is key to productivity, and the Mac has a superior interface. More Mac like is used as a compliment - I have never heard "more like Windows" used as anything other than an insult. There are reasons for this.

  • Ease of Use - the whole point of interface is how easy it is to use. The easier it is to use a computer, the more people will use it, and the more productive they become. The harder a computer is to learn or use the less people will use it, the less they will "explore", the less they will try new things - they will only use the computer to automate one or two pre-defined tasks and be very cautious when trying new things. That is how Windows works. On Macs people are much more likely to explore, and play, and learn - because it is easier, and what they learn often makes the more productive.
  • Predictability - the whole point of creating a metaphor is to give users the ability to predict what will happen. Why a trash can? So that you can throw things away. This doesn't have to be explained as much, because users can make leaps in association. This is what makes the Mac neat. On the Mac if you drag something to the trash, the trash bulges to tell you something is in inside - on Windows there is no feedback. On the Mac if you open the trash it behaves like every other folder, on Windows if you put something in the trash - the trash destroys the folder-heirarchy, so all files are flattened. On Windows if you happen to hold down the control key while dragging something to the trash it is immediately deleted, otherwise you must empty the recycle bin. Windows is not as predictable - that means people are slower and more cautious, and ask or research before doing anything. Windows gets in the way and slows people down.
  • Consistency - The Mac is more consistent. I've used some tab controls in Windows that pop-up dialog boxes for more information. A tabber control is only supposed to show different panes - not to pop-up dialogs or do other bizarre things. Keyboard shortcuts are always supposed to be the same across Applications - on Windows this lack of consistency is much worse than on Macs. This loss of consistency confuses the user and slows them down - it also makes them more cautious. Individually the user only looses a few seconds for each of these items - but collectively it adds up and makes the user read Everything cautiously and makes them more hesitant to try new things and use their computer.

These are just a few of the most basic things about User Interface - See my pages on User Interface to understand why the Mac is superior - but realize that each of these contributes to productivity. If you are buying a computer to use - why not buy the computer that is the easiest to use?


Now add all these things together. Figure out how much wasted time is saved on a Mac, and figure out how much that time is worth to you - not only in dollars for the time, but in dollars for your sanity. That is where the real costs of computers and productivity need to be factored in.

The whole point of this site is that Computers are supposed to work for you, not against you.

Lets compare a computer to a tool, like a circular power saw. I can use a saw that has no safety features - but I should not have to. We rate the saw based on how useful it is, how safe it is, and how much we use it. Computers should be the same way.The Mac is a better tool - it is safer to use, easier to use, and more powerful. Powerful not in that it has more Horse Power (it does, but that is secondary), it is powerful in the most important ways - that users can USE its power. Having 27 attachments to a saw is useless if no one can figure out how to change the blades, or if the saw has so much torque that it pops out of your hand when you turn it on and accidentally cuts off your foot. What users care about is being able to change the blades quickly, not having their hands ripped off because they accidentally pressed the wrong button (like holding the control key while dragging something to the trash - especially when they are supposed to use the control key while dragging from one drive to the other to instigate a move). All these things are what power (and computers) are about - making something that is useful and easy to use that you don't need to be trained (as much) to use. Sure, I might be a carpenter and spend time and effort learning to use the saw, but I shouldn't have to become a carpenter to use a saw - and I shouldn't have to become a computer engineer to use a computer. I can adapt to the saw - but the saw should adapt to me. That is what the Mac is all about - and that is why users of Macs are more productive than users of PC's.(1)

(1) That is also why once people "get it" and understand this mental shift - that Macs adapt to them instead of making them adapt to the computer. They become raging Mac advocates and want to help others learn to "get it" as well. They want to help people learn to help themselves. To actually enjoy a computer - and do work with it - and focus on the work and not the tool.

Created: 02/12/97
Updated: 11/09/02

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