June 24th, 2007
Recently, both my brother and I had occasion to visit our parents’ home briefly for a family event. He decided he needed to have some apples while there, so he bought a box of fifteen fuji apples from Costco because “it was the best value.” Well, it may have been the best value per apple, but it wasn’t the best value overall because he spent more money than he would have had he bought from a regular grocery store only the one or two apples he wanted to eat, and he wouldn’t have had to force himself to eat more apples, take some apples home with him on the plane, ask my cousin to take some apples home with her, and then still end up throwing away some remaining apples (my parents wouldn’t be eating them).
This situation reminded me of a lot of the “Macs are expensive” debates in computing. Typically, some people will say “Macs are more expensive than Windows PCs,” which is then countered by others who say, “No, Macs are actually the same as or cheaper than similarly spec’ed Windows PCs,” which is usually countered with “No, they’re not.” Both sides give examples, and it ends up being a draw, since “similarly spec’ed” is almost never exactly the same specifications, and even if the specifications are exactly the same hardware-wise, Mac proponents will argue that the software that comes with the Mac (OS X and iLife) is superior to that which comes with the Windows PC.
Here are a couple of examples of such arguments:
Debunking the price myth: Apple vs. Dell
The truth about the costs of Macs vs. costs of PCs.
I’m not going to argue that Macs are more or less expensive than similarly spec’ed Windows PCs, because I think that argument is purely intellectual and not practical at all, just as my brother’s choice to buy fifteen fuji apples was looking at how good a theoretical deal he could get per apple instead of looking at how practical it is to eat fifteen apples in a two-day period.
The truth is that people don’t just buy a Windows PC or just buy a Mac. Most people tend to already be using a Windows PC, in which case they’re very likely to buy another Windows PC or they’ve already decided to switch to using a Mac—it’s not a toss-up between the two (Mexican food or Chinese tonight, dear?); it’s a serious choice between sticking with what you’re used to and have software for, and switching to something completely different. Same for Mac users. If you’re already using Macs, you’re very likely to buy another Mac. You’re not just going to buy a Windows computer because it’s cheaper. Nor is the reason you’ll stick with Mac because of its having a better value for similar specifications.
A lot of users don’t care about comparing similar specs. All they want is cheap, especially if a low-end computer for email, web browsing, and light word processing suits their needs. For these folk, a $499 Dell laptop will be a much better deal than a $1,099 Apple laptop, even if the Apple laptop is a “better value.”
For most computer users, the real considerations are these:
- Can I do with a really cheap computer? Does it do everything I need it to do? Great. I’ll save money, then.
- If I’m using Windows, do I want to keep using Windows? Or am I willing to switch to Mac?
Sometimes flexibility and familiarity matter more than “value.”
And, of course, if money’s a real issue, desktop Linux is worth at least a little exploration. With Linux-compatible hardware, your computer won’t be obsolete for years after it would be using Mac or Windows. As a regular Ubuntu user, I had to throw that last bit in…