The cost of managing Macs vs. PCs: Readers weigh in

Readers weigh up the cost benefits of Mac and PC-centric environments

One thing is clear about our recent CIO.com story, Are Macs Really Cheaper to Manage than PCs--readers have vehement opinions on this topic. One other thing: there is no "right" answer to this question.

It's no secret that Apple prices its Macs on the high end of the retail computer market. But throw in enterprise requirements, connectivity to backend systems and applications, hidden management costs, support costs, and maybe a desktop virtualization layer, and suddenly calculating the cost of a computer isn't so simple.

Among readers, though, there's not much gray area: They're either in the PC camp or the Mac camp. To be fair, readers' opinions stem from what works in their own IT environments. Thus, they're neither right nor wrong, because IT environments vary greatly (which is why Macs and Active Directory may work well in one scenario and not so well in another).

CIOs can learn from the issues raised in this debate, such as the hidden costs of desktop virtualization entering into the equation. Here are some of the more compelling reader comments, which have been edited for grammar and brevity:

Macs Are Cheaper

Dave writes: "I and another person support more than 60 Mac Pros in a Windows dominated network environment, in multiple buildings and locations. The Macs bind and log-in through Active Directory without issues, as well as use all features as on the PCs. We use Apple Remote Desktop to remote support and push updates. For more than eight years, we have had 100 percent uptime. You guys need to get with the rest of the real world who are dumping Windows and enjoying a less stressful support life with the Mac. Win PC admins are a dying breed."

Billy Lenox writes: "I want to set the record straight on all the rumors that fly out all the time that Macs are more expensive than PCs. Yes, this was true back in the 90s. But since the switch to Intel, Macs have became cheaper. By the way, Apple does have a low cost Mac called the Mac Mini at $US799. The equivalent Dell is $889."

(In a head-to-head cost comparison, Lennox pitted an Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch against a Dell Precision Laptop M4400, similarly configured. Lennox included two dozen factors, ranging from starting price to wireless and video cards to webcams. The final analysis: the MacBook costs $1,899 with a delivery in one to three business days, whereas the Dell costs $2,223 with a delivery in two weeks. Here is Lennox's comparison chart on Facebook.)

An Enterprise Desktop Alliance survey of 260 IT admins found that Macs were cheaper in six of seven computer management categories: troubleshooting, help desk calls, system configuration, user training and supporting infrastructure (servers, networks and printer).

PCs Are Cheaper

An anonymous reader writes: "Almost all the Macs in my company require VMware, Fusion/Parallels or WinXP with Bootcamp, which means time spent configuring and supporting the PC side of the setup, as well as constant hacks and work-arounds to get features that are a simple setup on the PC to work on a Mac. Add to that no centralized administration with Active Directory, problematic setups with network shares, email quirks and the like, and I would have to say I completely disagree that Macs are cheaper than PCs."

An anonymous reader writes: "A corporate Mac environment without the need for Windows applications would definitely be cheaper to manage. But when you add VMWare into the mix, I think it can potentially cost more."

Chris writes: "User support cost-savings are eaten up by transition costs: backup, systems management, antivirus, office software, rights management, Excel/Word/PPT macros. All that stuff needs to be changed or implemented redundantly. Unless you take the plunge and move fully to Macs or are able to clearly separate Mac and PC usage, you end up paying more due to necessary redundancies. And yes, Mac technicians want more money even though you might need less of them."

An anonymous reader writes: "Macs might be cheaper if one did not have to integrate them into an already Microsoft-centric enterprise. While Snow Leopard does support Active Directory and Exchange, Sharepoint does not work seamlessly. Microsoft Office for Mac does not play nice with PC Microsoft Office when it comes to formats. Macs only work well in an integrated environment as long as you use some sort of virtual machine like Parallels or VMware to load Windows. At that point, your cost savings go up in smoke."

Tom Kaneshige is a senior writer for CIO.com in Silicon Valley. Send him an email at tkaneshige@cio.com. Or follow him on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.

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