After a flood of responses to the article about my experiences switching from Windows XP to a new computer with Windows Vista Ultimate encouraging me to "Get A Mac", I did some research to determine what sort of direct and indirect costs an orchestra can expect when upgrading from Windows XP to Windows Vista or switching to Mac…
The most obvious direct costs are purchasing a new computer and monitor. Let’s assume you can continue to use existing printers, scanners, and other common peripherals that will work equally well with a Windows or Mac based operating system.
Let’s also assume that you must purchase a new monitor otherwise comparing the iMac against a CPU-only Windows based machine isn’t an apples to apples comparison since the iMac does not sell the CPU separately from the monitor (they are integrated into one piece).
The result is that you need to compare new computers with similar processors, hard drives, RAM memory, CD/DVD drives, graphic cards, monitors size, network cards, etc.
Less obvious than direct costs, indirect costs are usually associated with software products. However, not all software based options are necessary in order to run a new computer system. In this comparison, I only included software that was absolutely necessary to run a standard orchestra office.
Consequently, in order to confirm some of aspects behind iMac’s relatively new feature of running a windows based operating system in addition to their proprietary based operating system (OS X), I contacted iMac sales representatives to obtain answers necessary for this comparison.
Picking The Apples (no pun intended)
Since Apple is the sole manufacturer of iMac computers all prices, options, and configurations were obtained directly from their website, http://store.apple.com/, and from telephone sales representatives. On the PC side, things are a bit more complicated since there are dozens of manufactures.
As such, I selected the two biggest manufactures, Dell and HP, and flipped a coin to determine which one I would use. HP won the toss so all prices, options, and configurations listed in this comparison are directly from their sales website, http://www.hpshopping.com. Naturally, pricing PC’s from other manufactures will alter the results below.
Since Windows Vista comes in several different versions, I selected the one which is best suited for an office environment, Vista Business. As for the Mac operating system, it comes in one option so the decision is predetermined.
Beyond those points, I selected final configurations which featured components that matched as closely as possible based on customization options offered by both manufactures. As such, you should keep in mind that the prices below are not firm and can vary based on your specific needs.
How They Compared
The following chart illustrates the differences in costs between direct and indirect expenses related to upgrading from Windows XP to Windows Visa Business or an iMac running OS X.
In general, the iMac hardware costs about 30% more than comparable components in the HP s3000y. Although the iMac came with a standard Bluetooth connection the lack of media card reader like the one offered in the HP s3000y could be an inconvenience if you need to pull digital images off of a camera fairly often.
Although the direct expense comparison is fairly straightforward, each option had a very unique set of indirect costs. For example, unless you’re already running the most current versions available, Vista Business will require you to purchase software upgrades to continue using Adobe products. At the same time, older versions of the MS Office suite will run just fine on Vista Business.
Consequently, even though the iMac is capable of running all windows based software, you have to purchase a separate copy of Windows XP ($199.99) along with a program called Parallels ($79.99), in order to run any windows based software in an OS X window.
Furthermore, in order to continue using any MS Office based files on your new iMac, you will need to purchase a new copy of MS Office for Mac. Of course, you could save some money compared to the required PC based software upgrades by not purchasing MS Office for Mac in lieu of installing your old copy of MS Office for PC -if you’ve purchased Parallels along with a copy of Windows XP (and assuming you have the MS Office install disc).
Even so, the iMAC does not include a copy of their business software suite (iWork) so the slight savings mentioned above is consumed by the $79.99 iWork price tag. In this scenario, the necessary iMac software purchases are $59.00 more than the PC based software upgrades.
The Decision May Not Be Yours
Unfortunately, you may not have any freedom when it comes which system you select. For example, if your organization uses any of the three following fundraising/marketing/box office software packages: Tessitura, Raiser’s Edge, and Patron’s Edge, then you might not have any choice in the matter.
I contacted Tessitura and Blackbaud (Raiser’s Edge and Patron’s Edge parent organization) to inquire about whether or not current users will need to purchase any required upgrades in order to function with Vista Business or if they switched from Windows XP to an Mac OS X. The representative from Blackbaud did not return telephone messages and according to FAQ documentation on their website, there is no mention about whether or not their products are compatible with Mac OS X.
Tessitura’s representative took a few moments away from a tradeshow to talk but only felt comfortable saying "we have not heard about any compatibility issues with Windows Vista." He declined to offer a public comment on whether or not current users need to purchase any upgrades if upgrading from Windows XP to Vista or if there were any issues or related expenses they should consider if switching from Windows XP to MAC OS X.
In the end, both options included hefty expenses beyond the direct cost of purchasing a new computer system. As such, the decision may be more akin to selecting the lesser of two evils.
Nevertheless, after talking to several IT professionals at academic and nonprofit performing arts institutions, Mac’s OS X is the overwhelmingly preferred operating system. As such, orchestra managers are going to be faced with whether or not the elevated expenses associated with switching from Windows XP to Mac OS X are worth the additional costs.
At the same time, if you use an industry based software program, such as Raiser’s Edge and Patron’s Edge, your decision may be made for you. You might even have a nice scapegoat when staffers and IT manager complain about Vista’s deficiencies compared to OS X: I really wanted to get a Mac but the software we need isn’t compatible.
Postscript: I would still love to do a first hand comparison between the ease of switching from Windows XP to Vista as compared to switching from Windows XP to Mac OS X. As such, if you’re interested in donating a new iMac as a gift-in-kind, feel free to send me a note (keep in mind donations are not tax deductible).