Windows Vista vs. MAC OS X: Dollar For Dollar

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…

Direct Costs
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.

Indirect Costs
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,, 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, 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.

Unique Expenses
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).

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

10 thoughts on “Windows Vista vs. MAC OS X: Dollar For Dollar”

  1. Although our needs and issues are probably a lot different, Cinematheque Films went through much the same set of hassles and problems. Each filmmaker was using Windows XP on an HP. But then our traveling increased a zillion times when we made the descision that shooting on location made our stories more visually visceral. One would have thought that laptops (of any make) would have solved our problems but this does not take into account the amount of energy we need to edit film. Laptops were a disaster for us because no battery could sustain film editing in remote locations. Almost by accident, we stumbled on the minimac. I am a computer dunce but I do know this. We are able to travel and shoot film and edit on the road with the power of the mini. The size alone is so small it’s amazing. I travel with one bag. In fact, everything I own — and I do mean everything — fits into one bag. The mini allows us to do far more than we ever could have before with sound and sound effects and Itune’s sound effects allows us to connect and download from sound effect libraries. Our cameras are all Sanyo and connectivity is a piece of cake. Everything is wireless. The mini isn’t any bigger than a shoe. Typically, we’ll shoot and then edit in a hotel room. By the time we get back to Paris and our editing room for the final cut, stuff is usually about half edited. This drives editors crazy but they have to learn to cope with change, too. Anyone who knows film or video knows the editor is who makes a film. The mini changes the paradigm a bit because now a director has access to editing before an editor sees anything. We figure that an entire documentary (nothing fancy) can be shot on three thousand dollars worth of equipment. For every one minute of film we use, we figure we have an hour we don’t use. Some of that can wind up at YouTube which is where the fun begins because it’s just the fun stuff. In the old days, you threw it away. Which is not to say it doesn’t make money because that’s where collectors often find us.The mini has changed the whole way we operate. Although we have to use real juice, the only batteries that run down and have to be rejuiced are in cameras. It’s weird how this changes the way you work. At the end of the day, in the old days you could find us in the hotel bar. No more. Now people want to download, save, and edit right away. It has significantly increased the number of hours we work in a day and I don’t know if that is good or bad. Our work day used to be eight hours. Now, double that. And we’re now not getting outside to interact with local culture. We’re too busy trying to recreate it in a computer. Shooting at night is not the problem it used to be because we can tweak anything. And we’re not really a part of the business crowd slaving away in airports and we find work done in that milieu is sloppy. We don’t want to be “one of them.” We can divide up who carries what. Minis, cameras, monitors, electric, all in separate bags. Our cameras are no bigger than a fist. Last year, we needed a truck. We no longer need anyone whose job is to tote. Lights are passe. Again, we can tweak it. Interconnectivity changes what people do. Your camera guy (or gal) has to be able to do sound. Your directors will want to edit. Your editor will want to shoot film. Your intern will have to be Internet savvy and will have to function as travel agent (who have all been eliminated) and driver. Everyone will have to ultimately know how to do everything. No one can afford to over-specialize. Even translating (my French sucks) is now a Blackberry. Instead of being arrogant and intrusive in remote situations (like the Atlas mountains with the Berbers), the locals are fascinated by the technology and ALL of them will have cell phones so they’re not all that disconnected from what you do, and they’re NOT primitive peons. In China, they will all have more technology than you do and glitches can be fixed by a concierge of his brother. Or their mother. While the PC is ubiguitous, they’re not made for shooting film, editing, or tweaking sound. They’re the business paradigm. I don’t really care where a person went to college. Some of my best team memebers are still in high school. I do care if the technology intimidates you. It hasn’t left me quite in the dust yet, but I’m always catching up. Next step: take all of the above and put it under water. The costs are only going down. I won’t say anything about internally developed software versus expensive programs except that ninth-graders love hacking the lot of it and it’s not quite as protected as pretense would have it and who controls what is definitely not related in any way whatsoever to the notion of age having anything to do with experience and might, in fact, have a lot to do with experience that no longer fits. All of which makes me twenty-one. Apple IS expensive. But we find it does things (much of which it was not designed to do) that free us up in ways we could not have predicted until we’re out there using it.

  2. Thanks for all the great insight Tim, I did look at the mini-Mac when putting the comparison together and think it’s fair to mention that when configured with comparable components and a 20″ monitor it priced out at $252 more than the 20″iMac above.

    Nevertheless, I think the point you’re making is that it does a great job at what you need it to do and there wasn’t anything else available that did as good of a job. As such, the cost was worthwhile to your operations. As the person running the show, you made that decision. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

  3. Just as an addendum, the raw cost numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story in another way. Purely by accident, we discovered our local Mac business rep happens to be a classical music lover and musician. When we ultimately make our switchover from Windows to Mac, which I’m personally strongly advocating as a board member, they indicate we’ll get iPods (pre-loaded with music from our upcoming season) to give to donors, a couple of nice items to auction for our Gala, and some part of the expense of the systems defrayed in trade for advertising in our program booklet and other promotional consideration. In other words, don’t hesitate to horse trade! The negotiating prestige-position of your orchestra is probably pretty high, even if your computer replacement budget isn’t.

  4. Hi Drew,

    Thanks for pricing this stuff out–I’ve always know that Macs were more expensive, but 30% is pretty substantial markup. Plus, when I was shopping for a new laptop about 8 months ago I determined that I could find better deals than were offered at places like HP and Dell if I went to other brands and looked for deals, and since your standard office environment doesn’t need to be on the bleeding edge of power an office might do considerably better bargain hunting. Admittedly, I have no idea what the bargain hunting market is on the Mac side, so maybe you can get comparable savings.

    But cost issues aside, I think there are a variety of other good reasons to go the PC route. First, I’m convinced that the popularity of Macs among creative types is largely for historical reasons — back in the day, especially the early 90s when huge sections of the creative industries were first adopting computers, Macintosh was a vastly superior option. The Pointy-clicky interface was nicer, and the hardware was designed around the needs of the creative sector. The user-friendly-ness of Mac over Windows was also a big selling point, since many of the creative types were less tech savvy (and had less access to tech support) than their business counterparts.

    Over the last 10 years or so Windows has basically caught up in user-friendlyness and in the technical capabilities of the hardware. Almost all of the big creative software packages are cross-platform, and the handful which are not have PC equivalents that are just as good; and for really pro-level work you use external gear that’s all cross-platform compatible too. But the creative sector was weaned on Mac and maintains that loyalty–nobody likes to change operating systems. So while I wouldn’t argue that dedicated Mac users should switch to Windows if they’re happy where they are, I don’t think Windows users should expect to be happier on a Mac either. Barring preexisting loyalty, I think the Wintel machines are the way to go, mostly for reasons of cost–why pay more for less computer unless you have a preexisting attachment to that OS?

    The pro-Windows argument becomes even stronger for an office environment. Even offices in the creative sector are staffed largely by people who have gotten most of their computer experience on Windows — there’s no compelling reason to make them switch to Mac, and keeping them on PC will save the trouble of retraining on top of the added cost of the Mac equipment. And the people who are doing creative work can have Macs if they feel a burning need for them–they integrate into Windows dominant environments just fine.

    I should add the caveat that I haven’t tried Vista, so it’s conceivable that it’s a big step down for some reason, but that seems unlikely.

  5. I have operating many pubic benefit corporation in Mac exclusive environments. I have found them worth the premium capital cost in future productivity costs. Less down time later on.

    I have often hired people who are PC-based and they look ascance at the Macs we use when they arrive. Virtually everyone who entered our organization with that attitude ended up buying a personal Mac.

    My question to your constituency, how has the PC world evolved in reliability? For years Macs won over fans as they rarely crashed and were relatively immune to viruses and other hangups. One can sit down at a Mac and produce finsihed work very quickly,but that didn’t used to be true in the PC world. I am certian PC’s have improved on that and it is true that as Macs have gotten more integrated they are slightly less relaible as they used to be.

    Down time after purchase is why I have stayed in the Mac world, but is that still an issue????

  6. As a person with a strong IT background who has run Macs in business and grad school settings where the vast majority of users were on Windows, I have to say that for me, OS X is far preferable. In my job, I tried to make do with a laptop under Win XP. But all I found was I was doing things to make it work more intuitively, and thus more Mac-like. I don’t use it anymore, especially after I realized I couldn’t access both of my Exchange server accounts at the same time in Outlook, yet could do so easily under Entourage in OS X.

    Your mileage will vary, but friends of mine who “converted” to the Mac became even more enthused and vocal about the Mac than I am (and as Galen knows, I’m kind of a Mac bigot 8-))

  7. Andrew–

    I’ve been working on PCs in non-profit offices for the past several years, including a couple years as the default tech-support guy. Windows machines are very stable when you’re using mainstream software–I can’t even remember the last time an MS Office product crashed my computer. My old office got hit hard by a worm a couple of summers ago that wreaked havoc all over the world, but for the most part as long as people’s virus definitions are kept up to date it’s not a big issue. If you buy your computers pre-configured from a repuatble dealier like HP or Dell you’re unlikely to have a problem since they’ve already tested that particular hardware and software configuration intensively.

    On the other hand, big new versions of software are usually buggy, so I wouldn’t jump into Vista just yet, but once the first few sets of patches have been released you’ll probably be safe.

    I would suggest that people converting to Mac at home after using Mac at work doesn’t necessarily mean anything–I suspect most people are simply more comfortable having the same kind of home computer as their work computer, and that you’d see the reverse if a bunch of Mac users switched over to Windows at work.

  8. I would hope that any comparison of OS costs would factor in productivity. Comparing Windows and Macs for just the dollar difference misses the point that humans work better and happier with simple and elegant tools. Why is it, after all, that Apple has ardent users, and Windows doesn’t?

  9. Why is it, after all, that Apple has ardent users, and Windows doesn’t?

    This has been dealt with many times on the Web and elsewhere, and a lot of it has to do with Apple’s attention to design and usability, elegance, and simplicity. Great point, Vicki! 😎

    I suspect most people are simply more comfortable having the same kind of home computer as their work computer, and that you’d see the reverse if a bunch of Mac users switched over to Windows at work.

    C’mon Galen–is there any data to support this? If people were switching either way just to have consistency, then we wouldn’t see so many people on Macs at home while they are forced to use Windoze at work. 😎

    Given how many of us would rather have root canal than switch from OS X to Windows, I don’t think this is a tenable position. But it’s ok—we’re still friends! 😎

  10. Dear David,

    Macs suck, and your mother dresses you funny. 🙂

    To be serious, though, while I enjoy throwing bombs in the Mac/PC war I don’t actually have an opinion on the superiority of one OS over the other. I have a moderate amount of experience with the Mac OS and honestly prefer the Windows interface. You talked earlier about the Mac interface being more “intuitive” but I find the Windows interface more intuitive — I suspect the difference stems largely from our personal histories and our personal preferences.

    Human Interface Design is in fact a science, so one could theoretically objectively measure which interface is superior, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that Mac has a narrow lead, but I suspect it’s narrow enough that other considerations are more important. On the other hand, if you want to team up to bash MS Word, I’ll be right there with you 🙂

    As to the Mac Fanatacism you talk about, I don’t think we need to introduce objective comparisons of the OS to explain it. Apple is the market-share underdog, and recruited an early pool of dedicated fanatical users back when its GUI was objectively better, and their ad campaigns are consistently brilliant. Microsoft, on the other hand, is easy to hate — they have enormous market share, and the got a lot of it through pretty unethical business practices. And it’s not true that “Apple has ardent users and Windoze doesn’t” — I’ll stick with my PC and use the money I saved to _pay for_ that root canal 🙂

    I don’t have any actual data to support my hypothesis about people liking to have the same kind of computer at home as at work, but even if I’m wrong it’s still easy to explain the Mac-at-home-PC-at-work phenomenon you seem to be proposing. Mac has a sexier image (due to the brilliant advertising and the early emphasis on attractive physical design–although I thoght the original iMacs and especially the toilet seat iBooks were hideous), and a reputation for being “user friendly, intuitive, easy to use, and reliable.” That reputation is driven by the (brilliant) advertising, the existence of the rabid mac fanbase, a certain amount of historical truth (i.e. back in the day they were in fact more reliable), and the fact that it’s easy to dislike Microsoft and thus be suspicious of their products. In other words, the “mac is easier” meme has been highly successful, but we know that a meme’s survival value doesn’t necesarily correlate to its accuracy (remember Saddam and WMD?).

    Anyway, my bottom line is this: I’m not trying to claim that Windows is better than Mac (except occasionally for fun), but that Mac is overrated. And given their similarities in usability and reliability I’m inclined to suggest the cheaper option for people who don’t already have a strong affinity one way or the other.

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