How much does the "Apple Tax" really cost?

With April 15 fast approaching, Microsoft has been warning about the so-called "Apple tax" that people pay for buying Macs. Their newest claim: A family of four will pay $3,367 over five years if they buy Macs instead of PCs, not just for the initial machines, but in ongoing costs hardware and software costs. But do the numbers really add up?

Windows Communications Manager Brandon LeBlanc writes about the Apple Tax in his latest blog, and he hits it pretty hard. Microsoft sponsored a white paper about the Apple tax, which concludes that a family of four would spend $3,367 over five years if they buy a desktop and laptop Mac rather than a desktop and laptop PC. LeBlanc says that the paper:

"shows the 'Apple Tax' is the combination of what people pay up front when purchasing a Mac and what people pay over the life of their computer -- the hidden tax."

I've taken a look through the white paper, which you can download here. Given that Microsoft sponsored it, you may suspect that it's not objective. I've taken a look through it, and it's clearly not objective, and has a strong pro-Microsoft bias. In fact, at times it reads more like propoganda than a white paper. While I think that you generally pay an Apple tax when you buy Apple hardware, this white paper has overstated the facts.

Without even examining the paper's financial reasoning, you can tell this isn't an objective look at the facts. Just look at the writing in the paper itself.

Preston Gralla's Tax Series:

The paper examines the cost difference between a MacBook and a similarly spec'ed Dell Inspiron. It rightly concludes that the Dell costs $300 less. But instead of leaving it at that, the paper takes a nasty little shot at Apple. The white paper says:

The $300 premium gets you, ah, what was that again? Oh, less memory, smaller hard drive, smaller screen, no keyboard or mouse, and no card reader. Way cool.

Later on in the white paper, the writer compares the price of an AirPort Extreme Base Station at $180 to a similar Cisco LinkSys dual-band wireless router at $150. The paper concludes:

The premium for the Apple setup is $30. Maybe that's chump change to the cool.

There's a similar snide tone throughout the paper. This tone does Microsoft an extreme disservice, and makes one question the objectivity of the paper.

It's not just the wording of the paper that's off-base, though. So is some of its reasoning. Let's take the comparison between the AirPort and Cisco wireless routers. When the writer does his calculation about the Apple tax, he includes that $30 differential. But a wireless Mac will work perfectly well with the LinkSys router. So someone with a Mac doesn't have to pay the $30 extra for the router. There simply is not an Apple tax there.

Similar problems can be found in other places in the paper. For example, the white paper assumes that the family will have to spend hundreds of dollars for Mac software, including Mac Office Home and Student, Quicken for Mac, and other software. But it assumes that the family will not spend any money for PC software, under the theory that the family has already paid for PC software, so they can just somehow port it over to a new PC. That rarely happens. And notably, the analysis doesn't include any money spent for anti-virus software, which isn't necessary on the Mac, but is vital for a PC.

I'm not disputing that there's a Mac tax, because for more hardware configurations, there certainly is one. But by sponsoring a clearly biased white paper that uses sometimes specious arguments, Microsoft is doing itself no good.

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