Why Microsoft Should Fear Apple

It isn't about Apple's market share or even its quarterly sales numbers. It's about perception.

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Because I made the switch recently, and did so publicly, I've gotten hundreds of messages from Computerworld readers (as well as readers of my personal newsletter, Scot's Newsletter) informing me that they, too, switched to the Mac recently. Many are IT people. Some confess that they manage Windows users by day, and run Macs at home. Others tell me that they've switched in the office, and it's no big deal. The all-but-universal experience is that the transition was much easier than expected, and that using the Mac has made switchers more productive.

What's especially intriguing to me is that many IT managers have reported that execs of all stripes are switching to the Mac at their companies. I've seen the same phenomenon. At my company, three very highly placed execs have used Macs for many years. The vast majority of people have used Windows. Over the course of the last year, however, several new Mac users have appeared, including three in my area of the company. Mac users are beginning to come out of the woodwork. And the word is spreading that it's OK to do that.

So, while I don't think Microsoft has anything to fear in the market share department, when it comes to mind share, it has a lot to lose. The Mac is experiencing a renaissance. It's about Intel inside. It's about Unix at the core. It's about virtualization technology. It's about the surprising availability of software. It's about a superior operating system, and attractive hardware. It's about serious buzz.

People are talking about the Mac throughout the industry. Admit it: Whether you love it or hate it, you're talking about the Mac at the water cooler. Many IT pros tend to laugh up their sleeves about how expensive and eccentric Macs are. But they're still talking. It's one of the top 10 technology stories of the year.

Macintosh TCO

There are three essential truths that I have come to believe about Macs:

1. The mythology surrounding the Mac isn't true. It's not impervious to problems. Like any computer, a Mac can really come apart on you in a bad way. I've seen it happen.

2. When Macs go bad, the conventional wisdom is that they're harder to fix than Windows machines. I used to believe that myself. It may have been true under pre-OS X versions of the Mac OS, but I no longer find that to be the case. As a relative Mac newbie, I've had no trouble figuring out Mac problems -- and that includes a couple of doozies.

3. That said, Macs go bad less often than Windows PCs. Mac users are more productive than Windows users because Macs experience fewer problems. There's nothing mystical about it either. There are some obvious reasons why this is the case: The Mac is a closed hardware/software system. The OS isn't forced to contend with a vast variety of hardware, and the hardware is carefully vetted so that it works perfectly with the software. Apple controls the horizontal; it controls the vertical. The hardware and software are a matched set.

Apple has also had an enduring, consistent vision about usability. It's willing to sacrifice both power and flexibility to create a user interface that is far more intuitive than other operating systems. So Macs work better and are easier to use. That's it in a nutshell.

What would you pay for a computer that doesn't currently need anti-malware software? On most Windows PCs -- especially consumer-spec'ed PCs -- the security software is robbing the PC of so much system overhead that the user experience suffers. This one difference alone delivers a small reduction of software costs and a large reduction of helpdesk calls.

When it comes to hardware, Macs have long been perceived as overpriced and underpowered -- and that may have been true in the past. But when you compare today's premium Windows-based hardware, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T60 series, to the Apple MacBook Pro, what you find is that you don't pay a premium for the Mac hardware. You can easily pay a lot more for a high-end Lenovo notebook than for a MacBook Pro. Of course, it's also possible to pay less for Dell hardware than you would for Apple hardware.

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