Microsoft's "Apple Tax" White Paper–Let's Try That Again!

By  |  Monday, April 13, 2009 at 3:04 am

Last week, Microsoft sponsored a white paper that expanded upon the mantra in the company’s “Laptop Hunters” ads that Macs are overpriced computers that impose a price penalty based on an ethereal, needless “cool factor.” Said white paper featured charts involving Mac configurations that no longer exist, and calculations of the long-term cost of being a Mac user that seemed questionable at best and nonsensical at worst. I detailed some (but not all) of the issues in this post.

The white paper’s author, Endpoint Technologies’ Roger Kay, blamed some of the data problems on production gaffes by Microsoft. Microsoft has posted an updated version of the paper with updated specs and at least one clarification (it now makes clear that the $149 copy of MobileMe it’s talking about is the Family Pack version). Strangely, Microsoft hasn’t updated the inaccurate chart in the blog post that links to the white paper.

I said in my original post that I didn’t think Kay’s conclusions would be different if the white paper had gotten the specs correct, and I was right: They haven’t changed. And even though the tables now seem to have their specs right, there are multiple places where the math behind his calculation of the “Apple Tax” remains more partisan attack than honest attempt at analysis. Can anyone explain to me, for instance, why he he adds a hefty $750 to the Mac setup for five years’ worth of MobileMe for two computers when MobileMe, which is available for both OS X and Windows, is simply no more mandatory on the Mac than it is on Windows?

Oh, and the paper still has one relatively minor cost attached to the Mac setup–a $99 charge for the iLife Family Pack–which I think is simply indefensible no matter how partisan you might be. Kay doesn’t factor the cost of creativity software into the Windows PC setup in the first place–the theory is that the imaginary family in his scenario has already paid for it for an older computer–but he also doesn’t tack the cost of an upgrade on. Apparently the fact that he has his Mac-owning family upgrading their software after two years but not their Windows counterpart doing so constitutes part of the “Apple Tax.”

I can’t imagine that many people who actually reads the white paper (even in its new, more accurate form) who might consider buying a Mac instead of a Windows PC are going to take the case it makes very seriously. And those people who wouldn’t consider buying a Mac don’t need convincing in the first place.

Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt has theorized that Microsoft’s Mac attack constitutes a trap, and “the Apple press” (of which I don’t wanna be counted as a member) is taking the bait by responding and carping about it. Given that Microsoft is pouring so much money and resources into arguing that you can buy Windows PCs for a lot less than Macs–a point which is obvious to anyone who steps foot inside a computer store, and which helps to explain why Windows’ market share remains huge and the Mac’s continues to be quite small–I wonder whether it’s Microsoft that’s fallen into a trap. I mean, responding to the anti-Windows taunts in Apple ads in kind probably feels really good, but I’m still not sure just who Microsoft’s current round of Apple-bashing is meant to address.


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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Josh Says:

    Just like in politics, perception is reality. Microsoft knows that its ads are an exaggeration, but they put the already-defensive Mac crowd into frothing-at-the-mouth mode. Thus, Microsoft wins. I highly doubt these ads will do anything to hurt the Mac’s market share, but they do soften the brand by making fun of it and its devotees. Also as in politics, going on the defensive is an admission of guilt. As a relatively unbiased observer (and a Mac user), I have to admit that these ads are brilliant… probably the first “brilliant” thing I’ve seen Microsoft produce in years. I get a daily laugh reading all the nonsensical rants in defense of the Mac that clutter my feed-reader. The best defense is to simply continue using and buying Macs.

  2. Joe Says:

    “Microsoft is pouring so much money and resources into arguing that you can buy Windows PCs for a lot less than Mac” — um, that’s what advertising is for. More importantly, the ads point out that you can often get a lot more computer (specs-wise) for a lot less money.

    It’s very savvy of MS to finally respond to Apple’s ads in a sophisticated and effective way. Why do so many tech bloggers and tech writers – few of them lovers of Microsoft – feel these ads are so effective? Because they are. And why are certain bloggers and tech writers actually angry about these ads, and insist Microsoft has fallen into some kind of ‘trap’ by reinforcing the simple truths that Macs are expensive and only target narrow market segments? I don’t know why for sure, but the word ‘fanboy’ keeps popping into my head.

  3. Steve Says:

    What does the word “fanboy” mean? Are there BMW “fanboys”, Sony “fanboys”, Starbucks “fanboys”, etc? Or does it only refer to people who prefer Macs to Windows? Fanboy sounds derogatory. Is it?

  4. tom b Says:

    I have a new motto for MSFT: “Everyday low prices”. Oops– I guess Walmart already has that one, and Walmart actually sells some decent products.

  5. Fred Says:

    Steve, I found out what a “fanboy” was about 10 months ago, when I purchased my first Mac (an iMac). As a Windows user for the previous 22 years, I was growing increasingly frustrated with the baffling (i.e., “friendly” and “easy”) interface of Mac software, the inability to resize a window by anything but its lower-right corner, the lack of support for Windows-style tables in Mail, and the lack of a more full-featured Outlook counterpart. In other words, I missed some of the “business-class” features available in the Windows environment. And, frankly, I found found some of the ways of doing things in Mac software to be less keystroke and mouse-click efficient than they were in the Windows environment.

    I learned what a “fanboy” was when I aired some of my frustrations on A “fanboy” is cultlike person who is devoted to defending and protecting the Mac platform from its detractors. A fanboy behaves as if he is a member of an zombilelike army whose sole mission is vigorously defending the honor of his chosen computing environment. As if an OS has honor that needs defending. With all the fervor and purpose of a fundamentalist religious zealot, the fanboy sets out to attack others who find fault with the Mac OS in any of its iterations and/or the programs that run on it. And like a religious zealot, he can tolerate no challenges to his beliefs. For the most part, I think he tends to be a child either chronologically or emotionally.

    As one who now has experience with both OS’s, I have come to prefer the Mac environment for its stability and because it leaves behind all the crap and problems associated with programs that automatically load things into startup without your express permission and with the resource-consuming antivirus programs you can never finish paying for or “subscribing” to. My 10-month-old iMac runs as fast today as it did they day I bought it. I wouldn’t be able to say that about a Windows machine.

    I’m still learning my way around the OS and its programs, but the things I most love about it are the consumer-level programs. Windows still has an edge in the performance of its word processors, e-mail program, and spreadsheets.

    I’m getting ready to buy a new laptop. What will it be? I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a Mac, either the 15″ or the 17″ version. I mean, I can still run Windows on it when absolutely have to.

  6. Catalina588 Says:

    Nope. The whitepaper is still rife with unreasonable comparisons. The Mac spreadsheet is loaded with software burdens the PC should also have. But the biggest “unreasonable” choice by author Roger Kay is the $2,500 Mac Pro for the occasional gamer and video editor. Instead, a $1,499 new 24″ iMac will do the job nicely. Add Parallels 4.0 for $80 and you can run all that Windows legacy software too so it won;t add to the Mac Tax. A one-processor Mac Pro is half-baked (it is a dual-processor-capable workstation) and not needed here. Consumers would not look at the Mac Pro in this example as it is out of their budget range, plain and simple.

    Finally, I’ll give beta Windows 7 credit for being much better than Vista 1.0. But comparing tomorrow’s Windows 7 to today’s OS X is unfair too; Apple’s Snow Leopard 10.6 is expected around mid-year, and is the logical OS to compare with Windows 7.

  7. Steve Says:

    I guess I am an Apple “fanboy” because I prefer to use a Mac. I have lost many hours, days, weeks, and months trying to get Microsoft products to work for me – I have paid the Microsoft Tax. I confess: I am a Microsoft “hater”. That’s because I do not appreciate poorly designed software that frustrates and infuriates me. I used to be a furniture maker. Using a Mac compared to Windows is like comparing Sears Craftsman tools to Bosch tools – you get what you pay for. According to Joe, there are two kinds of people in the world who don’t use Windows: Microsoft “haters” and Mac “fanboys”. I’ll admit it, I am both. I do not consider either stereotype to be derogatory.

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