Battle Royale, Part the First

I just wrapped up a response to the USPTO on a trademark registration I’m working on, and to celebrate, I thought I’d do a little thought experiment.  I’ve noticed how Microsoft’s latest ads are getting the Apple-ites all riled up, which is funny in itself.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Microsoft has been running “Laptop Hunters” ads (where are Grant and Jason?) which show that laptops running Windows are cheaper than Apple’s laptops.  First, there was Laurena, and then the Giampaolo guy, and most recently, an 11-year-old kid with his mother (Lisa and Jackson).  (Am I the only one who thinks of Amy Sedaris when I look at her?)

To counter the obvious differential in up-front cost, Apple fans like to say something to the effect of “Look what you get built in with OSX, though!  To get your crappy Windows machine up to speed with my beautiful Mac, you need to spend more money, and then your cost savings are non-existent!  So, nyah!”

It’s not a bad argument to make.  After all, people buying cars are urged to take “total cost of ownership” into account when making purchasing decisions.  ( has a nice little tool called “True Cost to Own”, for example.)  After all, that $15,590 Mazda3 may cost less up front than this $16,260 Honda Fit, but after all is said and done, over five years, you come out just about even.   (See also, the Total Quality Index issued by Strategic Vision.)

So Apple has a point.  Maybe OSX comes bundled with so many goodies that the price differential disappears.  Of course, there’s one very noisy contingent that gets ignored in all these comparisons: all the various flavors of Linux distros: Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, Linux Mint, OpenSuse, et cetera et cetera.  There are hundreds of variants, and almost none of them cost one penny.  What’s more, the software that works in that environment also costs nothing.  With Linux, generally speaking, your hardware is your only cost of ownership; it’s almost as if you bought a car, and your gas and repair bills were covered.

So this got me thinking about the economy and small business owners, about the true cost of getting a computer (or computers) for the workplace, and about what really makes the most sense.  Is it the general familiarity of Windows, warts and all?  Or is it the cool insouciance of OSX?  Or maybe it’s a nice solid Linux distro.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking time here and there to look into this question, and at the end of the process, I hope to have come up with some sort of answer.

A few obligatory qualifications:  I currently run Windows Vista, generally like it, and haven’t had any problems with it whatsoever.  I also have family members who swear by OSX, and also have played around with it extensively since the time Jobs was there before he wandered in the wilderness for a few years.  And I have played with Linux on a once-awesome, now-sluggish laptop, didn’t especially like the experience, but will pick up the mantle once again.  So I really don’t have a dog in the fight.

And with that, this post ends.  My next post will be on the difficulties of establishing a baseline for comparing the many options available to consumers.