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  2-07-03 | This column originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.


The Mac Value Proposition


By Bob LeVitus

For as long as I can remember PCs running Windows (or other operating systems) have been perceived as cheaper than Macs. Until now it’s been true for the most part. I’d argue that superior engineering and design cost more—a BMW costs more than a Buick; a Tag Heuer wristwatch costs more than a Timex; and so on. But many Windows users swear that you get more for your money with a PC.

With Apple’s recent Power Mac, PowerBook, and iMac announcements and prices, it’s a moot point. Feature for feature, Macs are not more expensive than PCs. And I think most Mac users would agree that today you get more for your money with a Mac.

Macintosh prices start at just $799. Sure, that’ll only get you an old-style iMac with a G3 processor, but even at that low price Apple provides a lot of bang for the buck: a built-in 15-inch CRT display, ATI Rage 128 Ultra graphics with 16MB of VRAM, a 40GB hard drive, 128MB of RAM, 56K V.90 modem, 10/100Base Ethernet, built-in antenna for AirPort, four USB ports, two FireWire ports, integrated Harmon-Kardon speakers, built-in microphone, and analog audio input and output mini-jacks that support up to 16-bit stereo and 44.1kHz sampling rate.

Yes, you could almost certainly find or build a PC with comparable specs at a comparable price, but it would lack something you just can’t add to a PC at any price—iLife. Every Mac includes iTunes, iMovie, and iPhoto, and if you choose a Mac with a SuperDrive (Apple’s name for their optical DVD/CD recorder), iDVD. And, of course, the iLife applications only run under Mac OS X.

While there are similar programs available for the PC, they usually cost extra, and are usually not guaranteed to work with your particular hardware configuration.

Apple nailed it. The iLife software is free with every Mac and Apple guarantees it will all run perfectly. Can you think of a single PC vendor willing to make that claim?

As I’ve said so many times before, Apple is one of a very few consumer electronics companies capable of providing a seamless digital media experience. Under Windows, digital media production usually requires hardware and software from a plethora of vendors; Apple, on the other hand, owns it all from cradle to grave. They own the CPU, the operating system, the video subsystem, the input/output subsystem, the optical media drives, the hard disks and controllers, and most of all, they own the digital media application software.

My old friend Rik Myslewski, now Editor-in-Chief of MacAddict, said it even better in his March editorial:
"Apple’s greatest strength—aside from the creativity of its minions—is the fact that the company is, as Steve says, ‘the last one in the world who make the entire widget."

"Creating both the hardware and much of the software that runs on it helps ensure not only that everything works together flawlessly (well, that’s the intent, in any case), but also that all the OS’s under-the-hood muscle is used to its greatest advantage."

I asked well-known industry analyst and pundit, Creative Strategies president, Tim Bajarin, to give me his take on all the new Macs and lower prices. He replied, “Apple is finally starting to realize that they must be more price competitive given the strong competition from the PC vendors for the same audience. These products represent real values for any customer who wants a PC that is powerful, versatile and easy to use and at these prices, are worth a serious look from anybody considering a PC for any reason.”

Bob LeVitus is a leading authority on Mac OS and the author of 41 books, including The Little iTunes Book and Mac OS X for Dummies, 2nd Edition. E-mail comments to [email protected].

Copyright © 2004 Bob LeVitus



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