The Mac mini 'smoke screen'

The Mac mini 'smoke screen'

Summary: Don't let your Macintosh friends mislead you as they have been misled. In an educational setting where client needs are as diverse as their experience levels, the Macintosh is not a cost-effective general-purpose computing solution. No amount of "Windows-on-a-Mac" propaganda will change that.

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TOPICS: Apple, Dell, Hardware
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I just finished Chris Dawson's piece, My anti-Mac bias rears its ugly head,  and it bought to mind a friendly discussion I had with one of my colleagues just yesterday about my favorite 'red herring' -- the perpetual claim that the Mac mini is Apple's answer to entry-level computing.  Of course, this red herring is a circular argument that goes something like this ...

(First, let me freely admit that now that Apple uses Intel processors, and has invested significant sums of money supporting "Windows-on-a-Mac", that Dell and HP price-points are nearly identical to Apple's when comparing hardware, ahem ...  "apples-to-apples".  {8^)

Windows guy: 

"I can buy a decent dual-core Dell system with Windows Home Premium on it for under $600."

Mac guy: 

"You should buy a Mac mini for $599 instead."

Windows guy: 

"If I want to add an Apple-branded display, mouse, and keyboard, it'll cost me more than for a new iMac -- and the iMac is more powerful.  Besides, for $600, the Dell comes with a 20" monitor and keyboard/mouse, just like the iMac."

Mac guy:

But you can use the monitor and keyboard that you already have.

Windows guy:

I need new ones anyway -- and they are included with the Dell.

Mac Guy: 

"But the Mac mini has better graphics."

Windows guy: 

"Dell's graphics card upgrade is only $50 and the Dell has twice the HD space."

Mac guy:

"But the Mac mini has better multimedia software."

Windows guy:

"I don't need to do anything with multimedia except tweak some photos and listen to music and watch videos.  Windows Home Premium does everything I need."

Mac guy:

"But, but but ..."

And so it goes. 

The bottom line is that if you have very specific needs which can be better served by a Macintosh, buy a mid-range Macintosh and you will get your money's worth.  (Not so much with the entry-level Mac mini.)

As a consumer, you may want to buy more than you need today so you can put off your next purchase a year or two.  If however, you are an IT professional, especially in a setting like education, where funding is tight but predictable, establish a life-cycle, determine your life-cycle needs, and buy based upon your needs.  Expect your needs to lead you to a mixed-platform environment.  If you identify a single-platform solution, someones needs are not being met.  In an educational setting, letting anyone's needs go unmet is a disservice to our educators and to our children. 

That doesn't mean buy more than you need today, that means buy what you need today but buy with upgradeability in mind.  Don't need 2 GB of RAM  today?  Buy 1 GB today but leave expansion room so you can add RAM as your needs change (and RAM prices drop).  This applies to hard drives and other components as well. 

Apple has selected its markets carefully and it is to their credit that they can compete price-wise in the markets they have chosen to pursue -- especially considering their very low unit volumes compare to Dell and HP.  Nevertheless, Apple does not compete in the entry-level commodity marketplace -- largely because they don't want to, but also because they cannot afford to at their sales volumes. 

Chris is correct, the Macintosh is simply not cost-effective as a single-platform solution in an educational IT setting.  Yes, Boot Camp and Parallels make Macintosh more attractive in environments where dual-platform capabilities are a requirement in roughly equal measure but this is not the norm. 

I may not agree with Chris on universal Linux services as a suitable replacement for the wealth of Windows-based software available to our educators today but he is entirely correct that Macintosh is not the one-stop answer for education, where the diversity of instructional needs cannot be met by any single-platform solution.

Topics: Apple, Dell, Hardware

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  • It's not about saving money...

    You don't buy a MAC for saving money. You buy it for the quality. My parent's PCs crash at least once a day - my mac? Once every six months has a kernal panic. You want to tweak photos? Listen to music? Fine, but those programs don't talk together. Want to display a photo slide show with some music? Buy another program - or build one. I can do one in five seconds.

    If you want to do PC - that's fine. But once you go MAC you don't go back ;)
    supcomtabz
    • Huh?

      [i]"You want to tweak photos? Listen to music? Fine, but those programs don't talk together. Want to display a photo slide show with some music? Buy another program - or build one."[/i]

      Windows does all of this [b]basic[/b] stuff out of the box. You should get out more.
      toadlife
      • Yeah, but it doesn't matter if the user ...

        ... doesn't need the fancy software with the bells and whistles to get what they want. Many people cannot justify the extra cost for features that they will never use. OpenOffice users make the same arguement about MS Office. They cannot justify the premium price when they don't need the extra features. it's a classic cost-benefit argument.
        M Wagner
        • That is why we are taking a closer look at iWork 08

          For $79.00 it much cheaper than MS Office for the Mac. Now that 08 has added
          "numbers" and all of it's componenets claim compatability with Office we are
          going to look at it as a possible OSX tool for us. We have a lot of Mac users that
          get MS Word and MS Excel files from our Dell equiped management and clients
          who use MS products and PC's. Still all they need is to pretty much open these
          things up and a full blown Office package is over kill. Frankly for our uses in
          general both PC and Mac iWork would be fine Office is overkill. Maybe Apple will
          make iWork PC compatable that would be even better.

          Pagan jim
          Laff
          • Apple has more to gain by ...

            ... making their applications cross-platform than Microsoft does. It would be nice if they did.
            M Wagner
    • I haven't seena PC BSoD in years!

      Under Vista, a Blue-screen can force a reboot (not unlike a kernel panic) but only as a direct result of poorly-written XP code attempting to run under Vista. Even then, the system does not crash. Insteads there is an orderly recovery. I have only seen two of those -- caused by the same out-of-date software.

      Your point about quality is essentially correct but IT must justify the extra cost through a cost-benefit analysis and for EQUAL hardware, the Macintosh is NOT higher quality.
      M Wagner
  • Well let me tell you about our shop here...

    Because of some of the work we do we find oursevels needing both PC's and Mac's
    many times two systems on one users desk making a holy mess of the desktop
    with wires, KVM switches and boxes. Not much room at the inn is left. So
    depending on the POWER needed to get the job done we've found that a Mac Mini
    attached to the 17" Dell flat screens we previously purchased and the USB
    keyboards/mise we also already own can do the trick and replace both the older
    Mac and older PC desktops the change in desktop realestate is increadible. Now
    when more power is needed we find the IMac server the purpose quite nicely
    cause again with the addition of Paralles the iMac can and will do it all on both
    side Mac and PC production work...cool. Again the desktop saving is great and
    the 20" iMac gives plenty of screen realestate to the user.

    So yes the Mac Mini can be a affordable replacement for not one but two computer
    systems depending on the power needed and the age of the systems that being
    replaced and I would think now that the Mini is core 2 duo that will continue.

    Pagan jim
    Laff
    • Yep, as I said ...

      ... if both platforms are required in roughly equal numbers, then the Macintosh can offer a cost-effective solution with Boot Camp and Parallels.
      M Wagner
  • You're both forgetting...

    TCO is the most important figure to look at. Not the $600 Dell vs. $600 Mac. Oh, the Mac needs a $150 17" monitor? Big deal! In the long run, the cost of anti-virus and maintenance for the PC will definitely go over $150.

    Let's just say you have to spend 1 hour imaging this system in your lab when you first receive it ($25). Now, you probably need to re-image that machine every summer since Windows becomes so horribly mucked up over the course of a school year, let's give that 2 hours @ $25 = $50 due to travel to the school at that point since it's off site, etc. Now we're up to $75. Oh, then you want to keep that PC for 3 years? $50 x 2 = $100. There goes your argument as the Dell now costs more than the Mac $775 vs. $750. And that's being generous to the Dell as there, more than likely, will be more issues with it, let's be honest. That's not even factoring all the piddly stuff you have to do with Windows boxes that are time wasters, like defragmenting, running SpyBot from time to time, etc.

    Also, don't forget about the catastrophe's that can happen with a Windows virus outbreak. This comes from personal experience. In January of this year, we were hit by W32.spybot.worm which took advantage of holes in Symantec's Corporate AV. So, even though we did our best to keep things updated and secured, the virus spread through the AV. In fact, if Symantec wasn't installed, you didn't get the virus! Anyhow, it took about 2 solid weeks of 6 AM to 1 AM days to clear our 13,000 systems up. With about 5 techs working strictly on this issue, that was at least $24k worth of time. That $150 saved sure doesn't seem like such a good deal here, huh?

    I'm not going to get into the whole Mac superiority debate as I know all OS's have their strengths but I have 4 Macs, personally, along with my parents' iMac that have no AV and have been working fine for going on 3 years. And I mean no issues, I'm not exaggerating. I have had to do nothing with them, they just run. No viruses, no spyware, no hard-core crashes, maybe I've had to do a hard restart on my PowerBook 2 or 3 times because I was tinkering around with something I shouldn't have. That's it. Now, everyone else can say what they want and say this is unique but it seems a little too reliable to just be a fluke. Especially compared to the crap I deal with on my work machines every single day.

    Anyhow, it's hard to believe neither you nor Chris mentioned TCO in your arguments and, in fact, you should find that a little embarrassing. You and Chris both ruled out Macs from up-front costs alone which is nieve for someone making purchasing decisions for educational institutions where taxpayer dollars are at work. (and, btw, if it was up to me and we weren't stuck in the Windows ecosystem, we would be taking a long hard look at moving to Macs)
    kmoney56
    • Yes, TCO is a critical factor ...

      ... but, in a well-run IT shop, the Windows maintenace costs are no different than the Macintosh maintenance costs. Chris knows that, as do I. For us, the upfront cost argument becomes the critical one. Oh, and our shop hasn't has a critical Virus outbreak in several years. Comprehansive virus protection, for both platforms is a must! I'm guessing, your Windows machines were not locked down to prevent users from writing to the system.

      Chris has considerably less demand for Macintosh than I but he does have some demand. In fact, in my university IT shop, the per-seat Windows costs are considerably less! The costs might be more equal if we had the demand to justify more Macintosh seats.

      Whether Macintosh or Windows, if a uniform "build" is the rule, this can be distributed remotely from central servers regardless of platform and, with some in-house expertise, Windows can be locked down as effectviely as Macintosh.

      In fact, MacOSX changes force a new build upon you more often than for Windows because the latest Macintosh hardware often will not run last year's OS release, which means that to have a uniform build, you have to be prepared to rebuild all of your Macs if you add ANY new macs to your labs. Both old and new Dells will run whatever version of Windows you settle on year-to-year.

      Imagine the frustration if IT shops HAD TO jump to Vista just because they bought new machines since January 2007. That is exactly what Macintosh shops had to do when Apple went to Intel, and again when Apple released 10.4 on new hardware and the same thing is likely to happen when 10.5 ships.
      M Wagner
    • No

      [i]"Big deal! In the long run, the cost of anti-virus and maintenance for the PC will definitely go over $150. "[/i]

      With volume or educational discounts, AV costs about $5 per machine.

      [i]"Let's just say you have to spend 1 hour imaging this system in your lab when you first receive it ($25)."[/i]

      If you spend one hour per machine in a lab, you are absolutely incompetent. I just imaged two labs today - one of them which is 55 miles away. It took about 15 minutes of my time.

      [i]"Now, you probably need to re-image that machine every summer since Windows becomes so horribly mucked up over the course of a school year, let's give that 2 hours @ $25 = $50 due to travel to the school at that point since it's off site, etc."[/i]

      No. I have several labs that have not been re-imaged in over two years. Windows will lasts indefinitely (longer than the hardware) if it's deployed properly.

      [i]"There goes your argument as the Dell now costs more than the Mac $775 vs. $750."[/i]

      Not really. Your counter-argument is begging the question.

      Any platform can cost more than any other platform given enough incompetence....

      [i]"This comes from personal experience. In January of this year, we were hit by W32.spybot.worm which took advantage of holes in Symantec's Corporate AV."[/i]

      ...and seeing as how you were hit by a worm that affected a flaw that had been patched several months before-hand, it appears your shop has plenty to go around.
      toadlife
      • ORLY?

        [i]"With volume or educational discounts, AV costs about $5 per machine."[/i]

        Hmm, 14000 x 5 = $70,000/yr. Chump change.

        [i]If you spend one hour per machine in a lab, you are absolutely incompetent. I just imaged two labs today - one of them which is 55 miles away. It took about 15 minutes of my time.[/i]

        Right, right. I'd love to see that. It takes that long just to get the system names in there for 30 machines. Give me a break.

        [i]No. I have several labs that have not been re-imaged in over two years. Windows will lasts indefinitely (longer than the hardware) if it's deployed properly.[/i]

        You're lucky. That's your experience, this is ours. For them to run properly, they should be imaged every year. Especially office machines where they aren't locked down so the staff can actually do their jobs. Lab machines, perhaps you could get away with it but you'll have more problems that second year without a doubt.

        [i]Not really. Your counter-argument is begging the question.[/i]

        Really, and your rebuttal sure holds a lot of water. Where's the savings in a Windows world? Enough with the incompetence crap. The way a Windows machine operates in and of itself has little to do with administration. The OS is dated, prone to viruses and spyware and needs more maintenance than a Mac and I'd like to see any sort of proof from you stating otherwise.

        [i]"...and seeing as how you were hit by a worm that affected a flaw that had been patched several months before-hand, it appears your shop has plenty to go around."[/i]

        Maybe if you were a little more 'competent' you would know that LiveUpdate didn't install the 10.1.5.5000 update required to resist the worm automatically due to some sort of glitch on their end. Go ahead, become more 'competent', research it. So, we needed to update every single machine in the district by hand and first clean off the virus.

        So, again, what's your argument about Mac vs PC TCO again? I'm sorry I missed it in your holier-than-thou BS.
        kmoney56
        • Yes

          [i]"Hmm, 14000 x 5 = $70,000/yr. Chump change."[/i]

          Yes. When you have 13k machines, $70k *is* pretty much chump change.

          [i]"Right, right. I'd love to see that. It takes that long just to get the system names in there for 30 machines. Give me a break."[/i]

          My machines name themselves and place themselves in the proper OU (so they get the right software and configuration scripts) when they start up. I have a central database which has this info tied to their MAc address. I just join them to the domain and a machine startup script does the rest.

          [i]"Especially office machines where they aren't locked down so the staff can actually do their jobs. Lab machines, perhaps you could get away with it but you'll have more problems that second year without a doubt."[/i]

          Our staff do not have admin rights to their PCs, and no, it does not hamper their ability to get work done. If they need something installed, we use UltraVNC (deployed via AD policies) into the machine and do it for them.

          [i]"Enough with the incompetence crap. The way a Windows machine operates in and of itself has little to do with administration."[/i]

          I'm sorry you think that.

          [i]"Maybe if you were a little more 'competent' you would know that LiveUpdate didn't install the 10.1.5.5000 update required to resist the worm automatically due to some sort of glitch on their end."[/i]

          We don't use symantec for AV. We use McAfee. But McAfee recently had a nasty exploit in their EPO client which allowed remote owneage. The fixed client was not automatically pushed by their update mechanisms - we had to initiate it ourselves. It took about 30 minutes to load the new EPO client into the EPO server and it was pushed out withing minutes. Why did you not bother to check if your clients we're being updated? The Symantec AV flaw was all over the tech news sites when it was discovered.

          [i]"So, again, what's your argument about Mac vs PC TCO again?"[/i]

          I only argued that the process is just as, or more important than the product when it comes to TCO. You are mistaken in your belief that Windows cannot be managed efficiently.
          toadlife
    • thankfully it is up to people with more sense

      do it right and you have no more problems with Windows that with Mac. Do it half hearted and in a school you are setting yourself up for a fall.

      We were able to run a 700 PC network with 2 people, and very little downtime.
      Paul Fletcher
  • Factor in IT support costs and the Mac is the clear winner

    Nothing more needs to be said.
    YinToYourYang-22527499
    • Not really.

      In fact, more remote tools are available for Windows maintenance and they are more mature than similar Macintosh tools.

      Bottom line? With Windows the more machines you have, the lower the per-seat cost of maintenance.
      M Wagner
    • Not according to my IT

      Where I work. Computer for computer Macs require more attention. AND, they are not bullet proof, two of our G5's died and had to be replaced inside of 1 month. This arguement doesn't hold any water. Sorry.
      Crestview
  • zero problems

    I have to agree with the TOC. We never have a problem with our Macs. They just run. This is OS X for the last several years.

    P
    fishpm
    • Ours don't!

      All 30 of them require some sort of attention every day. They seem to corrupt themselves regularily, especially preferences and font caches. Any program used continuously for over an hour has to be restarted because it starts to do odd things. You can't work a Mac hard and expect high output, it just doesn't like it.
      Crestview
  • Incorrect or improper comparison.....

    As so often is done with Apple. Yes other OEM's & even Custom Systems can have a larger array of price points, especially at the lower or entry level.

    It seems to Dell does not offer anything like the Mini. The closest maybe something like the Inspiron 530's. http://www.dell.com/content/products/productdetails.aspx/inspndt_53xs?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs

    It seems to me a more correct comparison would be to compare to other SFF offerings like.

    http://system76.com/product_info.php?cPath=27&products_id=53
    or
    http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=3142881&CatId=2313

    In which case, Odds would be they would be more expensive, when you try to more closely match the spec's.

    Is that form factor of interest, benefit & value to everyone? Maybe, maybe not.

    The Mini has:
    Compact design
    Less cost
    Better Power utilization ~ uses less power
    OSX, iLife, & other Apple & third party software.
    Various FLOSS software.
    The ability to run Linux/BSD and even Windows.

    Seems it has much going for it, if you like that form factor.
    And a great choice in schools.....

    It also seems to me you have a bias against anything not MS, which makes you not that objective or informative.
    LazLong