What Price Time? The Factor That Decides If Either Mac or PC Is Cool

It's been interesting to see how much attention has been awarded to Roger Kay's attempt to take down the Mac, What Price Cool? -- sponsored by Microsoft.
Written by Tom Steinert-Threlkeld, Contributor

It's been interesting to see how much attention has been awarded to Roger Kay's attempt to take down the Mac, What Price Cool? -- sponsored by Microsoft.

That should have consigned the paper to the dustbin in the first place. Hey, if Hershey's commissions a survey of doctors on zits, do you really think it's going to come back citing chocolate as a root cause?

But not so here. This report was issued last Thursday (a week ago). It got attention the next day from Fortune, a little later from MacWorld, a bit later from PC Mag (which is no longer a magazine) and this morning showed up again on Slashdot.

It's fun reading, if you want to think that people get passionate about the Mac or the PC based on design and cute ads alone or you happen to like to take apart price comparisons, between different platforms.

There's no question that cost matters more now than a year ago. Out of pocket expenses are clear and quantifiable. Yes, you'll pay an upfront 'tax' in most instances for buying a piece of Macintosh hardware and, maybe, software.

But there is a key cost that almost always seems to be absent from these comparisons: Your time.

This is natural. How does one compute the cost of one's own time? It's invisible. You tend to think of it as having value only when you can produce savings in personal purchases. The reward for the time you put into the purchase is the $300 or $500 you saved in the checkout receipt.

But then you have to live with the real cost: Wasted time. And, then you can't recoup the $300 or $500. And the price keeps going up, if you bought a system that does not work well for you.

This came back to me this week, when I used my wife's Toshiba laptop to retrieve some statistical files from the federal government that would only open up on a Windows machine. Booting up does matter. So does reliably connecting to the Internet. So does loading a browser. Easily, i lost five minutes just waiting for this particular system to get ready to take the first character of instruction.

I'd used this machine extensively over the summer, to avoid buying another laptop in this household. And found it slow at every turn. But worse, there was some inexplicable combination of keystrokes that would inevitably start to send the cursor flying to distant parts of a document, when I was trying to type up a post or other document in Word. Never solved it.

The point here is: This is probably isolated to one person. But that one person -- me -- has to make a decision as to what makes his time the most productive. For me, I've consistently found the Mac to be more reliable, more logical, and faster than a machine running on Windows, whatever the version.

If you've got a system -- Mac or PC -- that doesn't work well for you. the price gets paid every day, in your time.

Let's say you make $50,000 a year, a bit above the roughly $45,000 median for a male and $40,000 for a female American. Let's say that establishes the value of your time at $24 an hour. And you're losing just five minutes a day, which IMHO would be a conservative estimate of the time that I would lose (but someone else might not) on a Windows PC. That's at least $14 a week, if I were to use the machine just once a day and only use it for a short time.

That's going to be a loss of more than $700 in the first year. Which will more than make me wish I had bought a Mac. Which I wound up doing later anyway.

This whole "who is cooler" argument is way beside the point. The question is: Which operating system and ecosystem -- Mac, PC, Linux or even "other" -- lets you keep your cool and make the greatest use of the scarcest resource in life:

Your time.

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