Microsoft conjures imaginary 'Apple Tax'

What Price Nonsense?


Updated The age-old battle between Microsoft and Apple is heating up again, and this time, Redmond is cheating.

On Thursday, Microsoft released a company-sponsored snark-fest written by Roger L. Kay of Endpoint Technology Associates that is, simply put, an embarrassment.

This report, entitled What Price Cool? (PDF) and breathlessly pimped by The Windows Experience Blog-poodle Brandon LeBlanc, is riddled with inaccuracies, misstatements, and distortions.

The premise of WPC? is two-fold: first, that the Mac is a success because Mac fanbois simply want to be "cool," and second, that there's an enormous hidden "Apple tax" lurking to devour the wallets of Mac users.

We won't even touch the "cool" bait. Sure, ridiculing coolness is becoming a centerpiece of Redmond's latest assault on Cupertino - cf. Lauren's "I'm just not cool enough to be a Mac person" TV advert - but we'll leave a discussion of the powers of peer pressure and fashion fever to the social scientists and trend-spotters. We're geeks.

But before we continue with a deconstruction of some of Kay's more concrete arguments, let's establish one simple fact: Yes, it's nearly always possible to buy a Windows-based PC for less than a Mac. It you want a utilitarian box with which to check your email, browse the web, and wrestle with Excel and Word, a PC can usually get you there more cheaply.

But, then again, both a Fiat 500 and a Mercedes S-Class can take you across town.

Which is not to say that Macs are S-Class machines - we'd suggest E-Class, with S-Class reserved for laptops like a 13.3-inch Sony VAIO Z model VGN-Z698Y/X, which runs a cool $4,399.99.

Kay's point in WPC? is not just that you can find cheaper, crappier machines than those from Apple - and more-expensive, better-equipped ones as well. No news there. What he's trying to prove is that when you buy a Mac you get less bang for your buck - and that's where his arguments begin to get a bit sketchy.

For example - and for reasons that can at best be described as opportunistic - Kay repeatedly fixates on Blu-ray. After first admitting that it's "arguable whether Blu-ray will ever be adopted by mainstream buyers," he goes on to compare an internal LiteOn DH-401S Blu-ray player to "Apple's solution - a standalone player from Sony, the BDP-S350."

Apple's solution? Says who? The BDP-S350 is nowhere to be found on Apple's website or in its online store.

It gets sketchier. In his laptop comparisons, Kay compares a defunct Apple MacBook with entry-level Dell, HP, and Sony units, using MacBook specs that have been out of date for months. He also ignores Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, 802.11n, and Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics.

His comparison of desktop models is also disingenuous. Again, he uses the wrong specs for the Mac mini: wrong processor, wrong RAM, wrong graphics, wrong hard-drive size, wrong ports. You get the picture.

Now, it's possible - probable, even - that Kay is merely being unprofessionally sloppy, not bothering to go back and redo his work after the recent round of Mac upgrades. But that's no excuse for Microsoft to publish arguments citing these incorrect stats nearly six weeks after they went out of date.

Kay's next boner, though, is more egregious. In his comparison of desktop Macs, he states that "At the high end, the gap is particularly wide" - and then price-compares a quad-core Xeon Mac Pro with a quad-core Core 2 Duo HP d5100t. Aside from the fact that his text doesn't agree with his chart, equating a Xeon with a Core 2 Duo is ludicrous.

(Kay could have upgraded his chart to reflect the new Mac Pro - after all, it was released over a month ago. But maybe his PC crashed).

And so instead of Kay's risible comparison of a now-defunct Xeon 5400-based Mac Pro to a Core 2 Duo-based HP Pavilion Elite d5100t, let's try the more-direct comparison of two Xeon 5500 workstations: a current single-processor Apple Mac Pro versus a single-processor Dell Precision T5500 that we've configured to be as close, spec-wise - as we could to the Mac Pro.

Let's see how they stack up...

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