Microsoft: New Macs Are Pricey! And Deceptive! And Unfair! Even…Dictatorial!

By  |  Friday, October 24, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Early last week, when much of the world thought that Apple might release a new, cheap MacBook, Microsoft launched a preemptive salvo that argued that Macs were lousy values compared to Windows computers. Some of the company’s points were perfectly reasonable–it’s undeniably possible to get Windows computer with better specs than Macs for much less, and that fact is one of the strongest arguments for buying a Windows machine–but its math also involved some aggressively slanted calculations, such as comparing the cost of Apple RAM to third-party memory upgrades.

The $800 MacBook turned out to be fantasy, but Microsoft has sent me (and, I presume, other reporters) an update with new thoughts and price comparisons between the new MacBook models that did arrive and Windows laptops. Shocker: The company still thinks Macs are overpriced. Even more overpriced than they were, given that the new MacBook starts at $1299, $200 more than the $1099 price that the old-style one had gone for. (The old white MacBook remains on the market, at a new price of $999.)

This new Microsoft missive involves less fancy math: It has a couple of relatively straightforward charts that compare Mac laptops to cheaper Windows-based options. (Unlike my recent piece, it doesn’t attempt to compare machines that are as similar as possible, but that’s okay–in fact, I’ll probably tackle a comparison that’s closer to Microsoft’s in approach at some point.)

The chart seems to have some errors–it says that the $999 white MacBook can’t burn DVDs (Apple’s site says it can), and it appears to call Dell’s Inspiron 1525 the “Inspiron T5800” and says it doesn’t have an ExpressCard slot (Dell says it does). It also leaves off some specs where Apple has an advantage over some of the Windows PCs in the comparison, including Wi-Fi (the white MacBook has Draft-N and the Dell doesn’t), Bluetooth (the white MacBook has it and the Dell doesn’t), and Ethernet (the white MacBook has it and the Dell doesn’t).

All of which is kind of sad, because you can do a perfectly valid comparison chart between Mac laptops and Windows machines that shows that if the primary thing you care about is the most specs for the least money, you do indeed want a Windows laptop. Microsoft or anybody else could prove that with simple objective examples. And another point it brings up–that Windows computers have Blu-Ray, eSata, memory card slots, and HDMI, and Macs don’t–is valid. Compelling, even, for some folks.

But the Microsoft release makes no attempt to come off as calm and objective–actually, it has a surly edge that reminds me of a negative political commercial:

Apple was glad to show off a flashy new design to draw your attention away from what you’re not getting.” (Sneaky Apple, using its trademark–classy industrial design–to fool the American people!)

Apple is dictating what you will and won’t need with your MacBook experience.” (Those dictators!)

In a tough economy like today’s, is it fair to dictate what users can and can’t get on a computer?” (Dictators again! Unfairly making the tough economy even worse! It’s practically un-American…)

I don’t understand the goal of this tone, since it suggests that Mac buyers are sheep. Or lemmings. Or dummies. Or masochists. Or maybe some unhealthy combination of the above. Strangely enough, the Mac fans I know aren’t like that at all–and many of them would contend that they’re completely pleased with the value proposition of a Mac, for reasons that go beyond specs (and which in large part relate to OS X). They made a rational decision to buy a Mac, and given that they chose to bypass the vast majority of the computers on the market when they chose to buy one from Apple, I’m unclear on how Apple is dictating anyone to do anything.

(Side note: I just bought my first Windows laptop in a while, a Lenovo SL300. It goes for less than any Mac laptop and is in multiple ways a pleasing machine–but my first 48 hours with it have been nowhere near as pleasant as they are with a brand-new Mac. More on that in another post to come, if you’re interested.)

One final thought about Microsoft’s new commentary on Mac pricing: For all the arguments it makes that Windows laptops are a better value, there’s one feature that all Windows laptops have in common that the company doesn’t mention.

That would be…Windows. You know, the operating system. The one which is a defining feature of every Windows computer, in the same way that OS X is a defining feature of every Mac.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible to make the case that Windows Vista is a plus compared to OS X. But I think it’s fascinating that Microsoft didn’t even try…

Microsoft’s release


Read more: 

13 Comments For This Post

  1. 604604 Says:

    Been a PC user for years now and I just bought myself a new Macbook a few days ago. The only regret I have is that I should’ve done this for a long time now. I have nothing but praises to say about this new Macbook and more importantly the switch to OSX.

    Sure Microsoft laptops can look a lot better in terms of specs, connectivity etc but those are all in paper. I think at the end of the day, what we are buying is the complete product and user experience.

    As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

  2. Gregg Says:

    When buying a computer, ask yourself a few simple questions:

    1. What do I want a computer to help me do?

    2. What software will help me do that?

    3. What computer runs that software?

    4. Do I need my new computer to work with any other computers?

    The answers to these questions may still leave you with a Mac-or-PC choice to make, but in some (perhaps many) instances, you’ll find your way to the platform that’s right for you.

    First computer purchase ever?

    Get a Mac.

    It’s more expensive the way worsted wool is more expensive than polyester: it lasts longer and provides more value for the money spent.

  3. Alan Says:

    I find the discussion between apple and microsoft kind of funny. When comparing the two, shouldn’t we stick to OSX vs Vista, since MS doesn’t make PC’s. Then after that battle you can compare specs and price points of Apple vs Dell vs HP vs Lenovo vs etc.

    I made the switch from MS to Apple because of the OS, not the hardware. The fact that Apple is one stop shopping is just a bonus IMHO.

  4. Dave Mackey Says:

    I bought my wife a Macbook for her 40th birthday. But when it came time to replace my aging Acer notebook, I bought a HP Pavilion. Why would I want roughly the same storage and quality for three times the price?

  5. Venski Says:

    I’ve been following for about a week now, but I kind of suspected you were a Mac user 😉

    That’s on the side. Otherwise, I got my first Mac about a month ago after many years of Windows usage (and some Linux experience). So far there is not one thing that I have to complain about. Some of my friends say “I don’t have to get used to the interface. It should adapt to me.” Others say “That’s what you get when you want a Windows with a console.” Still … I don’t think I’ve wasted my money no matter what MS says.

    My only regret is that I bought it a month too early. I should have gotten the new MacBook.

  6. Harry McCracken Says:

    Venski: I’m happily agnostic when it comes to operating systems–there are arguments in favor of Windows, OS X, and Linux, and downsides to all of ’em. I use all three OSes (Mac every day, Windows almost every day, and Linux from time to time). That said, if I could use only one OS, I’d go with OS X unhesitatingly–it’s just the one that involves the least messing around with getting it to work properly. And my main machine at the moment is unquestionably my MacBook Pro (but sometimes it’s an OS X system and sometimes it’s a Windows PC).

    Dave: If you’re happy with the HP and have tried Tracy’s Mac without getting excited, you chose wisely. One of the nice things about computers is that the only right decision is the one that makes you happy.

    I do think that if you narrow the Windows field to machines that are similar to Macs in terms of build quality (including case material), features that you usually don’t get on lower-end systems (like LED screens), and weight and thickness, much of the price differential between Windows and Macs disappears. But if that stuff isn’t important to you, you can skip it and save money. (I just bought a Lenovo ThinkPad that’s fairly chunky and which doesn’t even have a Webcam…but I’m happy with the hardware so far.)


  7. Mike Says:

    Can you post an example of a “Windows computer with better specs than Macs for much less”? I would be interested to know how much of a gap there is.

  8. marty_k Says:

    I’ve spent half a day at Apple Store and so far:

    – couldn’t get used to window controls on the left side
    – couldn’t get used to resizing windows Mac-style
    – couldn’t play any streamed video full screen
    – completely don’t get Apple’s way of maximising windows
    – don’t like the fact that there is so much space wasted by dock
    – why the mouse has one button, when sometimes you need to use other key + mouse to open a menu which should be under RMB

    I really like eyecandy but so far I feel like I got no control over OSX. It feels weird.

    I’m thinking about a new laptop and I’m considering Vaio Z and MacBook. Vaio is lighter, more powerful, has Windows, HDMI and feels really good. OSX looks nicer than Vista – I don’t know why but it has ‘this something’ that attracts me a little;-)

    MacBook is heavier, since I use public transport here in London, it is an issue. I’m a little concerned about availability of third party software for Mac, like custom media players, Vegas Video etc.

    I watch some downloaded tv series/anime and would like to plug new laptop to my plasma. How hard is it, how about video quality and can I use custom codecs / players, go full screen etc?:-)

  9. Vulpine Says:


    Admittedly, MacOS X is different from Windows. Things that you are used to doing one way will very likely be done a different way on the Mac. However, once you do get used to it, you may well wonder why Windows does things the way they do. Your showroom experience did more to demonstrate these differences without really giving you the chance to get the ‘feel’ for them.

    OS X is not just eye-candy. Nearly every function is designed to be easy and intuitive; though admittedly having no computer experience at all is easier than having to unlearn old habits.
    – couldn’t get used to resizing windows Mac-style—
    – completely don’t get Apple’s way of maximising windows—
    OS X lets you move the window around by grabbing the header bar and dragging it wherever you want it. The bottom-right corner of that window can then be dragged to resize the window however you see fit. Once you have done this, you can revert back and forth from the original size to the new size by clicking the green “+” bubble in the header bar. Yes, this is different from the Windows “resize” button in that it lets you choose the sizes you want rather than “full-screen/old-window” configuration from Windows. True, the ability to resize by grabbing any edge might be nice–but it also makes getting the exact size you want a little more difficult; forcing you to use three or more actions to do something that should be done in one.

    – couldn’t play any streamed video full screen–
    To some extent this is controlled more by the web page rather than the OS. However, once I found the “fullscreen” button in the bottom corner of a trailer, it played full screen on my iMac with no problem and at remarkable speed.

    – don’t like the fact that there is so much space wasted by dock—
    Actually, the Dock doesn’t have to ‘waste’ any space at all. You have the ability to adjust its size and the size of the icons from a very-easy-to-see large size for those with vision difficulties to a very tiny size that takes up very little screen real estate. Combine this with the ability to make the Dock entirely vanish until you roll your mouse all the way down (up or right) to the edge of the screen (depending on where you place the dock) then it takes no real estate at all until you need it.

    – why the mouse has one button, when sometimes you need to use other key + mouse to open a menu which should be under RMB–
    First off, the Apple “Mighty Mouse” does have direct left-click/right-click capability. The newer MacBook and MacBook Pro touchpad has this same ability able to be programmed in as either multi-touch or corner-click. If you must use a multi-button mouse, go right ahead. Almost every third-party multi-button mouse will work natively in OS X and many high-end gaming mice even have OS X configuration software included.

    Depending on the particular model of MacBook vs Vaio, their weight should be similar as long as their physical size is similar. The new aluminum bodies has made the MacBook lighter than most of its predecessors while giving them a rigidity surpassing that of all but the purpose-made “toughbooks.” This should give it a durability unsurpassed for riding in the Tubes.

    There is a good selection of media software available for the Mac, though obviously the default is iTunes and Quicktime. Almost all media formats, including Microsoft’s new Silverlight, can be played through Quicktime after a free download of Flip4Mac from Microsoft. Playback is easy and the quality is strictly dependent on the resolution of the video you wish to play back. I have no difficulty at all playing HD video on my iMac.

    In all, my recommendation is to get the laptop that best meets your needs, whether it’s the MacBook or the Sony Vaio. Each has advantages over the other; and each has disadvantages. What I would use it for is likely not to be the same as what you would use it for. Make your own decision; but make it an informed one.

  10. marty_k Says:


    Thank you for your post.

    Today I have spent another hour trying out new MacBook. I agree, it is different than Windows in its own way and sometimes comparing both system is meaningless. I kind of got used to resizing/maximising windows. I prefer the way how MS implemented this feature but found Apple’s way usable.

    I will play with Dock this week to see what can I do with it. However, I have seen mentioned by you ‘mini-Dock’ and it calmed me down a little 😉

    Have you tried to play HD content on HDTV?

    Today I have witnessed one thing that worries me – on MacBooks I could experience lag on touchpad-pointer which wasn’t present on MacBooks Pro or iMacs. Is it related to some settings or just MacBook’s ‘feature’ ?

    Regarding Vaio vs MacBook – Sony’s product is 1,5kg vs Apple’s 2kg. While on paper it might be nothing, you can clearly feel the difference in your bag (yes, I had both in my bag ;-).

    I use my laptop for word, excel, powerpoint, ms project, I do some video editing in Vegas Video (I would need to switch to Final Cut or use Parallels Desktop – is it fast enough to do video editing?), some Photoshoping – nothing extraordinary. At home I use it to watch TV shows/anime, some music etc.

    I think I will need to spend some more time with Mac, maybe find some ‘Mac friends’ who will be able to demonstrate me how OSX should be used and what are its advantages.

    Anyway, thank you for your post once more!

  11. Vulpine Says:


    The MacBook I personally own is a first-generation Intel model, not up to the new ones by any means. As such, I can’t answer many of your questions since I don’t have any real experience with the new models. As such, the touchpad issue might be a glitch with that particular unit, or it may not be configured. I will note that configuring and reconfiguring the System Preferences is quite easy in most cases. It’s very possible that someone before you may have reconfigured the touchpad while playing around with the machine.

    However, when you buy a Mac of any model, you normally get a series of applications called iLife. This includes iPhoto and iMovie which give you some very basic editing capabilities along with the ability to organize your photos and movies. Based on what you describe, iMovie may be a little too simplified for you, but you can download iMovie HD from Apple’s website for free. iMovieHD is the previous version of iMovie and has a somewhat better editing capability, not too different from what you’ve already used. If you feel you need something more complete, Final Cut Express will probably meet your needs splendidly. While I haven’t tried HD video from my iMac to a television, I have an older G4 Mac Mini that feeds video to a 32inch HDTV very nicely. In all honesty, I expect the new video connector will surpass the HDMI standards but you’ll probably need to get an adaptor if you want to directly feed an HDTV.

    While I’m sure you’re most experienced with Microsoft Office, you might want to consider the free OpenOffice suite or maybe even consider the iWork package. OpenOffice is essentially compatible with all of MS Office’s apps and costs far less. I haven’t seen any issues with opening any Office document so far, including Excel and PowerPoint presentations.

    I agree with your idea of getting with a Mac user where you live. I’m sure you could locate one of the many Macintosh User’s Groups nearby and even if you can’t, your nearest Apple Store should be able to give you some one-on-one training with what you’re wanting to do.

    Like I said before: It’s different, and it could be either easier or more difficult from your previous experience. In my own case, I dropped Windows entirely and went to Macs as much to escape the hassles of all the malware as to get into a system that doesn’t have to be coddled all the time. I use it for everything from my home business to entertainment, including gaming. I even went so far as to drop Windows entirely once I found a Mac replacement for a specific Windows app I used. I don’t even use Parallels or any other form of virtual Windows machine any more. It works for me.

    Then again, maybe Windows will work better for you. It must be your decision.

  12. joecab Says:

    How can Mac users be sheep? Sheep go with the majority and we’re most definitely in the minority since Windows enjoys a market share many times our own. And it’s tough to accept the “dictatorial” criticism since we’re all free to go take our money elsewhere. Heck, Apple’s old models are still being sold and stil have matte screens and FireWire if you need them that badly.

  13. Vulpine Says:

    Agreed, joecab. The sheep are the Windows users, because they’ve been programmed to let others think for them. They’ve been taught on Windows and led to believe that poor performance is normal and that the only way you can improve it is to spend tons of money on new Microsoft software in the hopes that the new stuff gets rid of old problems.

    There are the wolves, though. These are the ones who train the sheep. They’re the ones who sell new hardware rather than fixing the problem. These are the ones who sell new software to hide the problems. These are the ones who charge hundreds of dollars for a 5-minute fix.

    However, the foxes think for themselves. They choose the hardware that meets their needs. They choose the software that serves the purpose for which it was designed; and use it for that purpose. They do their own studies of components, operating systems and applications and select the package that best meets their wants and desires.

    The foxes usually use OS X or Linux.