Apple Practically Gives OS X Away And It Still Costs Less Than XP To Support

Apple Practically Gives OS X Away And It Still Costs Less Than XP To Support

Apple's update strategy can save companies lot of money over maintaining Windows XP

There are a handful of intrinsic beliefs that Apple has as company – most of which came from Steve Jobs. The constant focus on building experiences rather than just products is one of them. Another is that Apple looks forward and not backward when it comes to technology. The company simply acknowledges that to offer its users truly great new experiences (and products), it cannot hold onto (and be held back by) outdated technology.

Apple often gets criticized for pushing its technologies and its users forward, particularly in business and enterprise IT circles. Despite that criticism, Apple may be doing companies (and users) a big favor by not supporting older Macs and OS X releases indefinitely as Microsoft does with Windows XP – and that advantage isn’t just about better products.

An IDC study commissioned by Microsoft discovered that supporting XP now costs companies and schools five times what it would cost them to support Windows 7 – making Apple’s forward-looking policy not only technically advantageous but also significantly less expense in the long run.

In producing the study, IDC extensively interviewed staff at nine large enterprise companies to determine the actual costs associated with supporting XP more than a decade after its initial introduction. In the process, researchers discovered that on average 42% of business PCs are still running the aging OS. When Microsoft finally ends every vestige of support for XP a little under a year from now, 11% of PCs in business are likely to still be running what will then be a 13-year-old OS.

The expenses involved in supporting XP come from a mix of sources. The fact that supporting XP also tends to mean supporting hardware that’s beyond the three-year milestone that’s considered the optimal lifespan of a PC is a big part of the expense. Computerworld’s Gregg Keizer explains that after the three-year mark, PC support costs increase dramatically.

IT labor costs jump 25% during year four of a PC’s lifespan, and another 29% in year five, IDC noted, while user productivity costs climb 23% in year four and jump 40% during year five. Total year five costs are a whopping 73% higher than support costs of a two-year-old client.

Not all costs are hardware related, however. In fact some core IT tasks take nearly twice the time and energy when it comes to XP than to Windows 7. Security patching required 82% more time, mitigating malware took 90% more time, and help desk calls more 84% less time.

IDC’s projections taken to an extreme for large businesses, 230 PCs running Windows XP rather than Windows 7 essentially requires an additional full-time IT staff member. Put a slightly different way, transitioning a worker from XP to Windows 7 results in a 137% return on investment over three years.

The study essentially illustrated a common pro-Apple mantra in both the business and consumer markets – up front costs may be higher for a new Mac (and apparently a new PC) but total cost of ownership will be lower.

Unfortunately, the study doesn’t include Mac hardware or OS X as a comparison in addition to Windows 7. A direct comparison might even have been difficult given the sheer number of OS X versions released in the same eleven year time frame (Windows XP, Vista, 7 to… well every version of OS X – eight in all with the number nine due out this summer) and in the hardware transitions that Apple has made in the same time frame – the switch to Intel processors being the most significant. Still, it seems pretty clear from this study that Apple’s approach yields better products and delivers real cost advantages.

  • drblank

    Because Dell, HP and all of the other Windows OEM mfg’s. they have the same problem not only because they use Windows internally, but they have to support their customers as well and it is also very costly for them as well, which partly the reason why Dell and HP don’t make much profit as compared to Apple.   Apple is EXTREMELY efficient in how they run their business model and that’s partly because they eat their own “dog food” so to speak.

  • Lurgen Bonobo

    This article seems to ignore the fact that businesses need to run ‘software’ on their computers.  Has there been any comparison as to the costs associated with updating in-house written applications?  I’m sure this is partly the reason why 42% of businesses still run XP.  At least Microsoft acknowledges this and provides extended support, backward compatibility and other solutions such as OS virtualization in Windows 7 to support legacy applications instead of just ‘looking forward’.  

  • extra_medium

    Of course, if apple simply stop supporting an OS, its going to cost them less to support it..

    Im not sure what their sale price has to do with how much it costs to support it anyways… the title makes it seem like there is supposed to be some kind of surprising correllation between the two.

  • Skcus Koobecaf

    I’m worked with/on and supported HW/SW on OSX, XP, Solaris, Ubuntu, Vista and Win7.Each has it’s advantages, but I do find Mac to be very frustrating to deal with at times.


    We had several PowerPC Macs that were pretty much junk even though they weren’t very old.  I couldn’t load the latest Mozilla and Google programs because we had 10.4 and we needed 10.5 or higher.  

    On the other side, I have a few older PC’s running  (one even close to 9 years old) running either XP or Ubuntu and they run great.  I have only needed to spend a little cash on them for RAM, but to do the basic file sharing or web apps, they are more than enough.

    As far as quality, if I sent the same amount on a PC that I’d send on a new Mac, that PC would kick @ss and run better and be more reliable than the Mac would ever be.

    As far as reliability, I’d have a few PC problems to deal with… registry  issues and a HD going bad once and a while. Simple problems to fix with a little time and cost very little money.  Our Mac’s (top of the line G5’s) consistently had HD problems and Video card problems.  These problems were very costly, the Video cards cost $700 and there were only a few that were supported on the G5 (at the time).

    If I want to repair or upgrade my PC, I have an unlimited selection of performance/cost range to pick from. 

    I’m hate to see what happens when the IMacs have a HW issue.

    Now Macs are very good for what they do, but they can be very limiting at times.

    As far as upgrading to Win7, yes that’s a great idea…but company’s are cutting cost and many companies have 
    proprietary  SW that needs to be tested and/or rewritten. It’s a little different that a company that is just running the standard SW that is designed to load on any version.

    Yeah, of course Apple doesn’t spend a ton on old SW/HW, they force people to spend a ton and upgrade every couple of years. 

    In reality, both models have flaws and advantages. To blindly say that one is better or more cost efficient is short sighted and really over looks many of the huge  contributing factors.  I think that if Mac had the penetration rate in the larger company’s, they’d have to change their approach.
  • Aaron

    This study doesn’t surprise me in the least. I worked a short-term contract position for Mac support at a local University/Medical Center. This facility had a nearly 50:50 split on PCs and Macs. There were 23 support personnel on the PC side and 3 Mac support personnel. What’s more, we (the Mac support people) would have to help the PC side frequently to catch up on outstanding tickets. 

About the author

Ryan FaasRyan Faas is a technology journalist and consultant living in upstate New York who has written extensively about Apple, business and enterprise IT, and the mobile industry. In addition to writing for Cult of Mac, he is a contributor to Computerworld, InformIT, and Peachpit Press. In a previous existence he was a healthcare IT director as well as a systems and network administrator. Follow Ryan on Twitter and Google +

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