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that to offer its users truly great new experiences (and products), it cannot hold onto (and be held back by) outdated technology.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.