March 23, 2009, 3:37 PM — This is the sort of thing that reasonable people ought to ignore, but I guess I'm feeling unreasonable today. Last week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, talking trash about Apple as is his occasional wont, had this to say: "Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be."
It's definitely true that, since the transition to Intel chips, it's much easier to directly compare hardware for Macs and Windows PCs. PC World's Jeff Bertolucci did a little comparing himself, and came to the conclusion that, when it came to entry-level laptops, the gap between Mac and Dell is about $360.
But you'll note the key word in that previous paragraph: hardware. Bertolucci hems and haws a bit, saying that Macs have better security and less crapware than Windows PCs, before concluding that the Dell is still a better deal. And yet the major remaining differentiator between the two computers -- the operating system -- goes completely unremarked upon. In essence, you're not paying $360, or $500, or whatever it works out to for your target model, for a logo. You're paying that much extra for OS X.
The question you need to ask yourself, then, is do you think that OS X is worth it? It's completely possible that you don't -- I know that there are plenty of people who don't see much difference between the two OSes, or who prefer Windows. But the people who do gladly pay extra for the Mac are doing so because they prefer Apple's OS. They may not be able to verbalize it in those terms -- the OS quite rightly is part of the background, so people often perceive it as "part of the computer" -- but if they "just like the way Mac work better," it's OS X that makes them feel that way.
And that's why I found Ballmer's comments so strange. After all, he doesn't sell computers; he sells operating systems. In essence, OS X costs several hundred dollars more than Windows. It's the one thing on a Mac that isn't a commodity. And people are willing to pay a premium for it. What does that say about Windows?