Mac or PC for business?

Question mark - Mac or PCThere was once a time when Microsoft Windows ruled the business world. Back then, Apple Macs could only be found in high-end design studios and on the front desks of customer-facing businesses that wanted to put the best-looking technology on display

Now things are rather different. Thanks largely to the dominance of the iPhone and the rise of the iPad, the popularity of Macs has soared, and an increasing number of people are using Apple's products across a variety of industries.

Is it time to consider a Mac for your business?

PC and Mac compatibility

Traditionally, Macs and PCs have occupied different areas of the business IT market. "Macs were for more creative industries, but over the last few years there's been a convergence," says Andy Nunn, director of The PC-Mac Support Company.

As a result, it's become easy to run PCs and Macs on the same computer network and to share files – particularly with most businesses now favouring device agnostic cloud computing and storage. "I've never had any compatibility issues," confirms Jen Holmes, who runs J for Jen. "Everything you need is available on both." Jen Holmes

The range of business software for Macs is now on a par with Windows, too. "For years, Windows had a bigger choice of software," explains John Baxter, systems administrator at Data HQ, which moved its sales team to Macs from PCs. "Now you can get equivalent Mac software for virtually everything."

Popular applications - like Microsoft Office – are also available for Macs, making it easier to switch to a Mac for business if you want to. And then there's the 'iOS effect'; as companies start to make use of iPads and iPhones (both of which also have access to the full suite of Microsoft Office software), they naturally want to consider Apple Mac computers too.

There are still some packages - usually specialist software - which are only available on PCs. However, even that doesn't need to cause problems as you can use a tool like Boot Camp to run Microsoft Windows on your Mac.

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Macs are more expensive

With so few software differences, cost is often the decisive factor.

An Apple laptop - such as a MacBook - costs anywhere from £1,099 for the MacBook Air to £1,299 and beyond for the more powerful MacBook Pro. Yet a PC of similar specification from Dell can be had for £700-£900. And while entry-level PCs cost £200-£300, it's impossible to buy any sort of Mac for that price.

Of course, you're not just paying for the specification. Macs rank consistently well for build quality and reliability. "Even after a few years, Macs are still very good machines," confirms John. "You're likely to have to upgrade PCs more often."

But although Macs may last a bit longer than PCs, you probably won't make significant savings in other areas. "Support costs are about the same," says Andy. "If anything, you might end up paying a little more for support from a Mac specialist or the company’s own Apple Care solution."

Nick DainesNick Daines from Lumen PR opted for PCs over Macs when buying computers for his firm: "We were looking at a pair of MacBook Airs. But compared to PCs, they're relatively expensive. They're well designed, so they're arguably still good value for money, but we wanted to spend a bit less on our laptops."

Is a PC or Mac easier to use?

Despite the cost factor pushing him towards PCs, Nick acknowledges Macs have a key strength: "The user experience is better." Indeed, Apple has become known for making its products simple and enjoyable to use.

John Baxter agrees: "It's my experience that people enjoy using Macs more. This makes them less likely to grumble - they're more positive and more productive."

Although it's hard to quantify any productivity gains from the switch, he found people at his company required minimal training to start using Macs. "We spent about half an hour showing them the basics, then left them to it. It was a breath of fresh air for a lot of them to realise things just worked."

PC and Mac security

Viruses and malware are much more common on Microsoft Windows-based PCs. Hackers target them because there are far more PCs out there. "There are fewer viruses for Macs, but as Macs become more popular the risks will grow," explains John.

What's more, Macs can pass infections on to other PCs. "Do you want to be a carrier and infect your clients?" asks Andy. "That's why all our Macs have security software - we use the Avast! package."

Is it about image?

The decision whether to buy a Mac or PC often hinges on image. "I work in advertising and marketing industries," explains Jen. "People want someone who knows the latest technology. It's shallow and ridiculous, but having a sleek Mac is more impressive than having a big PC."

But it cuts both ways. Nick Daines thinks his clients prefer him to have a PC. "Our clients are technology firms - I think PCs mark us as more serious people who get the job done," he says.

The key, as John Baxter explains, is to focus on your specific situation: "The driving factor for us was a business reason. Our sales team was getting bogged down, and that was eroding our profits.

"It wasn't about us wanting to switch to Macs. It was about finding the solution that would make everyone's life easier - and that just happened to be from Apple."

Two hands with pros and cons

Pros and cons

PCs tend to be:

  • Cheaper upfront
  • More familiar to your staff
  • Built from standard components
  • More prone to virus infection
  • A bit easier to manage on a network

Macs tend to be:

  • More expensive
  • Very easy to adjust to
  • Well designed and built
  • Safer from viruses and malware
  • Good if you want the 'wow factor'

There's little difference when it comes to:

  • The range of software available
  • Using the internet, email and key software like Microsoft Office
  • File types and compatibility - it's easy to share files between systems, particularly with cloud services now prevalent in business

Think before you switch to a Mac for business

Attractive as using a Mac for business might seem, it's worth thinking about these key issues before making the switch:

  • File sharing: there was a time when transferring files between a Mac and a PC was a painful process. Thankfully, those days are over. Today, many Mac applications can open files created on a PC and vice versa. You should have no trouble getting files from one system to another - particularly if you rely on cloud storage.
  • Making Macs and PCs talk on the same network: it's relatively easy to connect your Macs and PCs via a network. Most office networks won't care whether you're plugging a Mac or a PC into them (or whether you're connecting wirelessly) – but you may need to ask your IT supplier to set up shared drives and resources.
  • Using your usual applications: if you've decided to switch from a PC to a Mac, Apple's Boot Camp software can help you run Windows on your Mac. However, there are few circumstances in which you'll be unable to find a Mac equivalent of your Windows software.

Mac or PC for business? It doesn't matter

Perhaps the truth is that whether you choose a PC or Mac is becoming less and less important. As we all begin to use more cloud-based applications, the operating system you choose is less critical.

As long as you have an internet connection and a web browser, you can log in and use the tools you need to get your work done. Your choice of hardware doesn't really matter.

So, using both Macs and PCs in the same office won't create the same problems as it has done in the past. There are dozens of ways to make them manageable.

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