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For purposes of a purchase of laptops for everyone in my small (15 people) organization, I have compiled a spreadsheet containing what I think is an apples to apples comparison of the cost of, among other things, supporting those seats.

I am trying to put values into fields that represent a) the number of hours per mac per week, and b) the number of hours per PC per week, that I will be spending supporting users and machines.

If you've had experience with both, I'd be curious to hear your estimate of the ratio of those two numbers (0.75? 1.5?).

I do realize that all other things are never equal, of course, so I'd be curious to hear your reasoning, and/or particulars of your environment, users, skillset, staff capacity, etc, as well.


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closed as not constructive by sysadmin1138 Oct 4 '12 at 15:08

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It's actually not subjective; it's dependent on lots of variables. Regardless, I recognize that there's no one right answer, but rather a question that's likely to elicit a range of answers (Hence the title of the question). Seems like a valid query, doesn't it? – Jamie Feb 9 '10 at 22:11
A clearer question without all the irrelevant greek stuff would be preferred. – Chris Thorpe Feb 9 '10 at 22:35
edited to try to save the question -- a bit too whimsical – Jeff Atwood Feb 10 '10 at 6:27
Shouldn't you be comparing Apples to PCs, instead of Apples to Apples? – Piskvor Feb 10 '10 at 7:37
This is far too subjective. Not because you're comparing Macs to PCs but because you've said absolutely nothing about the applications or what these machines will be used for. That's where the real support will be. – John Gardeniers Feb 10 '10 at 7:46
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Depends also on the infrastructure you have to control things. If you have a Windows domain with 15 desktops and need to change a setting on all of them you'll have a much easier time than 15 separate Macs, likewise with AV configuration, password syncing and such. The same in reverse applies though so if you don't have a domain but do have a snow leopard/samba server you might find the Macs easier.

We support a number of Macs and by and large they require less time except where parallels/VMware is involved. There are always users that want to run PC apps and tend to use one of the above to do so. At which point your admin overhead just quadrupled. Personally I like the idea of setting up a dedicated Windows Terminal server for those users.

On average I've found Mac's do throw less grief but are harder to centrally manage. So there is a magic number in there somewhere where PCs will be easier to manage, personally I'd guess it to be around the 20 mark. Will say I haven't had much to do with Mac's enterprise config stuff (does it exist?).

and I second Niels comment about most of support going to users, regardless of platform there is always someone that unplugs their mouse.

Excellent points. We do have a Windows domain, but it seems like overkill in our case, actually. – Jamie Feb 11 '10 at 15:32

From lots of experience in supporting organizations that had roughly equal numbers of Unix-based and Windows-based end users, the tasks and category of the end user is more important than the platform in determining end user support requirements. Most of the end user support is typically "would you please reset my password," reconnecting loose cables, and ensuring switches are in the ON position. For servers support, new rollouts, updates, troubleshooting, adding features or capabilities, etc., there was roughly a 10:1 ratio between the number of technical support people required per thousand supported seats. That is, Windows server and technical support required 10x the amount of labor hours than Unix based systems.

I don't know how that plays out for your particular organization, but in my experience the typical crossover point is at about seven to ten users. Of course, this assumes that you do not require Windows application (typically Microsoft Office) file import/export for your task customer base.


There are a few factors which will influence the ratio:

  • experience of the sysadmin on both systems: if the person is a skilled Mac user, he/she will spend much less time to resolve problems.
  • variety of applications used on the machines
  • how "computer-savvy" are the users?

I have to support both PCs and Macs in my network. I can't say that Macs (users) have fewer problems, maybe it's true that there are other kind of problems. For example, simple incompatibility problems ("emails don't look like in Outlook", VPN configuration is different).

I think in the end the ratio is near 1. Off topic: Having a heterous environment is a huge challenge and dangerous, if sysadmins lack personal experience with the different systems. But on the other hand it helps in understanding some underlying concepts, because you have multiple perspectives on the topics.

Very helpful, thanks! – Jamie Feb 11 '10 at 14:14

Yes, it's not an aphrodite to athena apples to oranges comparison. (mind the pun)

What you're really asking is: Do Mac's have a lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) when compared to PC running Windows?

There was a whitepaper a few years back that tried to do a comparison, although all links to it seem dead! (maybe someone elses search skills are better then mine & can link a copy here). Here's a review of the whitepaper from a someone user who trashes it. Here's a discussion of it on a Microsoft blog.

IMHO apple mac's these days are appliances (unless your doing objective-c dev work). If your user are only ever going use is a browser, productivity apps like word, excel do some presentations then macs are probably the way to go.

The reality is, this will not describe every user in your organization. Most accounting & other LOB application packages are mostly Windows based. You may be able to get away with having some users on Mac's, but not the whole business.


The hours you'll spend per machine on support will have far less to do with the platform than the user so make a decision that is sensitive to the preferences and skills of your users and proceed.


From my experience (Having supported a combination of Win95, WinNT4 and Linux from '98-'04) the time of managing the 'computers' can be automated for all platforms (dunno about mac). When fully automated the cost of supporting can drop dramatically. For Linux (and most likely MAC) you as an admin can login remotely and install/reconfigure things in a (semi) automated way.

What is important to realize is that the tools on a system is dependend on the role of the person. A 15 person company implicitly means "only 1 or 2 people peer role" so you'll have a a lot of diversity in usage patterns of those systems.

So if you can have a 'one size fits all' your cost will be much lower than a single platform (win, mac, linux,...) with different applications on each instance.

BTW: The most time is spent supporting users, regardless of the platform.


Depends entirely on the applications involved, the tasks involved, the caliber and experience of the users, the caliber and experience of the IT staff, and a couple hundred other things. Hell, the ratio wouldn't even be the same in different departments in my own company, let alone someone else's company with zero indication of what they do...

Granted. In your experience, then, in one department? As for us, we use Google Apps and MS Office. It's an office environment, basically, with people who travel a fair amount, write, communicate and present to groups. – Jamie Feb 9 '10 at 22:14
Office will likely be your biggest sticking point. If they're used to Windows Office it'll be a nasty transition to Mac Office, and vice versa. Significant differences in UI. – ceejayoz Feb 10 '10 at 5:10
Very helpful, thanks! – Jamie Feb 11 '10 at 14:14

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