How to evaluate Mac vs. PC for businesses

While PCs have long been the preferred option for businesses, Mac computers are gaining in popularity due to improved functionality.

The debate between Mac vs. PC for business is one that every organization needs to consider.

Neither system is superior to the other in every respect. Like any technology, the decision comes down to use cases and which one offers the clearest gains in productivity and usability.

History of the Mac vs. PC debate

Windows PCs have long dominated the workplace and provided the foundation for an entire ecosystem of productivity tools and management platforms. While some individuals used Mac computers for work-related tasks, they represented a small minority and their presence had minimal effect on the PC's solid footing.

In the early days of Apple, the company focused primarily on the consumer market and showed little interest in the world of business. But several events began to change that, one of which was the steady improvement in Mac computers. They became more powerful and reliable while maintaining their focus on usability and easy operations. Many users grew to prefer Macs for their personal and professional needs, especially in creative industries.

But high-quality machines were not enough to upset the status quo. Macs might have made their way into the workplace, but organizations often overlooked them while developing PC management strategies. But then the web started to emerge, followed by the cloud, making it possible to deliver services to numerous devices, no matter what operating systems they ran, including macOS.

Along with those trends came the proliferation of mobile devices, which led to a demand for even greater flexibility. Not only were business users bringing their devices into the workplace, but many organizations began purchasing these devices themselves, and they often preferred iPhones and iPads over other products. At the same time, iOS and macOS devices grew more integrated. Apple also began building mobile device management (MDM) features into iOS devices and Mac computers, making it easier for organizations to manage them in the workplace.

While this was happening, Microsoft made several strategic decisions that caused customers to reassess their commitments to Windows PCs. Microsoft was slow to embrace the cloud and smartphones, making it appear as though the world was moving forward without them. At the same time, the company continued to demand high licensing fees for the Windows operating system, despite Apple's decision to offer macOS for free.

Together, these factors have helped fuel Mac's steady inroads into the workplace. IT teams have had to figure out how to manage them alongside Windows PCs while also contending with mobile devices.

Chart depicting the growth of the PC market for desktops, tablets and notebooks from 2020 to 2022.
The PC market is projected to continue to grow over time due to the release of more features and functionalities.

Mac for business

There are many reasons why Macs have worked their way into organizations. They offer efficient and high-quality systems that can improve productivity and lead to greater user satisfaction.

Total cost of ownership. Macs have a reputation for being much more expensive than Windows PCs, but mounting evidence suggests that Macs have a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) when considering factors such as increased productivity, fewer support calls and greater job satisfaction. While upfront costs might be more, the high quality can translate to savings in other ways.

Level of quality. Apple controls all aspects of building and assembling the hardware and software that go into a Mac computer. This setup results in highly engineered systems that are reliable, durable, well integrated and deliver high-level performance.

Security. Average consumers often believe that Mac computers are more secure than Windows PCs, a belief that mainly stems from cybercriminals focusing on Windows systems. Macs are often more secure because macOS is based on Unix, which can be more difficult to exploit, and because Apple has full control over the hardware and software, making it easier to implement new security features.

User experience. Macs have long been a favorite among graphic designers, video editors and other creative personnel but have been steadily gaining fans among other users. Macs are well known for their usability, streamlined interfaces, out-of-the-box functionality and assortment of free apps. They perform well and have high-quality displays, long-lasting batteries and excellent support.

Device compatibility. Usually, people who opt for Macs use multiple Apple devices, so Apple has taken steps to seamlessly integrate these devices so users can switch between them and share information with minimal disruptions to workflows. Such features as Handoff, AirPlay, AirDrop and Screen Sharing have become staples of Apple devices and can help make employees more productive at work.

Despite the many advantages that Macs offer, they are not without their challenges when supporting them in the enterprise:

  • Mac computers and Windows PCs have to be managed together, adding costs and complexity to a predominantly PC-centric world.
  • Some business applications and other proprietary software do not run on macOS, which means running Windows-only software in a virtual environment, adding costs and complexity.
  • Specialized applications and tools, such as antivirus software, originally targeted Windows PCs only. Although many apps run on Macs, they are not always as robust and feature rich as their Windows counterparts.
  • A software license for a Windows application might not apply to the Mac version of that application. For example, the standalone license for Visual Studio Professional does not apply to Visual Studio for Mac.
  • Customers typically require an Apple technician to repair or upgrade a Mac computer, even for the simplest operations.
  • Apple offers relatively few hardware configurations compared to PCs, limiting the customer's options to predefined systems with minimal customization.

Although Macs come with multiple challenges, they continue to gain momentum in the enterprise, forcing many IT teams to modify their operations to support Macs along with Windows.

Windows PC for business

Windows PCs have long been a dominating force in the workplace and continue to represent most desktops in enterprise settings. They offer several important features for carrying out business processes.

Hardware flexibility. One of the biggest selling points of Windows PCs is the wide range of available hardware configurations. Customers can choose their CPUs, memory modules, graphic cards, storage drives, monitors and other components, selecting them from various vendors. Organizations can put together exactly the systems they need to meet their performance and workload requirements.

Support for business apps. Windows PCs have dominated the enterprise for so long that many business applications, productivity tools and other proprietary software began as Windows only. Some added support for Mac clients, but these products might not be as robust and feature rich as their PC counterparts. Some apps remain strictly PC-based. Windows PCs also offer built-in support for Office products and services. Although Microsoft provides Mac editions, the PC editions are still superior. In addition, Microsoft doesn't offer Mac editions of Access, Visio or Project.

Windows management ecosystem. Desktop management originated with the Windows PC ecosystem. Although there is software that now accommodates Mac computers, the primary focus remains on PCs, offering more granular and complete management services. This is also true with Active Directory, which was built for Windows computers and still only provides minimal support for Macs. An organization can opt for a platform such as Parallels Mac Management for SCCM, which helps simplify Mac management, but this comes with additional licensing fees.

Repairs and upgrades. IT teams routinely take Windows PCs apart and put them back together. They might not build their desktops from scratch, but they usually have no problem pulling off the cover and replacing a failed drive or upgrading memory. This flexibility can make it easier to keep PCs running and upgrade components. These types of tasks are nearly impossible with Mac computers, however. Having to send a laptop to a dealer to have a battery replaced can be time-consuming and costly.

Innovative features. After Windows 8, Microsoft has taken usability a lot more seriously with Windows 10, including several innovative features to appease business users and IT alike. For example, users can set up Windows 10, shut down, restart or put their PCs to sleep with only their voice. In addition, Windows 10 includes full touchscreen support -- including pen input -- and it offers tablet mode, which lets a user switch between a tablet experience and a desktop experience. Windows 10 also makes it possible for users to run Android apps on their PCs.

Windows PCs offer many advantages, but like Macs, they also come with challenges:

  • Microsoft charges a licensing fee for Windows, unlike macOS, which is free. Windows PCs also have a lower resale value than Macs.
  • The flexibility of PC hardware can sometimes translate to compatibility issues between components -- unless the systems are prebuilt and tested to ensure there are no conflicts.
  • Because Windows PCs are available in such a wide range of configurations from numerous vendors, the quality can vary significantly between systems, often in unpredictable ways.
  • Macs can run virtualized Windows software, but Windows PCs cannot run virtualized Mac software. Still, this is probably not an issue for most users.
  • The extensive use of Windows PCs by both businesses and consumers means that they're more tempting targets for cyber attacks.
  • Because the Windows OS comes from Microsoft and the hardware comes from other vendors, warranties can vary between OEMs, and it's not always clear where to get support.
Organizations must consider usability, productivity and their device management strategies, or they risk falling behind.

Despite these disadvantages, Windows PCs continue to dominate the workplace and will likely do so for some time to come. Yet the influx of Mac computers, along with the wide range of other devices, has forced organizations to reevaluate their traditional IT operations and figure out ways to accommodate the changing landscape of end-user devices. A one-size-fits-all approach to device management no longer works in today's organization, even as the debate between Mac and PC continues. Organizations must consider usability, productivity and their device management strategies, or they risk falling behind.

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