Macs vs. PCS: Crunching the Numbers by Mark Hollis

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Dentaltown Magazine

by Mark Hollis

Apple computers are more popular with dentists, so why do PCs persist in practice? Dental students report that 90 percent of their classmates have Macs, and many dental professors are Mac users as well. However, dental students and professors use Windows software and PCs provided by the school in the clinic, which is where the contradiction between personal and office use begins for dentists. Why are dental practices predominantly PC? Are there advantages of PC or Mac in a dental practice? PC and Mac each have advantages.

Why have dental practices chosen PCs in the past?
• More dental software programs are Windows-based.
• Windows-based software is sold by two major dental dealers.
• Employees are experienced with Windows dental software.
• Acquiring PC terminals costs less (although that’s not true for servers).
• There are numerous choices for PC manufacturers and sources.
• PCs are more customizable.
• There are many more dental PC IT service providers.
• There are many Windows native digital imaging solutions.

These are all valid reasons for why Windows has dominated in the past … but there are also some very good reasons why many practices should consider Macs, as well.

The net savings associated with Apple computers
Dental IT consultants with Windows expertise and Windows software developers often lead dentists to believe that Macs cost more than PCs. A Mac will cost more than a PC to acquire, but the total cost of ownership (TCO)—the price plus support and maintenance over four years, minus residual value—is the true cost of a computer in business.

It’s not a secret that as the CEO of a company that creates dental software for macOS and iOS devices, I’m personally pro-Apple. So for the rest of this article, I’ll be quoting an impartial source: Fletcher Previn, a vice president at IBM, one of the world’s largest computer users.

IBM is one of the largest enterprise computer users in the world, with 500,000 machines. In 2015, after decades of following a policy that prohibited employees from using Apple computers, IBM set a goal to change its IT culture from enforcing to enabling, giving its employees “the device they want, manage those devices in a modern way, and drive self-sufficiency in the environment.”

In October 2016, Previn appeared at the Jamf National User Conference, the world’s largest Apple IT management community. Previn presented statistical findings that over the previous 17 months had enabled and supported the IBM employees who preferred using Macs.

Here are some statistics Previn provided:2

• PCs were three times as expensive as Macs to manage.
• PCs required twice as many support calls as Macs.
• Employee satisfaction was up.
• IT costs were down.
• Every Mac that IBM bought yielded significant net savings, compared with similarly configured Windows models.

By October 2016, 90,000 IBM users had moved to Apple computers, and Previn stated that 5,000 more Macs were being installed every month, making IBM one of the largest users of Macs in the world, with approximately 150,000 users.

Encryption, antivirus and security protection are native in Apple operating systems. For each Mac introduced, there are reduced costs for hard drive encryption (macOS native FileVault versus PGP), for antivirus protection (macOS native XProtect versus third-party software for Windows), and for security protection (macOS native Gate Keeper and SIP).

Note: FileVault and Gatekeeper can easily be turned on by your practice’s administrator—typically the dentist or practice owner—or the employee who’s the practice’s HIPAA compliance officer, in macOS system preferences. XProtect works in the background in macOS and virus definitions are automatically updated by Apple within free macOS updates.

Support for Macs is less needed, less costly and more effective. Previn observed that “fewer support problems yields better quality support.” IBM has reduced help desk staff for Macs, contributing to a reduction in costs, yet there’s still a 91 percent Mac user satisfaction with help, versus an 83 percent PC user satisfaction. “Five percent of Mac callers ever require a tech to come to their desk to support and help, versus 27 percent of PC users,” Previn said.

Twenty percent of IBM employees now use Apple computers, but they account for only 5 percent of support calls. IBM now allocates just 50 help desk staff to 90,000 Mac users—a ratio of 1 to 1,800. Meanwhile, Gartner’s statistics show the optimal number of help desk staff to PC users is 1 to 70, and the average is 1 to 242.

On the software side, PCs cost three times what Macs do. “Our total cost to upgrade (users) from Windows XP to Windows 7, for example—it ended up that it would have just been cheaper to buy everybody new laptops,” said Previn.

Keeping software current with security holes plugged is essential at IBM, as it must be at dental practices. Most dentists who use Apple computers don’t retain on-site IT to install Apple patches, and instead update to a new operating system themselves.

Other factors that weigh in Apple’s favor

Fewer updates are needed to keep Apple operating systems current—especially for security. IBM tracked the number of updates required in 2015 and found:

• Critical security patches: 86 for Windows, 11 for Mac.
• Non-security patches: 49 for Windows, 20 for Mac.

“We have to go out and manage the Mac environment 104 fewer times per year,” Previn said. “Well-run networks make the job of an attacker a lot more difficult.”

73 percent of IBMers prefer Macs … and that’s increasing. “The Mac users (surveyed) are a lot more satisfied than the PC users,” Previn reported. In May 2016, 73 percent of IBM employees expressed a preference that their next computer be a Mac. That follows general business statistics, in which 60 percent of companies offer employees a choice, and find that 80 percent of them prefer Apple computers, tablets and phones.

Every Mac purchase makes and saves money. Previn said that IBM sees $535 in readily measurable savings per Mac over the first four years. Dental practices typically retain their Macs for eight to 10 years, versus replacing PCs after four or five years, which multiplies this savings even further.

“The incremental purchase price of a Mac pays for itself several times over the life of the device in reduced support burden,” Previn said. “The longer this program runs, the more compelling the business case becomes. … I can confidently say every Mac we buy is making and saving IBM money.” In fact, IBM Japan has decided that Macs are now the standard choice, and PCs require an exception.

Some Things to Know About ‘the Cloud’
Ninety-eight percent of dentists keep their patient data in their office, under their own control, and access it remotely from home or from other locations. Before considering software that will place your data on a remote server shared with other businesses—aka “the cloud”—dentists should be aware of certain realities.

  • Doctors cannot shift HIPAA responsibility to a cloud vendor.3
  • 40 percent of companies that moved to the cloud have since retreated because of cost and security.4
  • The cloud is not impervious to malware attacks or glitches. Last year, thousands of organizations and practices using Greenway5 and Allscripts,6 two of the largest EHR vendors, lost access to their data for weeks. Millions of patients were affected. Dentists using dental cloud software have reported inability to access their data for a week or more. In May it was discovered that a crypto-mining malware had been using Amazon’s cloud7 to hijack PCs.
Author Bio

Author Mark Hollis has a background in education, in public office, as a certified financial planner and as an Apple product expert and consultant. Hollis, a practice management consultant to more than 600 companies for 25 years, has lectured at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and at national and regional dental and medical meetings.

Today, Hollis is CEO of MacPractice (, a company that develops and supports dental and medical software and associated services for more than 30,000 macOS and iOS users in 31 countries. He has more than 30 years of industry experience, and his articles on Apple technology, security and encryption, ransomware, HIPAA compliance and electronic health records have appeared in several dental and medical publications.


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