I'm a Mac dabbler, not a Mac user. My teenage daughter accuses me of not being cool enough to "get" the Macintosh gestalt, and she may be right. But I'm hearing from more and more small business people who switched, and I've identified three primary reasons for the surge in Mac deployments: lower costs, Intel chips, and Web applications.
I needed a Macintosh to test some products for the Remote control software review that ran January 22nd in the Network World print edition, so I bought a used PowerBook G4 with OS X 10.4.3 running at 1GHz with 1GB of RAM. It seemed to fairly well match the refurbished Gateway Pentium 4 laptop I bought last year, and the price was reasonable.
That's my first point: Macintosh prices haven't dropped to PC levels, but they are closer than ever before. The Mac Mini for $599 costs more than an entry level PC desktop, but at least the Mac has an entry level, which wasn't always the case. An Apple iMac at Frys.com, including LCD monitor, is under a $1000. It still costs more than a comparable PC with comparable LCD monitor, but again it's closer. Many more people are willing to pay a couple of hundred dollars extra for the Mac Cool Factor than are willing to pay a cool thousand extra, which has been the case in the past.
Unlike my PowerPC-based PowerBook, the Macs listed above include an Intel Core Duo processor, and this processor runs Windows as well as OS X. You can dual-boot between OS X and Windows using Boot Camp, or you can get the popular Parallels Desktop for Mac and run both systems at one time.
This solves the common Mac user problem of needing to run one or two proprietary Windows applications. Microsoft did a great job signing up developers to make Windows-only software, and users suffer from that success regularly. But the Intel-based Macs moderate this problem. You still need to buy Windows software for your Mac, and you pay a little more for your hardware than if you stayed with a PC, but you face a speed bump rather than a brick wall.
You could always get Microsoft Office for Macintosh, answering one critical need for software support, but the Intel chip makes it possible to run all Windows applications on Mac hardware. Or you can get OpenOffice for Macintosh, which is free, and easily share documents with others using OpenOffice for Windows, Linux, Solaris, and FreeBSD.
The third reason for increased Macintosh usage is the growing number of Web applications. Mac supports all manner of browsers, including Internet Explorer and Firefox. If you use Software as a Service applications, the Mac works fine. I tested my HyperOffice.com account, and it looks great in the default Safari browser on my Mac. Well written Web applications make the underlying operating system irrelevant, so you can use the operating system you prefer.
MarketCircle sent me a copy of its DayLite 3 software, which can take the place of ACT! for salespeople who prefer a Macintosh. I didn't do a step-by-step feature review of ACT vs. DayLite 3, but the power and flexibility of the software can allow a Mac fan to track contacts, manage projects, link appointments to project status, share calendars, and all the other standard features needed by the modern salesperson. All it needs is a nag screen with an envelope for salespeople to put their receipts into, and it would be a great tool for any sales professional. Or, for that matter, any Mac user who needs to control the chaos of modern business. And the price compares well with ACT, which is the market leader for this type of software in the Windows world.
Many readers have told me they have switched to a Mac and love it, and feel the extra dollars to keep a Windows app or two available are a small price for happiness.
If you're going to buy new hardware to support a new operating system, you may find that switching to a Macintosh costs less and gives you more than upgrading to Windows Vista. Besides, regardless of Vista's new glass-like interface and Mac-inspired Gadgets, Apple still does Macintosh better than Microsoft copies Macintosh. And Apple is about to roll out its operating system upgrade to answer Vista, which should keep Macintosh that much farther ahead.