Seven facts on why you should have anti-virus running on your Mac.

The security through obscurity that Mac users have enjoyed for years is finally starting to crumble and even Apple is owning up to it. They recently put out a support advisory last month in which they recommended that Mac user start running anti-virus software on their machines. It’s long been a gloating point for Mac users that anti-virus software was unnecessary on their systems, but as Apple’s market share increases it’s getting a point where there’s a profit motive for malware authors to start writing for the Mac platform and some of them already are.

Still there’s a resistance to the idea that the Mac may be vulnerable to the same sorts of malicious software that Windows users are and that prompted Graham Cluley to ask in a blog entry Do you really need anti-virus on your Apple Mac?

It started with just a small pebble being dropped into a pond. Apple updated one of its support advisories on 21 November, informing its customers that they are recommended to run anti-virus software.

Most people would never have noticed this announcement. I didn’t at first. I only heard about it when I saw the guys from Intego mention it on their Apple security blog on 25 November. A couple of days later, recovering from a bout of man-flu, I blogged about a new piece of Apple malware and mentioned in passing that Apple were now recommending their customers run anti-virus software.

Today, however, that small pebble dropped by Apple has turned into a tidalwave of commentary – and we’re seeing lots of news stories about Apple urging Mac users to protect themselves with anti-virus.

So, do you really need anti-virus on your Apple Mac?

From there he goes on to list seven facts and the comes to the following conclusion:

So, back to my original question, do you really need anti-virus on your Apple Mac?

The answer is yes.

It’s worth noting that Mr. Cluley works for Sophos, a company that produces anti-virus, anti-spam, firewall software packages for both big and small businesses, so it’s possible he may have a conflict of interest in promoting anti-virus software on the Mac. The fact that Apple has recommended the practice and that Mr. Cluley has been active in anti-virus research for some time prior to joining Sophos should help balance that out. That and the seven facts he lists make a pretty good argument.

The threat for Apple users is still relatively small compared to what Windows users face, but if Apple continues to gain market share then it won’t take long for it to grow. Of course the best defense is being educated about the threats, but for a lot of people that’s a commitment they don’t seem to be able to make.

Looks like my college is having a used computer sale.

They have a lot of PCs and such available, mostly older Dell Optiplex GX260 Minitowers, but they’re also selling some older Macs. I’m tempted to pick one up as it seems reasonably cheap. Here’s the most expensive one they’re selling:

iMac G4
800MHz processors
60 GB Hard drive
512 MB Ram

They’re asking $75 for ‘em. Is it worth it? There’s also the following:

EMac G4
1 GHz
20 GB Hard Drive
Combo Drive
Monitor is part of the system.

It’s going for $50. Which seems odd considering it’s a faster processor, but then I’ve never heard of an EMac.

[Update:] OK the one I’m really thinking about now is:

Mac G4 Tower
867MHz processors
40 GB Hard drive
512 MB Ram
Zip drive
CRT Monitor

Going for $70.

Is there a misconception about the price of Macs versus PCs?

A few days back SEB regular Webs linked to an article on Tom’s Hardware titled The Apple Mac Cost Misconception : Macs and Their Prices. The author of the article attempted to prove that Macs really aren’t that much more expensive than a similarly equipped PC:

In terms of hardware, there’s nothing really special about a Mac aside from elegant designs, be it a Mac Pro or MacBook Pro, that makes it incredibly more worthwhile than the PC equivalent. And there’s no doubt that you can get an equally equipped PC, or build one yourself, for less money. In fact, I mentioned this in my previous article, although some people seemed to have completely missed the page where I complained about Apple’s outrageous prices altogether. However, building a PC to do the same isn’t the point, because you can always buy a cheaper car to get you from A to B. Instead, let’s see what you can get for $2000, from Apple and from others. For $2000, do you really get much less?

The author goes on to compare a few systems that he considers equivalent to various Macs and manages to come up with examples where either you get more or less the same machine for the same money (ignoring any perceived advantages/disadvantages of their relevant operating systems) or you can actually save money by going with the Mac.  He says the real problem crops up when you start to add in options such as more RAM or a bigger hard drive as Apple does overprice for those components, but that’s only a problem if you’re dumb enough to buy those parts from Apple:

Macs themselves are not overpriced. In fact, they are fairly priced for what hardware it comes with. Where Apple really gets ridiculous with its pricing is in the options and upgrades. Let’s take a look at some of the upgrades that Apple offers for say, a Mac Pro:

On Apple’s site, it lists a 2 GB increase in memory for $500.

Anyone would be crazy to plunk down half a grand for 2 GB in memory (2 x 1GB). You can get the same pack of memory online for less than $150.

On Apple’s site, a 1 TB Serial ATA drive costs $450.

We all know we can get decent 1 TB drives for less than $180.

I also took a look at Apple’s line of iMacs and their available upgrades. Stepping up from a 250 GB drive to a 500 GB drive will cost you $100 from Apple. Interestingly enough, you can get a 500 GB drive for $70 at Newegg.

The bottom line here is: if you buy a Mac, don’t buy upgrades from Apple, because this is where you will light up your wallet (or purse) on fire. The prices for upgrades makes absolutely no sense, and follows a pricing scheme I just don’t jive with. Do some research on upgrades and buy elsewhere. There is a huge discrepancy in Apple’s pricing for its systems and pricing for system upgrades.

While there’s definitely truth in what the author is saying he’s conveniently ignoring another factor that leads to the perception that Macs are overpriced: A lack of choices.

The lowest end Mac you can buy is the Mac Mini which starts at $599 and has the following stats: 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 80GB Serial ATA drive, 24x Combo Drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW), Intel GMA 950 graphics processor with 64MB of DDR2 SDRAM shared with main memory, no monitor, and no keyboard or mouse

Now let’s compare that to the cheapest of the Dell desktops, the Inspiron 530, which comes with the following: Intel® Celeron ® Processor 440 (2.00GHz, 800 FSB), 1GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz, 250GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM), 16X DVD+/-RW Drive, Integrated Intel GMA 3100 with up to 256MB of DDR2 shared with main memory, no monitor, and USB Keyboard and USB mouse. Total cost? $299. That’s $300 cheaper than the Mac Mini and it has more hard drive space, a DVD burner, better integrated graphics, and a keyboard/mouse! In the Mac Mini’s defense it does give you a dual core processor, but that doesn’t justify a $300 difference in price. If we bump it up one step to the $489 version of the same PC that will net you an Intel® Pentium® dual-core processor E2180 (1MB, 2.00GHz, 800FSB) and a 17 inch SE178WFP Widescreen Flat Panel Monitor and it’s still $190 cheaper than the Mac Mini.

I suppose you could argue that OSX is such an awesome operating system that it justifies the $300 price difference between the Mac Mini and the low-end Dell, but most folks don’t see it that way especially when you consider that they’ll still have to buy a monitor/keyboard/mouse if they don’t already have one. Additionally if theres any Windows software that they have to/want to run then they’ll still need to dish out the money for a copy of Windows XP or Vista on top of the already higher cost of the Mac Mini.

So, yes, if you go out and actually try to find the exact same hardware on both platforms you can demonstrate that the price differences between a Mac and a PC aren’t all that great, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t better deals available on PCs that will perform as well or often better than a higher priced Mac will.

But don’t take my word for it. The folks at the NPD Group did their own study and found that the average Mac price is now twice that of Windows PCs:

The going price for a Mac notebook is now over twice that of a typical Windows model, according to data collected by The NPD Group. While the average selling price of a Windows notebook has dropped from $877 in June 2006 to $700 today, the average cost of an Apple system has remained consistently above $1,500 and has only dropped $59 in the past two years. Differences in desktop pricing are more extreme still and have Macs selling for approximately $1,000 more than a common Windows desktop, which sells for about $550.

Specifications often vary sharply for these systems, with Apple often focusing on faster processors than some rivals in notebooks but at the expense of memory and hard drive space. Its insistence on using mobile processors and custom designs for desktops, however, has created feature discrepancies where a Dell Inspiron 518 tower nearing the $700 mark features two more processor cores, three times as much memory, and twice the hard drive space of an $1,199 entry-level iMac despite both coming with near-equivalent LCDs.

While the average price for Windows-based systems is described in the NPD data as having largely flattened and unlikely to drop further in the near future, the disparity between these and Macs has only widened in the last few months, according to eWeek. Apple’s general policy of refusing to alter prices until its next hardware revision has reduced the value of its systems relative to Windows competitors.

In short there isn’t really a misconception at work here. Macs are more expensive than PCs and will likely continue to be so for some time to come, though some analysts are expecting Apple to eventually start pricing their computers more competitively in order to continue growing their share of the market. I don’t know if that’ll actually come to pass as Apple seemed to have settled for being a small part of the market in return for higher profit margins a long time ago. It’s kept Jobs in black turtle necks so far.