My Mac and PC Experience

[On 9/1/02, I received the following unsolicited email, from a person I did not know.
With the author’s permission, it is being reposted here.

My career has been in the aerospace industry as a design engineer, program manager, and marketing manager with a BSAE from UVA and an MBA from UNC. My former employer (first tier supplier to aircraft and aircraft engine OEMs) was, primarily, a Mac enterprise until the accounting/finance department (who didn’t need computers to do more than word processing and spreadsheets), exercised their organizational power to cut costs.

There were two major themes here: 1) ignorance of user needs/requirements and 2) misplaced/misunderstood attention to budgetary cost reduction instead of organizational profitability. The accountants were good folks who thought they knew what was best for the organization. They knew that they used e-mail, word processing, and most of all, spreadsheets. Thus, they concluded that all other employees performed work in the same manner.

They really couldn’t comprehend that the R&D folks used a multiplicity of very flexible applications and scripting to perform their work. They didn’t understand that the marketing and creative types needed super graphical capabilities to be productive and integrate with their external partners.

With the acute need to reduce costs, these accounting folks who really didn’t know their clients’ needs, made what they thought was a simple decision and pushed aggressively to make it happen. They promulgated two arguments. First, they claimed that acquisition costs of PCs would be less. And, second, they claimed that the cost of ownership would be less because of the economies of a Windows single platform environment. It is the second claim that I’d like to examine.

The organization went from an environment of two operating systems (Mac OS 8 and Windows 95) to an environment of Windows 95, 98, 2000 and XP. Every new PC purchased had the newest operating system installed. MIS had to spend hours to dumb down each computer to the corporate standard of Windows 98, at first, and then Windows 2000, later. One could argue that after three years of intensive effort that the number of operating systems finally reduced that of the original mixed environment. However, the argument is flawed. Let me explain.

Each PC manufacturer had their own BIOS which required a customized installation of the operating system (complexity of support went through the roof). MIS said, “We can solve this by buying only one PC manufacturer’s hardware.” Boy, were they wrong. Each new model of the same manufacturer’s hardware had slight differences/updates to its BIOS. Guess what, operating system installation and maintenance continued to be a nightmare. The MIS department went from a couple dozen folks during the Mac era to over a hundred folks after the switch and it was still growing when I left. Fewer employees could deal with PC problems because of the non-intuitive nature of the PC and the enforced standardization demanded by the MIS organization. So, more experts were required.

In conclusion, we got cheaper PCs, a huge increase in the cost of ownership, worse MIS response, more down time, less computational capability, less creative flexibility and took one giant step backwards in productivity.

The accountants got what they wanted — an organization that appeared to be uniform and without inspiration. MIS got what they wanted — a significant organizational power increase and guaranteed employment. Middle management got what they wanted — selected budgetary cost savings. So, was it the right thing to do? It depended who you were and what your personal objectives were.

If you were a stockholder, though, you experienced a great cost that no traditional accounting method could reveal.

Geoff Nicholson

PS: I made a strategic decision with my new employer who is a Windows PC enterprise. I purchased my own PowerBook G4 and loaded it with Microsoft Office and Virtual PC. I then loaded critical Windows software into Virtual PC. With OS 10.2, I am now completely integrated into my employer’s environment and, best of all; I’m more productive than my Windows only colleagues.

In the ’70s, employers purchased calculators for their employees. Then, in the ’80s, employees purchased their own calculators. I’d like to think I’m at the beginning of the next wave where employees will buy their own computers based on their needs in spite of myopic organizations. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be affordable for most persons to do this and everyone will be better off — the employee and the employer.

Return to: Mis Management

rev: October 2, 2002