For decades, the kind of computers a business used depended on the nature of the business — publishers, graphic designers and educational organizations were likely to use Apple Macintosh (Macs); just about all other businesses, including numerous janitorial companies, used IBM-compatible personal computers (PCs) running Windows.

Mac users touted the user-friendly interface and relatively secure operating system; PC users enjoyed a larger variety of software and often a lower per-unit price.

While that’s still true to an extent, the relative advantages of Macs vs. PCs in a given environment are shrinking due to improving interfaces and software offerings. And now, Macintosh computers with Intel processors can run Windows and its applications natively (along with Apple’s operating system, OSX), blurring the line even further.

In addition, Apple Computers is running a marketing campaign comparing the two platforms, to sell the Mac to PC users. So, is it time for building service contractors to buy into the hype and consider switching over to Macintosh?

Maybe, says Russ Alman, consultant and president, Alman Computer Services, Olympia, Wash.

“Most small business owners are using Microsoft Office and the Internet and e-mail, and for that it doesn’t matter what kind of computer you have,” he explains. “In some cases, though, if you’re using [an] application that’s only available for Windows, and it’s what you’ll be using 90 percent of the time, it’s easier to stick with the PC.”

Such applications for BSCs may include bidding, estimating and workloading suites, or software mandated by a vendor or franchisor.

“Typically, companies making vertical market software are fairly small companies, and they don’t want to make software for both platforms,” Alman explains. “It’s more cost-effective to build it only for the dominant platform.”

Some BSCs also would benefit from PCs because they are familiar and support is readily available.

Others, however, may want to consider moving to Macs, even though they may seem more expensive.

“Macs do cost more up-front, but when you’re looking at a return-on-investment, it’s different,” says Alman. “A Mac may cost 20 percent more than a PC, but the real cost is keeping it running. Viruses are almost non-existent, there’s no spyware, and they’re really stable. Because Apple designs hardware and software to work together, you can take it out of the box and make it work. PCs require more set-up and more stuff to work on a day-to-day basis.”

A Dual-boot Solution
BSCs reluctant to move to Macs because they need to use some Windows software may be in luck with the newest generation of Macs. These desktop and laptop computers are made with Intel processors; chips by Intel also power many PCs. As such, with an application called BootCamp, Mac users can power down OSX and start up in Windows, and vice versa. While that may be inconvenient, it does offer a work-around, especially for BSCs whose use of Windows-only software is occasional.

“I have a feeling that by the end of the year, we’ll have a few ways to run Windows on a Mac,” Alman says. In addition to BootCamp, Alman believes there will be a VirtualPC emulator available for the Intel Mac (right now, it’s only available for the Intel’s predecessor, the PowerPC chip). In addition to not having to re-boot to switch operating systems, VirtualPC keeps all Windows applications and files in a “drive container,” which segregates them and keeps Windows viruses from infecting an entire Mac drive.

Alman offers one caveat about using BootCamp, VirtualPC or other means to run PC programs on Apple hardware: Many of these programs are unsupported on Macs. That doesn’t mean they won’t run, but it does mean technical support may be hard to come by and remedies for fixing an incorrect installation or configuration may be difficult.

BSCs interested in running their industry-specific software should contact their vendor to make sure the switch will be smooth; if not, it may be better to stick with the more familiar PC.

Green Watchdog

The EcoLogo Program, formerly known as the Environmental Choice Program, has instituted a new “Fraud Advisory” service to help purchasers, including building service contractors, ensure products claiming certification are indeed green. The advisory, which can be found on the organization’s Web site will list manufacturers and products falsely claiming product certification and bearing the EcoLogo label.

“This is an important step not only to protect consumers and EcoLogo, but to protect the green movement,” says Scott McDougall, president and CEO of the Ecologo Program, Ontario, in a news release. “Certification helped spur the evolution to green products because buyers learned to trust the designation and they know it means products have passed rigorous tests and evaluations in order to be certified.”

If a manufacturer is falsely claiming certification, EcoLogo will contact the company and give them a reasonable amount of time to rectify the problem. If they don’t comply, EcoLogo will post the false claim online. In the four months since the advisory’s inception, EcoLogo has been forced to list two companies falsely claiming certification. Once their names were posted, both companies quickly amended the situation, says McDougall.