The question of which is the least expensive – Macs or PCs – is unlikely to be settled any time soon, a key industry analyst says.

IDC analyst Roger Kay told NewsFactor: "Both Apple and Microsoft have approached us with the idea that we would prove that they're lower in terms of cost of ownership than the other platform. Both had very convincing arguments that they were in fact the lower-cost platform."

Jupiter analyst Michael Gartenberg agrees: "The question is, is it relevant? Differences in cost of ownership are justified – or not – by how suitable a given platform is to a task. Based on suitability for task, the numbers for both platforms are going to be roughly the same over a five-year period."

"Because there's no standard method for determining total cost of ownership, I could come up with numbers based on task and environment that might slant in either direction," he added.

Despite this, the NewsFactor piece examines the question, suggesting that, despite cases where like-for-like, PC prices seem to be lower than Mac prices, "it is one of the great truths of computer ownership that base cost is just part of the total cost of ownership (TCO). Issues like long-term maintenance costs, security and reliability also come into play."

Kay said: "Apple's view is that its stuff doesn't break and therefore costs less to keep it going. And it has some merit in that. Apple has done studies that point out that owning a Mac is ultimately less expensive, because the cost of supporting the PC is so much greater.

"The idea is, the Mac operating system is more stable than Windows, simpler to use than Windows, and better integrated to the computer itself, because Apple makes both," said Kay.

The Windows proponents claim: "Ours is made out of industry-standard stuff, so it's cheaper overall. And so everything, including replacement cost, is lower – so therefore we're cheaper," according to Kay.

But he points out that: "The services of Windows technicians are less expensive than Apple technicians, because there are so many more Windows technicians than Apple technicians. An Apple technician may cost twice as much, but he comes to see you half as often."