Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Ditch and switch

Ditch and switch

With the success of the iPod and low-cost Macs such as the Mac mini, there's never been a better time to ditch that old PC and switch to the Mac

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You see them here. You see them there. You see those iPod ear buds everywhere. At any single moment of the day, there are at most two streets in the whole country where no one has a pair of white headphones in their ears – and that’s usually because someone forgot their iPod or they bought new headphones.

Thanks to the unequalled coolness of the iPod, more and more people are thinking that if the iPod is great and Apple makes the Mac, maybe Macs might be great, too. This “halo effect” is real: not only is Apple selling record numbers of Macs, a greater proportion of computer buyers is buying Macs.

The Mac mini is Apple’s main weapon in the war to acquire Windows users. Apple’s weapon used to be the iMac. The iMac is a powerful home computer that can slug it out with more expensive PCs with perfect ease. More than that, it’s beautiful, unlike so many PCs that are just plastic beige or black boxes made with cheap commodity parts, bristle with cables, and make so much noise you’d think they were auditioning for the Farnborough Air Show.

But the iMac does weigh in at nearly a £1,000. Compare that with a generic PC-U-Like package weighing at £300 or £400 quid and pretty it may be, but most people will head instantly for the PC, rather than the “more risky” Mac. It didn’t matter how hard Apple and others pointed out that it looks rubbish, doesn’t have all the features of an iMac and plays Quake so slowly it might as well be Quake By Committee. Even pointing out the superior quality of the Mac’s bundled software didn’t help (and we’re talking titles you’d actually want to use, rather than ‘Learning the Balalaika with Brad Pitt’, ‘Barney and friends find out about total quality management best practice’ or one of the other easily chuckable pieces of rubbish that usually comes with PCs). Cheap as Intel chips won almost every time.

But the Mac mini has changed that with its £350 price tag, impossibly small, beautiful shape and environmentally-friendly message – buy this computer and you can reuse your old keyboard, monitor and mouse rather than throw them away. Along with the iPod, it has convinced more than a few second-time computer buyers that a Mac is worth trying.

You may ask, if you’re a Windows user, with the Mac and the PC now on a level playing field in terms of price, what has the Mac got in its favour to make a switch worthwhile? Well, Mr/Ms Windows, we’re going to answer that question right now.

The first and possibly the oddest attraction is lack of choice. What? Lack of choice? Surely choice is good. Well, yes and no. Anyone who’s ever tried to buy a PC will know what a bewildering range of choice there is. Should you go with a more expensive name-brand, like Dell or HP, or a cheaper no-name brand like Epcbuyer or, erm, Tiny (oh dear)? Should you go with an Intel or an AMD chip? What kind? A Celeron? A dual Xeon? A Pentium-M? What kind of motherboard? How many USB ports? What’s the cache on it? What graphics card does it have? Will it be shared-memory graphics? What are the RAM chip speeds? How many PCI slots will it have? And on and on on.

With a Mac, it’s simpler. Worried about cost? Mac mini for you, Sir/Ma’am. Want something a bit more powerful that comes with a keyboard, mouse and monitor? Buy an eMac: everything you need and dirt cheap at only £549. For a laptop, pick an iBook or PowerBook. For a desktop, an iMac or Power Mac should suit you nicely. Not sure about the difference? Pick the “i” range for consumer-power and a white look, “Power” for professional-power and a metallic look. You don’t have to worry about optional extras such as FireWire, Ethernet, WiFi or sound cards since all Macs come with them built in. The only spec question you need to think about is whether to go for “Good”, “Better” or “Best” to let you pick the model you need for your budget. That’s it. And really, shouldn’t it always be like that?

Number two reason for buying a Mac is OS X. OS X is to Macs as Windows is to PCs: it’s what gives the computer its “personality”. The trouble with Windows though, is that it’s like a younger version of OS X that’s been licking the paint off lead soldiers all its life. You never get the feeling Windows is working with you to help you accomplish your goals. It’s more like you’ve managed to get things done despite Windows. All those helpful “wizards”? Nine times out of ten they lead you down the garden path to a £1 per microsecond helpline.

With OS X, it’s different. Everything just works. It’s easy. Either you plug things in and they work or you install the software and they work. Even installing software is easier. Just drag the application’s icon to your hard drive and that’s it installed, for the most part.

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