Thursday, April 27, 2006

Membership Centre

Apple owners can now use Windows
But will PC users shift to the Mac?
Apr. 27, 2006. 01:00 AM

One of the big stories in technology this year has been Apple's decision to move its Macintosh line of computers to Intel processors. This has been a big deal because for the longest time Apple was the one major vendor that used something different: the PowerPC chip. But things are changing, and Apple has already moved three of its lines of machines to the Intel processor. The iMac is simply a lovely desktop machine. This computer is built into either a 17-inch- or a 20-inch-wide display, so it's very sleek. The Mac Mini is Apple's line of tiny desktop machines, each about as tall and as wide as a large paperback. Finally, the MacBook Pro is the new line of high-end notebooks, with a bright 15.4-inch screen and a slot-loaded writable DVD drive that's only 2.5 cm thick — making it sleeker than most other notebooks.But what really sets the Mac apart is its unique software, which Apple has also moved to the Intel processor.All these machines come with the OS X 10.4 operating system and Apple's iLife 06 suite of applications, which includes iTunes for music, iMovie for editing videos, iPhoto, iDVD and the GarageBand music-making tool. And while no machine is perfectly secure, there have been far fewer attacks on the Mac than on Windows machines. (You should still be careful, though.)So it was interesting that Apple just came out with software that lets the new machines boot Windows XP. Called Boot Camp, this creates a "driver disk" with all the instructions that are specific to the machine, and then lets you install a full copy of Windows. You can choose which to boot. I've tried it with a lot of applications and it works well; it makes the Macs work just like Windows machines. Still, it adds a good deal of expense (you need to buy a full copy of Windows), and takes away what is one of Apple's core strengths — the integration of hardware and software. So my guess is most people who buy Macs will buy them for running Apple's software, and most people who want to run Windows will choose less expensive Windows machines.Looking at the specifics of the machines shows the strengths and weaknesses of the Macintosh platform. In general, all these machines look great — and each has a number of nice extra features. The iMac and the MacBook Pro both have built-in Web cameras just above the screen that let you connect easily to others with Apple's iChat software. Sure, you can do similar things on Windows machines, but most of the time the camera isn't as well integrated. All the machines have built-in support for 802.11 b/g (for wireless networks) and Bluetooth networks (for synchronizing a desktop and notebook, for instance). This is very rare in desktop PCs, and extremely welcome. It makes it easy to set it up in any location in your home if you have a wireless network. The iMac and Mac Mini both come with Front Row software and a remote, which is meant to compete with Windows Media Centre, letting you easily display a slide show, play music, videos or a DVD from a "10-foot interface." Front Row is prettier than Windows, and the remote has only a scroll button and a menu key, much like iPods, which makes it simple and elegant. And unlike most media centre PCs, the receiver is built in, so it doesn't stick out.On the other hand, sometimes the very things that make Macs so nice are also the things that drive you crazy. The Mac Mini is very small, but the external power supply is almost half the size of the unit itself. Setting up the wireless network isn't as obvious as it should be. Front Row looks pretty, but cannot be extended, and Apple doesn't offer TV recording, unlike many media centre PCs. Also, the iLife applications do have their limitations, and there aren't as many third-party choices if you want a little more power. Rosetta, the internal software for letting applications written for PowerPC Macs work on the Intel-based machines, is mostly invisible and surprisingly good. I was able to run Microsoft Office without any hitches. On the other hand, artists probably won't be happy with the current version of PhotoShop on the Intel-based machines, and Adobe is now saying an Intel-based version for Macs won't be out until 2007.But perhaps the biggest issue is price. Macs aren't cheap. The iMac starts at $1,499; the Mac Mini starts at $699 (and doesn't include a keyboard or mouse); and the MacBook Pro starts at $2,299. In almost every case, you could get a similarly equipped Windows machine for less money, or a lot more features for the same money. Apple's move to Intel hardware makes a lot of sense. The result is some nice-looking machines that are a lot faster than their predecessors. The move to allow Windows on the machine is an even bigger deal. In the long run, this may get more Windows users to try out Macs, and then slowly move over to OS X. Or it could mean Mac users will start installing Windows (to do things like play games) and eventually start doing more and more on Windows. So this is a high-risk, high-reward strategy for Apple. It could end up with a high-end hardware vendor selling Windows machines, or it could convince more people to run Mac. Either way, it's good to have more competition.