Nothing gets a bunch of geeks more fired up than the age-old Mac vs PC debate. Introduce this in any large gathering and watch as the hyperbole and accusations fly, with Windows advocates accusing Mac users of praying in the Church of Jobs, and Mac fans calling Windows users owners of generic junk. Truth be told though, owning a Mac, especially in India, has long been seen as being out of the common man’s reach.
It has been considered a comp for the creative folk or for those with simply too much money. But the times they are a changin’, and whether it’s the halo effect of the iPhone or the proliferation of Intel-based Macs, it is getting easier than ever before to make the switch. So if you’ve been thinking about giving in to those come-hither glances from inside the Apple Store, here are some of the questions you’re going to have to consider.
Can I afford it?
Without doubt, that’s the first question most first-timers ask. Makes sense too, given that it’s pretty much of a no-brainer that Macs cost more upfront for the same hardware. But it’s a bit like buying a BMW—you get what you pay for in terms of craftsmanship and quality, aluminium cases, longer life batteries, et al. Factor in the very capable software that each Mac ships with—the iLife media management suite, for all your photo and music management, and movie editing needs, for example, and the elegant and gorgeous user interface of the Mac OS, and the costs suddenly don’t seem to be that much out of whack.
The Mac mini is a great place to start; at approximately Rs44,900 (no display, keyboard and mouse included, so factor in another Rs7,000-10,000 for third-party peripherals), it plays well with your existing monitor or your LCD TV, courtesy its new HDMI output capabilities. Throw in some more dough, and at Rs60,900 (approx.), you can get the entry-level MacBook notebook, or the newly revamped-but-still-impossibly-thin, 11-inch MacBook Air, with iPad-like instant on/off capabilities. If mobility isn’t your primary concern, one of the best buys would be the 21.5-inch, entry-level iMac desktop with the latest generation of Intel Core-i processors. Long the pinnacle of refined and elegant desktop computing, the new iMacs pack in a best-of-breed integrated display and some serious specs under the hood (more details at http://www.apple.co.in/store/).
Macs ship with international warranty, so if you’re heading east to Hong Kong or Singapore, you could save yourself a small packet in the purchase. But buying one at the local Apple Store isn’t half bad either. There are student discounts to be had as well, so do ask the retailer if you qualify.
The adjustment period
Equally important in this equation is whether you, weaned on Windows as most of us are, can afford the time and resources to adjust to the Mac OS platform. Many heady first-time Mac relationships turn bitter because folks didn’t have the time or the commitment to learn a new system. Don’t for a minute believe the hyperbole about Macs being “intuitive” and “it just works”—switching takes getting used to the everyday nuances of the system, a process that varies with each individual. Apple does have a ton of very handy tutorials at http://www.apple.com/support/switch101/ to ease the pain, and you should take the time to go through some of them. The famed “Mac productivity gains” will follow, but not without the inevitable unlearning. Once you get the hang of Command-C and Command-V (that’s the Copy and Paste equivalent in Mac speak) and the like, it’s just like using a PC.
Will I be cut off from society?
Short answer, no. If you’re currently using a PC for everyday stuff such as Microsoft Office, iTunes, Twitter and the Web, you’ll do just fine. Microsoft has a version of Office (Office 2008, approx. Rs6,700) just for the Mac, and it’s updating it with all the Office 2010 goodness as you read this, so you’re covered. Most popular software have a version compatible for the Mac OS, including all your favourite browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Opera), and sites such as CrossOSS and MacWorld can help you find similar stuff should your favourite software not have a Mac port.The days of data incompatibility are long past, with most apps at the very least exporting to a Windows-friendly format, and vice versa. A number of free apps are worth mentioning—Adium (instant messaging), VLC (multimedia playback) and Transmission (bittorrents), but if you’re open to spending, explore sites such as MacUpdate, Mac Sale, Mac Bundles and MacHeist, all of which sell deeply price-discounted versions of paid Mac software. Soon enough, Apple will have ready its Mac App Store, which will bring to Mac OS the streamlined app catalogue and click-to-buy model that has been so successful on the iPhone.
In fact, even before you go hunting for the apps, check the excellent tools and utilities that come with the vanilla Mac OS. Apart from iLife, there’s the excellent Preview app that lets you quickly preview most file formats and the drop-dead-simple Time Machine backup app that you’ll soon wonder how you did without.
Of course, there is a catch. Many modern games come late to the Mac, if at all, so serious gamers are a little out of luck. But with Steam—the leading digital distribution manager for the gaming industry—announcing plans to expand on to the Mac platform, the future holds promise. Of course, if there is that one app or hardware driver that runs only in Windows, you can choose to install Windows XP, Vista or 7 on your Mac hardware and run them at the same speed as you would have on PC hardware, using a built-in utility called Boot Camp. Or if you want to run Windows and Mac applications at the same time—without rebooting—you can install Windows into a virtual machine using Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion software (both paid, approx. Rs3,500), and run Windows applications seamlessly while you’re using your other Mac software. You will, however, be cut off from civilization in one vital manner—you will be spared a plethora of viruses, spyware and other malware, and the expense of an antivirus scanner, at least for now. If the Mac platform gets any more popular, and becomes a viable target for mainstream bad guys, one wouldn’t be so sure.
What about colours?
Apple makes Macs in around nine broad variants—the basic MacBook laptop, the MacBook Pro laptop in 13-inch, 15-inch, and 17-inch models, the MacBook Air ultraportable, the Mac Mini microdesktop, the iMac all-in-one desktop in 21.5-inch and 27-inch models, and the Mac Pro professional desktop. All of these, with the exception of the white MacBook, are dressed in anodized aluminium. So if it’s colours, touch-screen capabilities or Blu-ray compatibility you want above all else, tough luck. Go get yourself a Windows PC.
What about support?
If you’re buying a Mac, do pick up the extended three-year “AppleCare Protection Plan” warranty before your standard one-year warranty runs out—repair costs tend to be prohibitive. A screen repair sets you back by the cost of a regular, entry-level laptop! And that’s if you’re in a biggish city with an AppleCare presence to start of with. That said, a number of studies do suggest that Macs are made to be more reliable, and even with the smaller user base, you can find a user group in most large Indian cities.
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