What men dream of

What is it about Macs that attract people like me - who thought they knew better?

mac book pro 88 (photo credit: )
mac book pro 88
(photo credit: )
What is it about Macs that attract people like me - who thought they knew better? Mac lovers will, of course, say it's because Apple brand computers are better than PCs, and human beings have an innate sense of refinement that attracts them to quality products. Well, as the proud owner of two Macs - an older Mac Mini and a new Intel iMac - I'm willing to give Apple the credit it deserves on those models. Especially the iMac, which pretty much outclasses any PC I've ever used. From the fast processing time and super-fast startup sequence to the easy to use iMovie and iWeb software, part of the included iLife suite, the Intel iMac really does think differently - and better. If I could, I'd stick strictly to my iMac (as it is, I use it for about 70 percent of my major computing). Alas, there are many occasions on which I must resort to a PC. But my experiences with Mac laptops in the past have not been such happy ones. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with the Powerbooks I've used; they've certainly been adequate machines to work with. But PC laptops have always offered more for the money, whether it's more memory, speed, or disk space. And of course, since I use my laptop for writing, I'll have to invest in a Mac copy of Word/Office. All in all, it seems safer - and a lot cheaper - to stick with my HP laptop. But the new Macbook, now - that's a different animal altogether. Not just a Mac, it's Intel Inside guts open up a whole new Vista (if I may use that now Microsoft-copyrighted word) in computing. See, I have this fantasy of achieving an all in one computer nirvana high on a single machine that I can use anytime, anywhere, to do anything computer related. If I need to access a Windows file while hiking up a mountain trail in Brazil, my dream laptop, equipped with super-strong Wifi, can do it; if I'm in the office and need to plug into a Mac network, my laptop, which understands Mac as well as Windows, can do it. And if I'm tinkering with the heavy duty servers that speak Linux or Unix - well, my fantasy laptop can plug into the network and using its Linux Samba networking interface, run scripts from my account over the network. An all in one, super go-anywhere, do anything, light and cool-looking laptop that doesn't weigh more than two or three kilo. Of course, the computer wet dream I just described no longer belongs to the realm of fantasy. Macbooks, which with their Intel processors can boot directly into Linux or Windows, make the dream come true, using BootCamp (http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/). And yet, here I am still using my HP to write this. So why haven't I moved over to the laptop of my dreams? Simple - it's the limits involved, the limits of space compounded by the limit of my bank account! The problems I have with the Macbook are all economically related - the economics of money, and by extension, the economics of space. Consider: The HP laptop I'm using now with its 15 inch screen costs about $1100, brand new. It's got a 70 GB hard drive, Centrino processors, built in DVD writer, Wifi, etc. The basic Macbook offers almost exactly the same deal; for $1100, you get an Intel Core Duo processor, 60 GB of hard drive space, Wifi, DVD reader - the model with the DVD writer costs $1300 - and a 13 inch screen. The basic 1.83 ghz model offers the same computing power as an Intel iMac, so even thought it's considered the entry level model, I'd certainly consider it powerful enough to do just about anything. And it would certainly function just fine - as a Mac, that is. But 60 GB is just barely enough space to hold the Mac OS and the iLife suite. Those items alone will grab about 15 GB of disk space. Now you need space for Windows itself - about 5+ GB, depending on your version. And what's the point of installing Windows if you aren't going to install Windows programs - Office, Photoshop, whatever? There goes another 2-3 GB. Now let's say I wanted to use this laptop to build Web sites with graphics on the Windows side, and do video editing on the Mac side. Does 25 GB sound like enough disk space to do both? You don't need to answer that question; I already know. Suffice to say that my 160 Gb iMac usually has 90 GB of space occupied with my day to day projects. The 30 GB left over as work space just ain't gonna cut it for a power user. Of course, I could opt for a more advanced Macbook; the 13 inch model with an 80 GB hard drive and DVD costs $1500. Or, I could opt for the Macbook "Pro" line - which starts at $2000 for a 15 inch screen and 80 GB hard drive, which I still think is too small a disk for a do-it-all laptop. The bare minimum of space I would consider would be 100 GB. Apple offers such a model as well - for a whopping $2500! Is a dream worth that much? If your last name is Rockefeller, maybe. But for those in my - and probably your - income bracket, spending an extra $1500 for a dream Macbook over a perfectly good PC laptop is just unjustifiable, when there are mortgages, tuitions, butchers and bakers to pay as well. And don't forget - if you want Windows on your Macbook, you have to buy another XP license for the copy of the OS. They must think we're made of money over in Cupertino! But I may have found a way to have my cheap Macbook cake, and eat it too - thanks to Crossover (http://www.codeweavers.com/products/cxmac/), an amazing new program that lets you enjoy the goodness of Windows without the added weight - or even having to reboot, as Boot Camp requires. Crossover isolates a portion of your Mac OS and creates a Windows "bottle," an environment that operates as a mini-Microsoft universe, where you can load many Windows applications, including Office, some versions of Photoshop, and others. With OS X able to plug seamlessly into Windows networks nowadays, and Stuffit expander able to read and dissect files compressed with Windows style Zip programs, installing Windows software onto your Mac with Crossover is simple; you start up Crossover, which functions as an operating system environment for Windows. You set up your software with the same installer files you would use in "real" Windows environments; all software is installed in a special Crossover folder "cordoned off" for Windows apps, and you launch them from within the Crossover programs menu. If Crossover sounds like a cool, easy, and cheap - the regular version of the program is $60 - it is. When it works, that is. If you install an application on Crossover's approved list (http://www.codeweavers.com/compatibility/) - many of which have their own pre-built "bottles" - expect to have one of the most amazing, and surreal, computing experiences you could hope for. Microsoft Office 2000, for example, which I installed, works just like the one on my PC. You know you're on a Mac because the Crossover's Mac menu hovers above the Office window, but otherwise, you could be at a plain vanilla PC instead of a frosty white Macbook. They come in black, too, but those cost more money, for some reason. However, be aware that not all applications are compatible with Crossover - right now, that it, because the company says that it aims to develop compatibility for any program users throw at it. Photoshop 7 (which has a pre-built "bottle") installed and worked fine, but while Photoshop 5 installed, I couldn't get Crossover to launch it; interestingly, the Web site says that PS 5 is on the 'approved' list. In addition, several of my favorite freeware and shareware programs either wouldn't install or wouldn't work - while some others did. Eventually, I figured out that creating a new Crossover bottle for "unknown" applications had a positive effect on compatibility - you would know this only by experimenting, since the help for Crossover is practically nonexistent - because Crossover simulates both Windows 98 and 2000, and apparently it takes the Windows programming rules very seriously. So applications that utilize programming shortcuts might have a problem. And Crossover offers an elegant way to maximize the low end Macbook's disk space. The program itself takes up a couple hundred megabytes, and between that and one or two favorite programs, you can get away with "spending" a maximum of two GB on your Windows setup. Meanwhile, you don't have to partition your hard drive or otherwise sacrifice any space or performance, Crossover may be it's own Windows universe, but as far as the Mac is concerned, it's just another program. Luckily, you can download the beta version of Crossover for free and use it for 60 days, to determine if your favorite apps can survive in the Crossover world. I'm planning to buy it myself, even if I don't have my Macbook yet - if only to be able to feel like I'm getting ready to live my dream. ds@newzgeek.com