Review by The Vic Viper

Reviewed: 11/30/04 | Updated: 02/28/05

A high price tag and limited software library keeps Apple computers from being a perfect alternative to PCs

Apple makes great hardware that is both reliable and powerful, that goes without saying. Unfortunately Apple computers simply do not have the software that can the majority of people need, especially gamers. What software it does get is usually released as a side project after the Windows version is finished, especially with freeware programs. The vast majority of the software that is available (MS Office, Firefox, Macromedia Studio, Photoshop, etc.) is also available for Windows. Macintosh computers are great for two types of people - graphic designers/editors and people who only use computers for word processing, browsing the Internet, and such.

Apple's newest operating system, the OS X (version 10.3 is the latest at the time of this review), is UNIX at it's core, which means it is extremely reliable, fast, and secure. This cannot be disputed. Viruses are practically non-existent, crashes are very infrequent, and almost always a problem with the application, not the OS. With OS X I’ve had one complete system lockup (similar to a Blue Screen of Death with Windows, except the screen didn’t go blue). I’m pretty sure that this was caused by something Firefox was doing, so I’m not even blaming Apple for it.

There are actually four different categories of Apple computers-laptops, desktops, the Mac mini, and PowerMacs. The laptops are excellent, and come in 12", 15", and 17". In my experience the 12" screen is too small to see and the 17" is too big to be portable, however the 15" is the perfect middle ground. Now, there are three different types of desktops, which is Apple's excellent attempt at satisfying everyone. The first type is the eMac/iMac, which is the all-in-one piece where the hardware components are all in the same unit as the monitor. This is great for the typical user who will never need open up their computers to replace parts. Easy to set up since you only have a couple of wires (power, keyboard, mouse, maybe a few others), this is the perfect computer for people who don't know, or want to know, anything about computer hardware. It is a bit more expensive than most mid-range PCs, but if you’d prefer an all-in-one-box it’s worth the extra cost.

The second other type of desktop is the PowerMac, which in terms of design, is a shiny PC. It functions just like a PC, so you'll have to connect all the cables to a separate monitor, speakers, etc, etc. The tradeoff is that you can now easily open it up swap out components such as drives and cards. This is the computer for the more knowledgeable user (you know, the kind MS likes to assume everybody is?)

The brand new, third alternative is the Mac mini, which is Apple’s newest line of budget computers. Starting at a mere $500 (though you’ll probably end up spending $700 or so after upgrading, plus you’ll have to buy a monitor, keyboard, and mouse separately if you don’t have one already), the system is not only a very decent low-end system, it is also tiny. By tiny I mean it is literally the size of the box that an iPod comes in.

Internally the OS X may be magnificent; however the GUI is, in my opinion, worse that Windows. In all fairness this is probably because I've been primarily using Windows/Linux for so long, but I cannot get accustomed to the interface. Mac operating systems have a much more artistic flare to them, which appeals to many people, just not me. To me a computer is a tool, not an experience. When I toast a bagel, I don’t want the “General Electric Experience;” I want a bagel. Same with a computer, I want to do what I need to get done and that’s it.

While it may seem trivial at first, after using Macintosh operating systems for so long, I can honestly say that the biggest annoyance is having a mouse with only one button. The amount of time saved and command possible by having two buttons with Windows is a lot more than you realize until you use a Mac. You end up having to switch between the keyboard and mouse a lot more by having to go through menus and submenus, using keyboard shortcuts, and so on. A few applications are beginning to get right-clicking support in OS X, however they are few and far between, plus you'll have to get a new mouse. If Apple wants a product to be noticeably different than Windows, great, be different. However, this is like cutting off your one hand because you want to be different than your identical twin.

Another gripe with the OS is that it does not like to make windows full screen. Even if you hit the maximize button, it doesn't take up the entire screen. There is still a lot of uncovered desktop/other application area showing and the taskbar (which is bigger than the Windows' taskbar) doesn't get covered. This is not as big an issue if you're using Apple's new 20" monitor, but if you're using a 12" or 15" laptop, you need to use as much space as you can.

So you might be wondering, if the Apple hardware is so much better, and I like the Power Macs, why don't I quit complaining about the GUI and buy one? Well, the biggest problem with the hardware is that is either made for people who are afraid to take apart their computer (iMac/mini) or it is so expensive that I could put a down payment on a car instead (PowerMac). Now, I’m not critizing Apple for taking this route, their computers just aren’t for people like me who use computers a lot but don’t want to get the absolute top of the line. The G5 PowerMacs start at $1,500 and runs as high as $3,000 and none of them have a top of the line video card, though you can upgrade by getting a new card elsewhere. This is what happens when there is no competition; you want a Mac, you buy what Apple offers you. You could easily build a 64-bit PC for a lot less than $1,500 but you cannot build your own Mac. Apple does give you the option of customizing your equipment, but you generally only have the choice of top of the line or nothing.

The same is true for all of the other components as well: they are ridiculously expensive. PowerMacs don't come with monitors, so you'll have to buy your own. Apple sells very nice monitors; too bad they start at $1,300 for their 20inch model and run as high as $3,200 for the 30" (not including the $600 video card you'll need). You can use any monitor that can be used for a PC instead, though Apple forgets to mention that anywhere on their site. This brings up a point that most people do not realize - Macintoshes and PCs are not very different; they use the same PCI cards, same video cards, same monitors, same disc drives, same everything except the CPU, motherboard, and memory. When you buy Apple's components and accessories you are paying more for the Apple name alone.

An example of this is their LAN interface cards that you can get with a PowerMac. Your choices are either no card or a 10/100/1000 card for $100. The problems with this is that almost nobody needs a 1000mbps card now (almost all networks are 10 or 100 mbps) and you can buy your own 10/100/1000 for $15 elsewhere if you actually needed one.

Since Apple makes a unique CPU, software must be written separately for Macintoshes, and as a result a lot of software never gets converted into Mac-compatible programs. This is the biggest problem for people considering switching from PCs to Macs. Even if the software you want is available for the Mac, you’re going to have to buy the Mac version at full price; you can’t simply exchange it for the right version.

What you end up with is either having one choice in what software you use, or simply nothing. Your basic software such as Office applications, Internet browsers, multimedia players, calculators, email, etc. are all available for you, either bundled with the OS or available to be purchased elsewhere. However, a lot of the best software is made by individuals and distributed freely over the Net. Since the PC user base is so much bigger, if software is only going to be made for one system, it's probably either going to be Windows, unless it is made by Apple.

This is most noticeable with games, and since this review is being posted on a gaming site, it's safe to assume that most people reading it are gamers. Like the rest of the software, most of the games out for Macs are ports of PC games. Many of the big name titles will come out for the Mac, but it will take longer, so if you really want you should get a game. You can still get some emulators for console systems, and there are mod utilities for games. Basically, if you are looking for a computer to play games on, you should get a PC.

One thing that must be said about Apple is that they have the greatest tech support and warranties I have ever seen. Like most prebuilt Windows-based PCs, Apple computers come with a basic 1-year warranty and 90 days of support, however you can extend that warranty to three years of warranty and support for $250. This may seem like a lot, but it is probably worth it considering the cost of the system. It may be more than other computer companies (Dell is half as much for equal protection for comparison) however they have a great no hassle support system. If your Mac is broken they will fix it without questioning what you did to it, and they will do it very quickly.

Another great thing about Apple is that they offer great student discounts for anyone from Kindergarten to graduate students. The discount is generally around 10% but varies by product. Apple offers this discount on any major hardware or software, including the iPods. There is no discount on accessories, but still, this is a great deal for students who will be investing in a computer for the next four years or so.

Is the Mac the Messiah of computing that will save us from the evil that is M$? Quite frankly, no it isn't. If you are doing a lot of high-end graphic design, animating, multimedia editing, or artwork for a business, then you should probably get a PowerMac with a monitor that costs more than my high-end PC, stuff 8 gigs of memory in it, and have a blast. If you are considering a Mac simply because you don't like whatever software you're using on your PC, then find better software. Using Windows 98 or ME? No wonder you hate Windows, go get XP, which is very stable, and not a piece of crap like MS's other operating systems. The same is true for AOL, Norton, MS Office, Internet Explorer, and almost all of the other major software on PCs. There are free (or at least cheaper) alternatives that don't require replacing all of your computer hardware and software. Beside, those same big name programs are used on Macs (yes, even Microsoft's) but the better alternatives might not.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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