Switching from Windows
Apple’s aggressive pursuit of the Windows-using market means that more people are switching to the Macintosh than they have for years. But anyone who is used to build-to-order Windows PC shopping will find the Macintosh marketplace something very different indeed. For one thing, there’s only a single supplier, Apple, offering a modest range of models. So you can’t opt for a no-name manufacturer to get a cheap Mac-compatible clone, and you certainly can’t assemble your own Macintosh using off-the-shelf parts crammed into a generic computer case.
About 10 years ago there were "Mac clones" on the market made by a variety of different companies, but the rise and fall of those Mac clone manufacturers is a story for another day.
Another difference between the Mac market and the PC market is that new Macs can’t really be "built to order" in any meaningful sense. Although the Apple Store enables you to configure your Macintosh before you buy it, the range of options is pretty limited, primarily options such as the size of the hard drive and how much RAM is installed. Forget about picking your own CPU or choosing alternate motherboards: that just isn’t part of the Macintosh way.
Another difference between the Mac and the PC markets is the absence of a "prosumer" mini-tower or pizza box computer that is only somewhat more expensive than the iMac, but has at least some of the expansion potential of the Mac Pro. If you need any sort of expansion at all, the Mac Pro is the machine to choose.
That said, the USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 interfaces on the Mac Mini and iMac computers do at least make plugging in external drives and devices very straightforward. The Mac Mini in particular is supplied with a nice range of external hard drives that share the same basic shape and sit neatly underneath the computer, offering not just extra storage but also other useful options such as extra USB ports.
On the portable side of things, your decisions are somewhat less constrained because the differences between the MacBook and the MacBook Pro, while real, are relatively unimportant. If you need the ExpressCard port, yes, the high-end MacBook Pro is the only show in town, but Mac portables generally come with all the things that PC notebooks don’t, so the ExpressCard port is likely to be superfluous to the needs of most Mac users. Ethernet, wireless networking, USB 2.0 and 1.1, and FireWire are all included as standard. Neither of Apple’s notebooks comes with a built-in 56K modem, but they do sell a small and inexpensive USB modem that can be used with either machine.
PC users will also observe that Apple’s range of notebook computers clearly lacks a subnotebook model. After a variety of Duo-branded subnotebooks through the mid- to late 1990s, Apple released its last subnotebook, the PowerBook 2400, in 1997. Although the subnotebooks were quite successful in their way, particularly in Japan, at this stage in Apple’s history the research and development focus needed to be shifted toward the more profitable segments of the market. Rumors abound that Apple is about to release a flash memory-based subnotebook computer sometime in 2007/2008, but as yet nothing concrete has been announced.
Buying a Mac doesn’t lock you out of using Windows software if you need to. Whereas the older PowerPC Macs were stuck with emulating Windows software through programs such as VirtualPC, the current Intel Macs can run Windows at (or close to) full speed.
Two basic methods exist: dual booting and visualization. Apple is planning to include dual booting as part of the next release of the Mac OS later in 2007 via a program called Boot Camp. A beta-version of the program is already released. Put simply, Boot Camp enables you to install Microsoft Windows on your Mac. Once that’s done, you can choose which operating system to boot up in.
Visualization programs such as Parallels Desktop for Mac take a different approach. They run Windows as an application within OS X, so you can take advantage of both operating systems at the same time. The downside is a slight loss of speed, and some aspects of the hardware, such as 3D graphics cards and certain networking interfaces, might not work at all. Still, there’s no denying how useful running both operating systems at the same time can be (for example, a web designer can test a web site on both Macintosh and Windows browsers at the same time).
Figure 2 Older Macs were stuck with running Windows software in emulation, as here in VirtualPC, but modern Macs can run Windows at full speed, making the switch from PC to Mac much less painful.