This article was originally published in the Oct. issue of Greater Wilmington Business
Unless you have been hiding under a rock all summer, you have been well aware of the public relations machine behind the launch of Apple’s iPhone. With all the focus on the iPhone and iPod, it sometimes looks like Apple is not in the personal computer business any more. October will mark the launch of the new Macintosh operating system (OS), Leopard, which promises to improve to include some pretty interesting and useful new features. All indications are that users will not face the types of problems that have confounded Windows Vista upgrader and the new version should run on most modern Apple hardware without additional RAM or other improvements. Traditionally, Apple OS upgrades have actually made older Apple computers run better.
In honor of the release of the new OS, I have compiled some reasons that now is a good the time to purchase a Macintosh computer.
Boot Camp and Parallels:
It may seem strange that the first good reason to buy a Mac is that it can run the Windows operating system, but the ability to continue to use Windows based programs is a big reason why so many people are switching to Apple machines. While there is software available for the Mac for most functions, some Windows specific software will never be ported to the Mac OS. If you require specific software, such as Microsoft Publisher or Visio, you can now run Windows on your Mac through two alternative methods. First, is Boot Camp, free from Apple, which allows you to install Windows XP or Vista in addition to the Mac OS on your machine. Boot Camp requires that you reboot the machine to enter Windows, but once booted, the machine is a full fledged Windows machine. While Apple.com does not sell computers with Windows preinstalled, many online retailers will sell you a new Mac with both Mac OS X and Windows XP or Vista installed.
The second method is third party software from Parallels.com. Parralels runs Windows XP virtually inside Mac OS X, either in a window or through something they call Coherence, which makes Windows applications appear seamlessly on the Mac desktop. Running Parallels requires a copy of Windows XP or Vista and at least 2 GB of ram, but the effect is pretty smooth. Parallels can also access the Boot Camp file so you can switch back and forth between methods. If you ever tried Virtual PC in the past on a Mac, don’t worry, this is nothing like that. Macs now use the same Intel processor as Windows machine, so Windows runs quite well with no speed problems.
iWork / iLife
Apple has developed it’s own version of a Word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software in addition to the iLife suite of photo, video and DVD editing software. Instead of trying to emulate all the features of MS office, iWork fits the “good enough” space. Apple concentrates instead on making them easy to use and including templates that are attractive and serve as a good starting point. The Word processor, Pages, is sort of a hybrid between MS Word and Publisher that is great for creating reports, documents and simple newsletters. The included templates will save non-graphic designers a lot of time and give them polished results. The speadsheet, Numbers, is fine for most purposes, but probably is not going to be very useful for someone doing advanced finincial analysis or relies on custom Excel macros. The one place where Apple has really hit a home run in iWork though is Keynote. Once you use Keynote, you will find is pretty hard to return to Powerpoint. Keynote is considerably easier to work in and included some features that make designing presentation more enjoyable. You can read more about keynote on Apple’s website, but one example is the Automask tool, that automatically removes the background from logos and other images. No more white boxes or halos around logos when you use a background image. That feature is major improvement over Powerpoint’s transparent color feature and literally saved me hours on my last presentation. All of these software titles use their own formats natively, but can both import and export documents to their respective Microsoft counterparts. For Keynote, you probably want to look over the exported file, before you open it up in Powerpoint on a Windows machine, since some formating changes can occur.
The final reason why now may be a good time to try a Macintosh computer is that the new OS will be release this month and there should not be any major hardware upgrades any time soon. Predicting Apple’s hardware releases is sorta like predicting the weather, but now should be a pretty safe time to buy an Apple and not worry that some incredible new machine will be released tomorrow.