Finally, a solution for all those PC woes

by Suw on January 11, 2005

A while back I saw some statistic about how many millions of dollars of time had been spent by geeks troubleshooting relatives' PCs over Thanksgiving. I don't remember how much it was, but it was a lot.
If I were a computer-fixing geek, instead of a computer-drooling-over geek, I would by now have spent many hundreds of hours attempting to fix my Dad's PC, which he breaks with alarming regularity. But I'm not, so instead I just stand on the sidelines and make what I hope are sympathetic and comforting noises as he readies his sledgehammer for the next round of PC Wars.
Today, however, a certain Mr S Jobs, of a certain fruitily named company unveiled the answer to a million Mac geek prayers – the MiniMac, er, I mean, Mac mini. With prices starting at $499, the MiniMac is a real threat to the cheapo PC market. For PC who already have a monitor, keyboard and peripherals, the MiniMac is the perfect introduction to the Mac OS at a decent price.

The MiniMac crams in a 1.25 or 1.42GHz G4 processor, a 40 or 80GB hard drive, CD-R/DVD-ROM, a bunch of RAM and slots for all your cameras, iPod, printers, camcorders, keyboards and mouse. You can add in a DVD burner, wifi and Bluetooth as well, just to make it ubersexy. A fraction the size of a G5, and only a little heavier than a bag of sugar at 2.9 pounds, the MiniMac will fit on any desk.
Oh god, I'm starting to sound like a Mac marketeer. Eep!
Anyway, before you get too excited about this sexy beast, just remember the iPod availability problems. iPods were like gold dust for a while, and if all the Mac geeks who are fed up of troubleshooting Windows suddenly up and buy a MiniMac for their parents, they could be in for a wait.
Also, you're going to need to retrain yourself not to put coffee down on anything that's small, square and coaster-shaped.
The MiniMac was only one of the things unveiled in Jobs' keynote at MacWorld in San Francisco today. They also unveiled the new iPod Shuffle (which looks like a tongue depressor) and a bunch of new software and promised that Tiger, the next incarnation of the Mac OS, would be released sometime in the first half of this year. Not exactly a precise prediction, but I guess we'll live with it.
If you want, you can watch the keynote.

Anonymous January 11, 2005 at 11:01 pm

I should have known you would go all goeey over it. Me too. I'm getting one… actually right now this voice keeps saying “GET TEN!!!” so I have hidden my credit card.
And …. a competitive Word/Powerpoint offering – OMG YES PLEASE !

Anonymous January 11, 2005 at 11:02 pm

That was Lee – I'm not logged in

Anonymous January 11, 2005 at 11:27 pm

Hiding the credit card? Oooh now that is a very good idea. Although if I put mine somewhere safe I will forget where that is and then when I really need it I'll be in trouble. *cough* So, er, best keep it in my purse, I think…

Anonymous January 12, 2005 at 8:56 am

Pah, I still think a small-form factor PC would be better value for money and can be comfortably as snazzy in the designs stakes. Don't get me wrong, after tediously in depth comparisons of laptops, Apple can offer a pretty good package, but in terms of spec., quality and bundled extras, there were PCs that were better for the price. And the sexiest was the Sony X505, but like most sexy things, it was way too expensive for me.
Vince (Mac cynic)

Anonymous January 12, 2005 at 9:02 am

Oh and as for their reliability, my Dad's cousin's had several problems with her Apple laptop (not sure which model), which has caused her a major headache because there's no one local who offers support for Macs (though, to be fair, she does live halfway up a Scottish mountain). Though that's actually a good thing, because it meant I couldn't go sort it out for her…
Vince (still a Mac cynic)

Anonymous January 12, 2005 at 9:40 am

Well, a tiny PC at a similar price might well work, but afaik there isn't one. Which makes the whole argument of whether it would be designed nicely or work better somewhat moot. MiniMac is here now! WeePC is not!
But I think you're lead up the garden path a bit when it comes to comparing packages and bundled extras. See, with a Mac, you don' t need so much in the way of bundled extras because there is so much really good freeware, shareware and cheapware available. Macs don't need to rely on the deceptive lure of bundled extras to be worth buying.
As for the argument that Macs aren't as good as PCs because sometimes they break down, that is a bit specious. I've never said Macs never break down. Sometimes they do. But in my experience, Macs break down a lot less often than PCs, and they are much, much harder to fuck up in the general course of usage. I have had a lot less trouble using my Mac than I have my PC, even though my Mac is three or four years old, battered, worn and bits of it keep dying of old age. Most of the time, you plug something into a Mac and it *just works*, where was most of the time you plug something into a PC and it takes hours of installation and fiddling with settings and all sorts of other nonsense before it even recognises you've plugged something new in. But of course Mac hardware is not perfect, but on the whole it's a lot less imperfect than PC hardware. And even moreso for the software.
Thing is, I think you're anti-Mac not because there are any good grounds to be, but because I once tried to persuade you of the beauty of Macs. We Macolytes can be our own worst enemies sometimes. Like bloggers, sometimes we become so enamoured of our Macs, or our blogs, that our very enthusiasm serve to raise hackles and put other people off. To which I feel I must reply, 'Get over it!'. :-p

Anonymous January 12, 2005 at 10:41 am

One huge flaw in the reasoning. If you're in the market for a Mac mini you'll already have a keyboard/monitor etc. and therefore already have a PC of some description.
If this is targetted at potential PC upgraders like me, then the following Qs would need to be easily explained:
1) How would I transfer all my data across?
2) Why would I get more out of a Mac than a PC?
Having said that, I'm rather tempted. But then I'm a sad gadget boy.

Anonymous January 12, 2005 at 11:13 am

Well, if you have a PC that is knackered, through old age or maybe just the fact that it's been destroyed by pesky spyware and viruses, or maybe you just hate it, then it makes sense to be able to buy a headless Mac without the expense of the peripherals. For people who want to change but don't want to spend the money on new monitors and the like, the MiniMac is a great option.
To answer your questions 1) if you have wifi or firewire or some cable connection then it's relatively easy. You can connect to the PC from your Mac and just copy stuff across. If you haven't, then you'd have trouble copying onto a new PC anyway and would have to take the HD and add it in as a second drive. (That's what I've always done in the past). When I changed, though, I discovered that I actually didn't need half the stuff on my PC and have never moved it over. My PC has become almost redundant these days, and as soon as I get a really good Mac (rather than this lovely, but ancient, TiBook), I will transfer everything over and my PC will become a back-up/storage device.
Regarding 2) well, that realy does depend. Some people hate Macs, but personally I think that Mac OS X is a far, far better OS than any of the flavours of Windows and when the new version, Tiger, comes out later this year it will be even spiffier. It just makes every day working that bit more enjoyable.
The apps are generally more stable, and less prone to inexplicable death, day to day menial tasks are easier, and it deals with multimedia much better than a PC. (Codec bloat in video means I can hardly ever get downloaded videos to work on my PC, but they almost always work on my Mac.)
The thing is, there *is* a learning curve for people changing over, but I personally think it is worth it. But then, I have been drooling over Macs for the last 13 years and have only just got one of my own, so I freely admit to bias.

Anonymous January 12, 2005 at 12:18 pm

Actually, WeePCs have been around for a while. Not only are there the all-in-one media centre PCs such Sony's VGC range, there is a whole market of small form factor PCs – in fact there's a website devoted to them SFFTech.
PCs have oodles of great freeware and shareware too. The bundled extra I had in mind when I wrote that was the laptop carrying case – which you usually have to buy anyway as an extra.
As for breaking down (both in terms of hardware and software faults), I would agree that Macs are probably more reliable in general, but it's an unfair comparison. Hardware-wise, a Mac should be compared to a Dell, a Sony or an IBM. The quality of the hardware depends on the manufacturer and while there's only one company that produces Macs, there are bazillions that build PCs, lumping them all together results in unfair generalisations.
Most of the OS usability issues have become less significant since XP (it's not perfect, but it's a big improvement over Windows ME – which was, admittedly, a steaming turd). Every piece of hardware I've installed on my PC, from scanners and printers to video cards and new hard drives has worked on a plug and play basis under XP – so configuration issues aren't such a big problem on PCs any more. They may not be as good, but they're not bad.
From my point of view, Macs are good quality, stylish, but pricey computers. They have good software, but won't run the thousands of pounds worth of PC software I already have. I work with PCs everyday anyway, which means all but the worst problems they throw up I can fix without much trouble. If I want peripherals or upgrades, I have a far wider choice of components, prices and suppliers.
So, though I liked the 12.1″ Mac laptop and I could appreciate your salesmanship of their beauty, when it came down to putting hundreds of pounds of money on the line, I tried to be objective and that meant I had to discount Macs from consideration pretty early on because the reasons above meant it didn't make practical sense to choose one over a PC.
Though I don't think many people buy Macs because they're being practical.

Anonymous January 12, 2005 at 2:46 pm

The problem with Mini PC's is that you've got a choice between desktop Linux and Windows. The beauty of a Mini Mac is that you've got OSX.
Windows may be “usable” — but the flip side is that you get to worry about what might come along to destroy your machine. Yes, even the most recently patched XP SP2.
You have a valid point about your expensive software becoming unusable when switching to a Mac… until you realize that you'll be asked to purchase new software if and when Microsoft ever finishes Longhorn and forces you to upgrade to it. Either way, you're shelling out. You have to ask yourself how much pain you're willing to tolerate in the meantime.
I switched in mid-2002, before the adware/spyware/security problems got really bad. I switched because I could simply do more with OSX. With each release of the OS, Apple widens the gap. Switching was the most practical thing for me to do.

Anonymous January 12, 2005 at 3:16 pm

Could you port all your existing PC apps over to a small form factor PC tomorrow if you bought one? I had a look at that site and it made about as much sense as the Labour economic policy so I don't know. But MiniMac is easypeasy for a Mac user to switch to – same OS, same apps, same peripherals. It's even easy for most PC users to switch – different OS, some of the same apps, mostly the same peripherals (dunno how printers and scanners would port over but most newish peripherals will work with both).
I do appreciate, however, that you've bought a bunch of software than you couldn't easily run on OSX – Virtual PC not really being a genuine solution to the problem, at this juncture anyway. But the real bottom line here is that you don't want to switch, which is a fair enough position for you take considering your investment in PC software. But let's call a spade a spade.
MiniMacs are better than a small-form PC in terms of design, value for money (headless computer for $500 is pretty damn good value for money!) and usability; OSX is more stable, more secure and in many ways easier to use than Windows (XP or otherwise); and Apple's hardwear is generally more reliable than PCs precisely because it is manufactured by one company with a reputation to think of and PCs can be made badly from poor components by any old person. Excusing crap PCs en masse because they're not all made by IBM or Dell doesn't really wash, in my book anyway.
Macs aren't perfect, but they're a lot less imperfect than PCs. And, for many people, they are more practical too. What can be more practical than doing what you need to do with ease and enjoyment?

Anonymous January 12, 2005 at 6:12 pm

Firstly, I wouldn't buy a small form factor PC, because a full desktop provides better value for money and if I did, I'd get one with XP, because then it'd be a trivial matter to port all my stuff across.
For a small-form factor PC, the Mac is currently good value for money, but as I point out on my blog, for the spec., compared to a regular PC, it's expensive. You pay extra for the flash looks.
For me personally, the operating system criticisms don't hold water, because, upgrading to Service Pack 2 aside (which should be fixed by the BIOS patch I downloaded the other day – and even though each prior installation meant I couldn't boot Windows, it was easily fixed by starting in Safe mode and restoring – tedious, but no big issue), I've had no usability issues with XP. I've never suffered a security breach and what little spyware I get nowadays I can clean off with Ad-Aware (one of those pieces of PC freeware).
Longhorn may render some XP software redundant, but I can still happily run software written for DOS, Windows 95 and 98 and the publisher of any serious application that gets knackered by Longhorn is undoubtedly going to produce a patch that rectifies the problem (as happened with XP). In fact, I'm fairly comfortable that Longhorn will actually close the gap on Apple, simply because I'd find it hard to believe that Microsoft won't have nicked some of their ideas.
Being unfamiliar with Macs, I'm not sure exactly what they can do, that I'd want to do, that I can't do to a satisfactory level and for less cost on a PC.
Hardware-wise you cannot compare Macs to PCs, it's nonsensical. There are crap PCs out there, but just as Apple have a reputation to consider, so does Sony or IBM. Judging by the laptop reviews I've read, the hardware quality of a Sony or IBM is consistently better than that of an Apple. True, you can make the generalisation that Macs are of higher quality than PCs, but if I buy a Sony PC, it's better than your Mac.
Though if you can show that Macs can't run SAP, then I suppose that would show your argument has some merit.

Anonymous January 12, 2005 at 8:11 pm

Oh and I do play a lot of games, which isn't Apple's strong point.
Looking at the feature lists of Tiger vs. Longhorn, they don't look much different (and Microsoft claim Longhorn will be completely backwards compatible, as usual).
Both are agreed that RDBMS file searching is the next big thing and both include lots of bells and whistles of little interest to me (though mention of Quicktime 7 has made me want to get my hands on the new MPEG 4 part 10 codec).
The main gist I get is that Tiger will still have the flasher utilities, but Longhorn will look as good (it'll require hardware 3D acceleration to be rendered) and the Microsoft/AMD/Intel Palladium security measures, along with compulsory driver signing for the new features should mean Macs won't be able to claim better security and stability.
By the way, were you calling that full desktop feature thingy expose or expos? when you were standing in for the sales staff in the Apple store?

Anonymous January 12, 2005 at 8:17 pm

To be honest, I'm only trying to see how many nested replies Blogware comments can handle here.

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