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Shopping for a Mac: A Journey (1)

I'm in need of a new computer. And for the first time in life, I may have to go for a Mac.

My computer broke down. It's a Dell desktop -- a black, cheap, no-frills and no-fun box I bought in 2003. As a woman who gets a lot of thrills out of shopping, I found the experience of getting this computer as disappointingly underwhelming as buying bread at a neighborhood baker. It was no different than shopping for a vacuum cleaner. You buy one of those appliances because you need it, not because you love its unique feature or adore the cool design. You'll get the same performance no matter whether you go with a Toshiba or a Sanyo. I could have bought a HP, a Sony, or a Fujitsu, or Matsushita computer; all sported Windows XP and many useless applications. I ended up with a Dell because it was easy to order online and was inexpensive.

I haven't since given much thought to what's happening in the computer market. I knew a new Microsoft OS -- Vista, right? -- has come out. But I had no reason to pay attention -- until my Dell began to slow down (and freeze at least daily) a month ago. Even then I thought I'd buy another box, probably another Dell. They have been sending me promotional e-mail newsletters, which for five years I deleted without ever opening. Now let's see.

First I learn computers have gotten much cheaper. They are selling all-in-one desktops, much more powerful than what I have now, for $600 or so. I'd paid at least $1,500 for my current machine. Amazing value! They are still boring, no frills-boxes, but who cares? Then I see something very strange. In an e-mail letter with a subject line, "Want XP? Come it to Dell!," the company is offering me an OS downgrade for just $20. Eh -- excuse me? A downgrade? 

Just about then I read my friend Steven Levy's June 30 Newsweek article titled "Microsoft After Gates (And Bill after Microsoft)." In it he writes: 

"....The latest version of Windows, Vista, was a disaster: Microsoft released it years late, without key features originally promised, and its performance failings have led customers to make unprecedented demands on PC makers to downgrade their new computers to run the previous operating system, Windows XP..." 

You have got to be kidding me, I thought. Microsoft has ceased shipping XPs, thus forcing us to buy a computer with an OS so many people agree to be inferior to the previous versions -- until they launch another, promised-to-be-better-than-the-current-version-but-who-knows OS. And if you want to avoid that, you'd have to pay extra money for a downgrade?

So I was ranting and raving about this over dinner one evening. Buying a new computer should be about making your life easier, and getting (and paying for) an OS downgrade is counter-intuitive. But you have no choice because Microsoft is a monopoly -- and every single computer comes out with their OS on it. Where is the outrage? At that point my husband looked at me like I was crazy.

"What are you talking about?" he asked. "You can buy a Mac."

Oh, I said. I hadn't thought of that. Buying a Mac is just such a ... foreign concept. I'd bought and used only Windows machines since the days of Windows 3.1, both at work and at home. To me a Macintosh computer is for Dennis, my husband, who has bought at least 8 Macs (I think -- but I lost count) in the last 15 years (not to mention all varieties of iPods). And a few of my artsy friends and photographer friends.

I always thought there was something odd about their relationship with the computer. To us Windows users, a computer is just a utility box. Mac users/Mac fanatics are in awe of their machines. A few weeks earlier, I saw Dennis bring a 24-inch screen iMac home and spend an entire weekend fixing his desk (cutting some parts of it, attaching a new shelf, etc) so that he can comfortably install the gorgeous computer in his office. I didn't tell him, but I thought, I would measure my furniture before going to buy a computer.

Once, years ago, I irritated Dennis by commenting that it looked just like Windows desktop when he was showing me something on his Mac. He said Windows looks like Mac, not the other way around. According to him, Windows shamelessly (try but naturally fail to) steal the coolness and user-friendliness of Macs. "Yeah yeah yeah" was my response.

While I warmed up to the idea of buying a Mac, the last straw came when somebody gave me a CD with lots of photos taken at an even we co-organized on it. She burned it on her brand-new Windows computer -- a Vista machine. I couldn't open the CD on my work (XP) computer. My colleague couldn't open it. I brought it to Kinko's, they tried to open it their a couple of years old Windows and Mac machines. No luck. Finally, I took it home and gave it to Dennis. And sure enough, we were finally able to see the photos on his computer, iMac, with the latest version of Mac OS -- what is it called? -- Leopard.

Releasing an awful operating system is one thing, but expecting everybody to rush to buy it another. At this time of age, I mean the era of open source and free applications, how can you -- or Bill Gates -- expect us to follow the stupid rules they make? You can see photos on a CD burned on Vista only if you have Vista. Unless, it turns out, you have the latest version of Mac.

This was it. I am going to get myself a Mac -- not because I want to see what's on a Vista-burned CD but because I've had it.

Now I know I'm far from alone. In his July 2 column in The Wall Street Journal called "Some General Tips for Switch to Mac from Windows," Walter S. Mossberg writes:

"Sales of Apple’s Macintosh computers have been growing much faster than PC sales overall, with many new Mac buyers switching from years of using Windows computers."

Aha!

My journey to be a Mac user has begun.

To be continued...

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