Apple Mac Mini
Will Windows users switch?
The included media software bundle, iLife 05 is great. No other words for it. Most people are familiar with iTunes, but the iPhoto photo organisation and editing app, iDVD DVD-burning tool (which can be used with third-party DVD burners), iMovie HD movie-making program and Garageband music-making program have the niftiness of use that shows iTunes wasn't just a happy accident.
In software, Apple follows the 'less is more' philosophy; whereas Windows programs will either expose you to every possible option (creating confusion) or none (creating frustration), Apple offers a carefully-chosen amount; occasionally frustrating, but usually you don't notice. Garageband, in particular, is the most addictive time-wasting program since Tetris, and demonstrates why real bands can spend years in a studio mixing albums. Just how much echo should your looped hi-hat have? How about a touch more flange on the guitar? As the updated version can now import MIDI files, you can also investigate important musical questions, such as whether Bach's Toccata and Fugue in C sharp minor sounds better played on ukelele.
Key omissions? The lack of expandability for a TV tuner. Watching TV on your PC is becoming a must-have. With a Firewire 400 input and two USB 2 ports, there's room for the mini to take a digital TV feed - you could add Elgato's EyeTV digital tuner to get the Freeview channels, but that bumps up the price by £250 or so. You only face the problem then of having enough storage.
You'd think that if getting people to dump their Windows machines was the prime aim, Apple would put 'Windows data import' front and centre of the Mini software package. Yet when I asked Tom Boger, Apple's senior director of worldwide desktop product marketing, about bundling Move2Mac, he gave me the 'Cupertino stare' - an inscrutable gaze that either means 'How can one person be so stupid?' or 'Damn! Knew that to-do list was unfinished!', except you can't tell which. His reply: "We do proactively mention it."
Hmmm. The problem is that while Apple machines will join networks of all flavours very happily, talking to Windows machines is another matter. I struggled for hours trying to get an HP laptop running Windows XP SP2 with file sharing on to play nicely with the Mini. So how would Joe Wannaswitch import his bookmarks and Outlook Express files?
Was it SP2's firewall? Who knows? If Apple is truly going to make inroads into the Windows market, dragging your Windows life onto the new machine, has to be made imperceptible. The Mac Mini is a fine computer - at this price, even a great one. And the dearth of spyware and malware aimed at OS X, which remains a source of smugness among Apple users, should tempt Windows users too. Trouble is, the upheaval involved in switching operating systems, from Windows to OS X, is on a par with moving between rented accommodation, though less than moving house. Apple has gone all the way on the hardware side to ease the hassle. It just needs to do that last bit on the software side. ®
|Apple Mac Mini|
|Pros||— Wonderful aesthetics; cheap; superb software bunde.|
|Cons||— Insufficient RAM; almost no scope for expansion; little help for Windows Switchers.|
|Price||From £339 inc. VAT|
|More info||The Apple Mac Mini site|