Apple Computer s Macintosh models have a reputation as pricey the Rolls Royces of computers where you pay more for superior engineering, craftsmanship, and performance.
Macs, however, have been getting more competitive with Windows PCs during the last few years. That trend has led to the $499 Mac Mini, which Apple terms the most affordable Mac ever.
Apple s eMac model previously carried the lowest price tag, starting at about $800. The premium iMac G5 started at about $1,300. Those prices seem high compared to bare bones Windows computers, which are available for less than $500.
Introduced in January in Apple s stores and online store (www.applecomputer.com), the Mac Mini is now going on sale in more retail stores around the country.
Lower price and wider availability is making people wonder if they should finally try a Mac. The Mac Mini is a golden opportunity for individuals who are fed up with the viruses and other security problems that plague Windows, but so far have largely spared Macs.
There are other reasons for switching, and Apple lists them on its web site (click on Switch ). As the sales pitch says, Macs are wonderful computers that outdo Windows in some ways.
However, remember that it is a Windows world. Macs account for less than 3 percent of all computers sold worldwide. Apple hopes the Mac Mini will change that by luring people away from Windows.
The key difference is that Mac and Windows computers use different operating system, or master control programs. Word processing and other software written for Windows won t run on a Mac. Documents created on a Windows computer won t open on a Mac, unless it has the right programs.
Mac Minis do have a basic word processing program that will open Microsoft Word documents. However, if you work a lot with Microsoft documents, consider spending about $150 on Microsoft Office for the Mac.
Built-in software includes Apple s iTunes for making CDs and moving music to an MP3 player, and iPhoto for downloading photos a digital camera. The Mac operating system also gives Windows users a refreshing new working environment that begins with the start page.
The Mac Mini is small, about 6.5 inches square and 2 inches high a bonus for individuals with limited desktop space. The base price includes the box, but not a monitor, keyboard, mouse, or stereo speakers.
Apple assumed that many buyers would be switching from a Windows computer and already have that gear. The Mac Mini does work with Windows monitors, keyboards, mice, and speakers. If you don t have that gear, add about $200 to the cost of switching.
Mac Minis have a combination DVD player/CD burner, which costs extra on under-$500 Windows computers. Like those models, the Mac Mini will work better with a memory upgrade to 512 megabytes (about $80).
Give the Mini a test drive, and consider the pros and cons as you decide whether to switch.