- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2007

It’s never too early to plan for spring gift shopping, it seems, with the period between Mother’s Day (May 13) and Father’s Day (June 17) and a bunch of graduations.

Some thoughts on computer buying during this time: Windows isn’t so bad after all. It’s been easy for me to trash-talk about Microsoft Windows, and critics have noted that the relatively new Windows Vista is an energy hog on some notebooks, as well as a pale imitation of Apple Inc.’s Mac OS X. The latter claims might be true, but Windows, overall is still a pretty good operating system.

I’d be hard-pressed to say Windows is perfect — the system’s overhead demands in terms of processor power and RAM, the unexpected crashes of Windows XP, the kludge-laden way of doing things are each problematic. But in the past six months, I’ve worked with Windows systems daily in two different environments, and it isn’t all bad.

The Mac OS remains my favorite: It’s clean, tight and just about crash-free. Mac notebooks and desktops are reasonably priced, and the advent of the next iteration of Mac operating software, code-named “Leopard,” promises some nice improvements.

Apple’s refinement of its operating system has generally outpaced Windows for a good number of years, and I don’t expect to see anything different by the end of this year.

If that’s the case, why buy a Windows computer? Money could be one factor: You can still outfit a Windows rig for less, overall, than a Mac, especially when shopping at Costco or some other “big box” retailer. Or you might have a specialized application that runs only on Windows.

The latter has become less of a factor since Apple’s switch to Intel processors and the subsequent ability for Mac computers to run Windows either in an either-or booting situation using Apple’s Boot Camp application, or simultaneously with Parallels Workstation, www.parallels.com.

Good computing is costing less. As a corollary to the above, overall prices of portable and desktop computers running either Microsoft Windows (XP or Vista) or Mac OS X are much better than equivalent systems two or five years ago. You can get a decent Windows or Mac laptop for under $1,000; for under $2,000 you can really soar.

One nice thing on both platforms is the arrival of “widescreen” displays such as those found with many Hewlett-Packard desktop computer bundles or on Apple’s IMac. These allow you to more easily view DVD movies, or those downloaded to a computer from online services in a “real” movie style.

Memory is even cheaper than before. So if you buy a computer that has more RAM slots than RAM, or if you’d rather have 2 gigabytes of RAM than a mere 512 megabytes, your upgrade costs will likely be far less than a year or two back. This is a very good thing — it’s also great for fairly recent computers, say a year or two old. A boost in RAM could give those systems a whole new lease on life.

Even software can help. If, for whatever reason, you can’t upgrade to Windows Vista right now, direct your attention (or your friend’s) to the “Windows X’s Shrine” Web site, www.windowsxlive.net/?page_id=15, and you’ll find the “Vista Transformation Pack” to make an older Windows version look like Vista. I’ve installed it on one system and it’s a hoot.

• Read Mark Kellner’s Tech Blog at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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