- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2001

In recent months, it's been popular in some computing circles to discuss the concept of living and working without paying "The Microsoft Tax," as critics call it. Instead of getting one's computer operating system and/ or applications from Bill Gates and his colleagues in Redmond, Wash., declare independence and never look back.
One of the more popular strategies in this gambit is for users to install and tweak the Linux operating system for their own use. There are thousands of enthusiastic Linux supporters across the planet who happily ignore Microsoft, which is arguably the most successful software company of all time. For desktop users, however, the quest to live Microsoft-free with Linux has its challenges. Are there any other alternatives?
Around the world, however, there are tens of thousands (if not millions) of people who use an operating system that doesn't come from Microsoft. They don't need that firm's famous applications for writing, banking or Web browsing. By and large, they're a rather happy bunch.
They're called Macintosh users, many of whom last week (Jan. 9) gathered in San Francisco for the annual Macworld Expo, devoted to the Macintosh computer platform from Apple Computer, Inc.
The big news there was Apple CEO Steve Jobs' declaration that Mac OS K, a UNIX-based new operating system for Macs, will ship at the end of March. According to Apple, over 400 software developers, including Adobe, Macromedia and, yes, Microsoft have committed to delivering more than 1,200 applications built for Mac OS X. In addition, more than 100 developers were expected to show new Mac OS X products this week at Macworld Expo. A complete listing of applications built for Mac OS X is available at guide.apple.com/ macosxlist.html.
Although the current version of the Mac OS has Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser and Outlook Express e-mail client bundled right in, neither program is essential; drag the respective folders to the trash can and your Mac can be Microsoft-free.
Of course, this is easier said than done. After all, Microsoft was one of the first applications developers for the Mac platform, and its Office suite (a new version hit the stores in October 2000) is very popular. I've said here previously that the latest Mac version of Internet Explorer is a cool Web browser, and it truly is. Many Mac users are happy with all of these programs.
But there are those who just don't like Microsoft, and perhaps never will. What to do in that case? Once you jettison Microsoft's Office for Mac, the list of options for word processing, spreadsheets and other tasks is rather short. About the only non-MS word processor I found that was still being supported on the Mac platform was Nisus-Writer, from Nisus Software of Solana Beach, Calif. (www.nisus.com). The program is good lots of academic users and Mac-wielding lawyers swear by it but it lacks some of the features I'd come to expect on Microsoft Word, such as easy access to a word count feature, something many journalists (and students) find essential.
Also, the Nisus software won't automatically read or save files in an equivalent Microsoft format. To do that, you need to spend $99 for MacLink Plus Version 12.0, from DataViz Software, Trumbull, Conn. (www.dataviz.com). Don't get me wrong, it's a great software which I believe is absolutely essential for the serious Mac user, but it does add another (external) step to the process of using non-Nisus format files and/or sharing your Nisus files with the world.
You will also very likely need the MacLink Plus software if you want to convert Microsoft Excel spreadsheet files for use with AppleWorks (www.apple.com/appleworks/), the $79 multi-function software package from Apple that contains a word processor, spreadsheet, database, drawing and presentation programs. That is, of course, if you don't want to use Microsoft Excel for the Mac, which is the de facto Mac spreadsheet standard.
Gone from the scene I need a moment here is Corel WordPerfect for Macintosh, which was dropped by the firm more than a year ago. This sad departure has limited the available competition for alternative productivity applications on the Mac platform. This could change in 2001. Sun Microsystems says it is "targeting" availability of its StarOffice suite a very good product that apes just about every function of Microsoft Office for Mac availability by this summer. If Sun's StarOffice team pulls this off, then it will truly shake up the Mac community, I believe.
And despite Corel's shirking of the Mac office applications marketplace, the industry thrives, as evidenced by the Macworld Expo hordes Multiple millions of Macs already in place, but aggressive marketing by Apple has ensured that many devices, driver software programs, and most important, applications, are available for the home and small-office user, as well as for many corporate situations.
Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark on www.adrenaline-radio.com, every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m.


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