- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

There's something wrong with what has been my primary desktop computer, on which I run Microsoft Windows XP and some key applications.
I'm not sure what it is, or why it is, or how it's going to be fixed. It's not a critical problem; I can get my work done without too much hassle. But it's frustrating enough that I've decided on a major change, at least for a while: the PowerMac G4 Cube that had been somewhat neglected will be my main machine.
The reason for the switch is simple: Until I figure out how best to make the desktop PC (whose brand will be withheld to protect the innocent) work better, I need something reliable, and this is something the Mac has been. Piling on application after application, and feature after feature, the Cube has reacted very nicely. The occasional (very occasional) hiccup was resolved with a little patience and, in one case, a painless software upgrade.
But can the Mac talk to PCs? Can the Mac read and write PC-compatible files? Are there enough applications for the Mac to make life useful?
The short answers are yes, yes and yes. The long answers bear some investigating.
Talking to a PC is important: The unnamed desktop has nearly three gigabytes of document files that I need for my work and personal life. Using the CD burner in the desktop PC, it would probably take the better part of an hour or more to figure out which files to fit on which CD (the recordable discs hold about 700 megabytes or less), and then I'd have to arrange these discs to make sure I restore the files in the proper order. (A commercial backup or CD-burning program might make the job easier, but a search of the Internet failed to reveal a program that would allow "disk spanning," i.e., the breaking up of a folder or group of files to span X number of discs.)
How to communicate then? Using the Cube's operating system, Mac OS X v.10.1.3 (i.e., the latest version of OS X, created using files available via download from Apple) and my home network, I could log into the Windows PC using the File Transfer Protocol and pull files over. But I decided, instead, to use PC MACLAN from Miramar Systems Inc., of Santa Barbara, Calif., a $199 program that offers a host of PC-to-Mac connectivity features. Installation and setup were a breeze; within five minutes I had files scooting over from the PC to the Mac Cube. The whole transfer process for moving the 3-gigabyte "My Documents" folder from the PC to the Cube took about 10 minutes, and was far easier than using the CD method.
Now, can the Mac read and write PC-compatible files? Yes, and very nicely, thank you. It helps that on the Mac I'm using Microsoft's Office v.X, whose Word, Excel and PowerPoint components are file-compatible with their PC cousins. The proof of this pudding will come when I e-mail files back to PC users with whom I work; that'll happen in the next day or so. But my own private trials suggest there should be no problems.
Opening files on the Mac was a hassle only with a WordPerfect 10 document, but this was solved by opening the original WordPerfect file on the PC, saving it in Microsoft Word (PC) format and passing it over.
Using a "neutral" format such as Rich Text Format would be another alternative.
Are there enough applications to make the Mac useful? Yes and no. A couple of my absolute favorites are PC-only, and I've not yet found acceptable Mac-based alternatives. If I were to ever make the big leap, I'd have to either locate these or install a PC emulation program to run the applications I want. The latter step would probably mean were I to continue to use the Cube an expense of at least $190 to up the RAM from 128 megabytes to 512 megabytes, and triple that amount if I wanted to max out the Mac Cube's potential at 1.5 gigabytes of RAM, an almost obscene amount. Another replacement candidate would be the Mac Cube's 20-gigabyte hard drive, big enough but potentially not so big, with a 60-gigabyte drive, price around $150.
But so far, I have three different, OS X-compatible Web browsers on my Mac Cube: Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.1; Netscape 6.2 and Opera 5. I can add Intuit's Quicken 2002 Deluxe to track my personal finances, and probably shall. Synchronization with a Palm-based hand-held is no problem, although synching with a Pocket PC remains a challenge. On the productivity side, Microsoft Office v.X for the Mac is more than OK; but I can still run Nisus Software's Nisus Writer under the "Classic" Mac OS window that's available.
And, of course, Adobe's GoLive, InDesign, LiveMotion, PageMaker and Photoshop are all available for Mac OS X, making the designer's or desktop publisher's life much easier. More such applications are on their way, I'm told.
There are some things I want to do with or to the Mac Cube regardless of my permanent choices: I've replaced the standard Apple-supplied mouse with a Kensington PocketMouse Pro; the retractable cord, better size and button layout appeal to me. I'm really eager to ditch Apple's "Pro" keyboard for something anything that's better; my answer may come from either Microsoft Corp., MacAlly or Kensington in the near term.
And the crowning effort, which I'll attempt sometime this week? Installing and using the drivers and software for a combination copier/scanner/printer/fax from Hewlett-Packard that does its printing in color, as a high-quality ink jet. Those results and details will come at another time.
Can I make the switch? Will I want to stay a mainly Mac user? Keep reading from time to time; you'll see the results here and on my Web log.

Write to: Mark Kellner c/o The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002. Send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back to Mr. Kellner live every Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. EST.



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