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Saturday, December 28, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Not forbidden fruit: Try a Mac; you may find a taste is all it takes

Special to The Seattle Times

Every two years or so, PC users follow a common ritual. The old machine has lost its luster, and no longer has the power required to do their job or make them feel happy about being in front of the computer in the first place.

So they call up the guys at their favorite mail-order company or trot off to the local PC emporium and plop down a couple grand on the same-old-same-old-only-more-so.

It doesn't have to be this way. At the beginning of each cycle we bemoan this rut, and hear a voice in the back of our heads, as if Yoda took on a job in Cupertino as director of sales and marketing. "There is another, and its name is Macintosh."

With the advent of OS X Jaguar, a major rewrite of the Mac operating system released this past fall, Apple is seriously setting its sites on the massive PC user base. It has sponsored a marvelous switch advertising campaign, with celebrities and normal people alike saluting the machine's humanity.

But how much difference do ads make, really? People still talk about the original Macintosh ad during the 1984 Super Bowl, but how many of those actually went out and bought one as a result?

The truth is, computing products must address the needs of the "installed base," those already using the machines. If not for the installed base, the rate of innovation would be much faster.

From Apple's standpoint, the reason to switch is simple: People are looking to integrate disparate digital devices in a way that doesn't require multiple conflict-causing drivers. Apple can accomplish this through control. It manufactures the hardware. Oversees the software. Co-develops the applications. Runs technical support.

So, not only does everything work together, a customer with questions needs only one point of contact for questions; without the rampant finger pointing that invades the PC universe.

For some time, upgrading PC users with an open mind have considered switching to the Mac at one point or another. Maybe they saw one at a friend's house and noticed the clean lines of the machine and its interface. Maybe there is a piece of software on the Mac that does not yet have a PC counterpart. Or more likely, maybe Windows' eccentricities are driving them nuts, and they feel the computer should adapt to them rather than the other way around.

But the impulse — like the urge to get an impractical car or join the Peace Corps — soon passes. It's too disrupting. There is already an investment that we need to protect. Everyone at the office uses a PC, and there are better uses of your time than dealing with two different computing environments.

Considering the alternative

That is, until today. Windows users grumble about each upgrade and then accept it, calling it an improvement because it "crashes less." Many people no longer find this a good enough reason to buy yet another Windows machine, especially when an iMac costs about the same, looks and feels a lot better and provides a welcome jump start of your mundane computing life.

There are indications that the switch campaign is working. Since Apple opened its first retail store in May 2001, there are about 50 nationwide (Washington state is in line to get one, in Bellevue, next summer) and the retail presence has increased. Meant as a way to raise consumer awareness, the stores took in $100 million in its most recent quarter, up from $63 million the previous quarter. Forty percent of customers are said to be new to the Mac.

To support the migration, Apple established a switch page www.apple.com/switch. It's half promotion and half helpful hits, thankfully devoid of the "I told you so" ethnocentrism that has made Apple users famously obnoxious. Apple reports 1.6 million visitors to the site, with 40 percent coming from Windows machines.

The switch isn't absolute. It's not like buying a car, where you jump into a new Taurus and leave your Corolla behind. The best way to switch is to run both machines side by side for a while, delegating the best tasks to each one. This won't work as well if the PC is on its last legs or outright dead.

One switcher's view

ZDNet's Anchor Desk columnist David Coursey is a former PC partisan who now divides his computing tasks between the PC and the Mac. He does digital photography, video and a majority of writing on the Mac, but product testing and mail on the PC (this because the Mac still has trouble interfacing with some virtual private networks and firewalls). It's also hard to get a Pocket PC and a Mac to work together, he said.

Coursey, who is writing a book about the switch, finds himself gravitating toward the Mac. "I know it isn't going to break, or have some bizarre problem like Windows," he said.

Analyst Tim Bajarin has used both a PC and a Mac for some time. "I've had a Mac since 1984, and have consistently used it for all the creative things that I do," said Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, based in Campbell, Calif. "I do all my photos on the Mac, I don't even try them on the PC. The Mac is the best platform for creativity, while I tend to use the PC for more 'productive' things."

These categories aren't mutually exclusive. Microsoft Office for the Mac is close to the PC version in terms of features, and is a lot better looking. The FileMaker database and FastTrack project manager round out the application family. And on the PC, there is a plethora of unique photo and video programs, many without Mac counterparts.

A major player in the PC-to-Mac stakes is Bellevue's own Detto Technologies, which sells a $60 hardware/software package called Move2Mac. You first load it on the PC, then the Mac, then connect the two machines with a supplied USB cable.

Move2Mac is the very example of modern software ingenuity, where everything works as it's supposed to. Documents and pictures are moved to their corresponding folders, so you don't have to thrash around looking for certain files. Mail files are just a little trickier. It requires three different conversions to move from Microsoft Outlook to Entourage, the corresponding Mac Office mail application.

While Move2Mac is a good solution for detail-oriented users, some will take the opportunity to jettison many older files. People who operate in both environments will know which files are on what machine — and may want to operate their Mac on a clean slate.

On the other hand, those who are making a full conversion and retiring their PC will love this program for the five times they are allowed to use it (the program, unfortunately, does not act as a network between environments).

'Windowslike'

David Beglinger, a Boonville, Calif., artist who is a Move2Mac customer, lauds the program's ease of use but has found the process daunting.

"When I started with the Mac I had no idea what an 'alias' was," Beglinger said. "After looking around for a while I found out it was pretty much the same as a shortcut. It also took me a long time to figure out how to move a window."

If the Mac is "Windowslike," Beglinger found enough inconsistencies to be confusing.

"I don't understand why Jaguar's developers didn't take a hard look at Windows, and just use the things that work well," he said. "After all, Windows has been stealing stuff from the Mac for years."

This underscores the fact that not everyone is switching for the same reasons. Beglinger just wants something that works well, doesn't crash and is easy to use. He is destined, for now, to not find this with either the PC or the Mac.

The purpose of switching, however, is to improve upon but not necessarily duplicate the PC environment. If you love Windows, there's no reason to move in the first place.

"We don't want to be like Windows," said Greg Joswiak Apple's vice president of hardware product marketing. "We want to do everything better. We are intent on creating the greatest computers and the best computing experience in the world. And we are the only ones who can say that with a straight face."

Charles Bermant, who writes the weekly Inbox column in Personal Technology, is a longtime PC user who is going through the Mac switch — at least for now.

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