I get this question all the time – “What computer do your recommend?”  The answer is NOT so simple, because it all depends upon your needs.  There are some basic truths, however, and not everyone will tell them.

Two basic choices for consumers

The two basic platform choices for consumers are Windows and Macintosh. Most consumers think they have to buy Windows because they already own one (or more), most of their friends own one (or more), Windows computers are used in the child’s school, Windows is in the workplace, the user is a serious gamer.  All valid points, to be sure.  I’m a Windows user, too!

BUT, I am also a Macintosh user, and I have a perspective you won’t hear from most radio and TV wags.  Have you ever listened to a computer-focused radio show?  They’re a hoot. Just about every call goes like this – My Windows computer has some malfunction.  What’s wrong and what can be done to fix it?  Most of the time, the issue has to do with software, that is, the Windows operating system. Sometimes there is a hardware-related issue.  And, of course, there are those calls about the devastation that comes from computer viruses and spyware, and then there is a discussion about anti-virus programs and anti-spyware programs for Windows computers.

Problems, problems, problems.  Most often, the answer is to try this or that, or, sorry, you’ll need to reinstall Windows.

When the question comes about what computer to buy, everyone in the major media I’ve heard, with ONE consistent exception, immediately starts recommending ANOTHER WINDOWS COMPUTER!  So the listener can start all over again with a cool “virgin” machine, and then the pattern starts all over again.

Has this happened to you?

Here’s my experience, repeated time and again. I get a new Windows computer. It works fine, for a while. I have not had virus problems because I use one of two programs – the lean and mean, excellent Eset NOD32, that does not slow down your computer at all.  It’s the best antivirus program nobody’s heard of and it’s only $39 per computer.  The other program I use and recommend, but NOT for everyone, is Panda Titanium Antivirus + Antispyware, selling for $50 per computer.  Both include a year of free updates.

While Panda offers a fine product that works at preventing the intrusion of viruses as well as if not better than some others, there were “issues” in my tests on MY computers and with friends who were asked to try it.  We found that the Panda product noticeably slowed our computers. In addition, their tech support, because it was needed, was not Johnny-on-the-spot. In one case, after much back and forth, it was determined that Panda was really not compatible with my friend’s pretty standard Windows setup. On the rest, it was found to work, but that issue of the noticeable slowdown was a deal breaker. Now, maybe if you have the absolute fastest computer on the market today, you would not notice a slowdown.  At its job of virus protection, Panda products work great.  As an anti-spyware tool, it’s not that it does not work, it’s that, with Windows, one is not enough. I still recommend using three of them. So, you might use Panda’s and I would also recommend using two of these three – Microsoft’s free (at least for now, while it’s in beta, and why not?  If it were not for Windows and its inherent vulnerability in the first place, such protection would not be needed.) Windows Defender, Ad-Aware Personal (FREE), and Spybot Search & Destroy (FREE).  One is simply not enough.

On the other hand, EVERYONE I know who has tried it loves NOD32 anti virus software praises its lean and mean appearance and operation.  It just sits there and works (as far as we know, anyway).  This award-winning software had NEVER missed a virus and has advanced technology, as does Panda’s, to catch a virus and to isolate it even before it is readily known.

So, take your pick. My present nod goes to ESET and NOD32!

I just have to interrupt myself and tell you what has JUST happened on my Windows laptop as illustrative of the problems that beset Windows users. Now, lest you think I am just some crazed Mac zealot, I must remind you that I use Windows just about every day.  I wish it worked better. I really do.  I think that for some users it is a necessity. For others, it’s all they know. For still others, it’s what they need for work, either because of some Windows-only thing for work or because it is company policy and someone else is responsible for maintenance and repair.

Just as there are Mac zealots, so, too, are there Windows proponents who are Mac bashers. So with that intro aside,

Here’s what has just happened TO ME.

On my Windows laptop, I was experiencing a problem with the simple email program that comes with Windows, Outlook Express.  All of a sudden, I could bring in email but not see the email in the window among the others. It looked as if it was brought in, and I get tons of email (most of it crap, by the way, just like you), but, still, hundreds of “wanted” emails per day from mostly nice viewers and others with something of substance and importance.

I tried to troubleshoot the problem myself. As it was revealed to me, I needed to do some maintenance. That is, I needed to compact my email to save space. To make a very long story short, there was no warning nor prompt telling me this maintenance was routinely needed. My bloated email of several thousand had caused the program to hiccough and the more I tried to fix it, the more it failed. I decided, since this is NOT my main computer (which is, of course a reliable Mac) upon which I have all my records, including all my email automatically delivered and saved, I would just dump thousands of files and lean out the email program on this laptop.  While my email started working fine again on that Windows laptop, another major problem resulted. When clicking a link in an email that should have, and previously DID open my browser (Firefox and NOT Explorer is my default browser), now, clicking the link took me to my personal folder in Documents and Settings.  I could not fix it, so I thought I’d call and speak with the excellent professionals at Microsoft for a solution, since the difficulty is with their email program, Outlook Express.

After nearly an hour and a half, I could not spend more time, having to finish getting ready for my upcoming promotional media tour.  The problem remained unsolved.

(INSERTED ADDENDUM) Fast-forward to yesterday, April 28. I’m home from my latest tour and, by prior arrangement, I received a call from the very nice and patient Microsoft tech person to continue to troubleshoot my problem. After another nearly two hours or so, the problem remains unresolved. Why, said he, he’s never seen anything quite like this. Using lots of diagnostic procedures, he determined it is, indeed, a system-wide problem. Still, I want to use what I did in the past and do not want to take the easy way and capitulate to the problems as so many Windows users do. I will not settle. I just want it right.  We’ve scheduled another round of problem solving for next Monday.

FINALLY, AN ANSWER! Monday May 1, 2006

This morning I received another call from the polite Microsoft guru.  They had a moment!  In their labs, they were able to duplicate my problem. The correct combination of elements is Outlook Express, Firefox AND . . . the latest version of the NEW Internet Explorer 7, Beta 2 release. That’s what I have.  Theirs failed exactly as mine, and now we know the culprit. It is their Internet Explorer 7, Beta 2 release, the browser Microsoft is working on that is supposed to fix so many issues from the previous version. The previous version did not have this interaction problem if Firefox was installed on the system.  You should also know that, despite the fact that Internet Explorer has so many security and usability issues which caused millions of users to try and like Firefox, the last version was a good neighbor with Firefox while the new and improved version is not. Hmmmmmm.  That is so very frustrating, not only for consumers, but, obviously, for Microsoft. So, they have something else to fix, and no one can say how long that will take.

The fix?  Uninstall the Internet Explorer update, rolling it back to IE6. Now, everything works as before.  But, WHY, oh WHY should anyone have to take the time to deal with this, well, crap? That’s all it is, pure, unadulterated crap. Which leads me to the main premise . . . why not a Mac?

In the meantime, I experience NOT ONE SPECK of a problem on my Macs (while running in the Mac OS, that is), using either the built-in Mail program or Microsoft Office 2004 for the Mac and its Entourage email program on my main Mac, now with over 31,000 emails listed (and backed up).  I need to clean out all but just a few thousand of those, but that’s another story!

I use the Apple-created and supplied browser called Safari. It’s not perfect, in that not all Websites work perfectly with this browser, but Apple keeps improving it.  I also have both Firefox and Opera (another browser) installed on my Macs, and between them all, there is not the kind of problem that the Windows computer experienced.

Here’s something worth repeating . . . Though Macs are not perfect, a modern Mac (an up-to-date Mac OS on an up to seven year old Macintosh) just does not generally experience a makes-you-nuts-so-you-want-to-throw-it-out-the-window problem.

MY EXPERIENCE with ALL Windows PCs is that, despite my best efforts, they get worse over time, and not very much time.  They get progressively slower to operate and to start up, and then things just start to go wrong. It might take between one and two years.  And then I can’t fix them, and no one else can, and I know and have access to experts far more knowledgeable and talented than I in such matters.  I also resent the need to have to take my time to deal with this. It just should not be necessary.  So, I begin to compromise and to work around these annoying operational anomalies.  Finally, I can’t stand it and I end up backing everything up, AGAIN, reformatting the hard drive, reinstalling Windows, spending hours and hours updating, reinstalling all the software and my data and then, usually at least the next day, I am back to an acceptably-running Windows PC, until the next time!  This just does not happen with a Mac!  Again this DOES NOT HAPPEN WITH THE MAC (let me qualify this by indicating in the overwhelming majority of cases, this does not happen on a Mac).  I have never seen this with a Mac, mine or someone else’s. I have seen this countless times with Windows PCs, either mine, and those of family, friends, business colleagues and others.  Are you seeing a pattern here?

Back to computer choices and radio computer experts . . .

And speaking about the radio computer show hosts, there is ONE consistent exception in the mainstream of these shows I love to hate, and that give inaccurate, misleading advice.  The one good guy is Leo Laporte heard locally in SoCal on KFI 640AM, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 2 pm (PT) and also LIVE online anywhere for these shows through the KFI Website (http://kfiam640.com).  Leo’s KFI shows can also be downloaded as a podcast sometime after the live broadcast through his own excellent Website.  Also visit the valuable info resource of his show notes – http://techguylabs.com//radio/.

Leo is a Mac and Windows (and MORE) tech guru who really knows his stuff and is fair, totally fair, as far as I can determine.  We’ve chatted several times at trade shows and press events, though I can’t say I really know him (I wish I did). I admire and am a big fan of his work.  He seems like the genuine article, honest, caring and expert in his knowledge.  He has forgotten more than I will ever know about computers, and I know more than enough to be really dangerous!  So, you can also trust Leo’s advice and fix-it knowledge.  He has way more computer experience than I, though I have much more hands-on experience and knowledge about the vast array of mainstream consumer-based tech and products. There is only so much time in any given day!   By the way, Leo is also a fan of his sponsor, NOD32, as his own and recommended antivirus program for Windows.  So now you have two recommendations for this excellent and necessary Windows program.

Avoid the Inevitability of the Windows Plague

As you hear all those listeners grouse about their unfortunate Windows problems, doesn’t it ever make you wonder if there’s a better way?  Something different you can do to avoid the inevitable visitation of the Windows plague? If you ask on Leo’s show, he’ll tell you to get a Mac if you don’t have to have or are predisposed toward wanting Windows.  A couple of other local radio show hosts I know of have little to no Mac knowledge and, consequently, they offer little to no accurate Mac info or advice.  I think this is irresponsible toward their listeners.  In fact, this is a disservice to all their listeners who trust and rely upon these so-called experts.  Need a computer?  Buy a Windows PC, they advise.

Why NOT get a Mac?

The simple fact is this: Now, more than ever there are very few reasons to NOT get a Mac. They’re well made and have a useful life that typically far exceeds that of a Windows computer.  It is rare to have an operational problem, though not unheard of, that would necessitate completely erasing the hard drive and reinstalling the Mac OS.  Your new Mac will likely find a useful life well beyond three or four typical useful years with a new Windows PC.   Here at Gadget Central we have given away or otherwise disposed of perfectly good and satisfyingly fully functioning Macs as old as nearly 20 years.  In everyday use by my high-school age daughter is a Blue & White Power Macintosh G3 we got when it came out in early 1999!  It runs all the modern software, including Mac OS X Tiger. It’s not excruciatingly slow for most operations and it is totally reliable. She uses iTunes, iPhoto, iChat, Microsoft Office 2004 for the Mac and much, much more.  This would not, could not reasonably be the case with a Windows computer.

And now, the newest Macs, those with Intel Processors, can benefit from the recent release of Boot Camp, Apple’s free utility that allows your Intel Mac to be configured to allow installation of Windows XP. I did it on my borrowed MacBook Pro. Sweeeeeeeet is all I can say. For the most part, it works, but it’s still in Beta, meaning it is not finished. It’s going to me part of Apple’s next generation operating system called Leopard, due out at the end of this year or early in 2007.

New Macs run Windows, too

Now, a Mac can be the best of both worlds. I installed the problem-prone Windows on my Mac and I can restart so it starts up in Windows XP. It BECOMES a Windows PC. Then, I can click to restart it in the Mac OS.  Pretty darned cool, if you ask me.

Instead of getting up and going to another computer altogether for Windows-mandatory things, I just restart the Mac in Windows.  It’s that easy.

What is it that YOU need to or want to do with your computer?  Email?  Internet?  Composition (writing)? Presentations (such as PowerPoint)? Photo organization, printing and sharing?  Video editing, burning to DVD or video sharing online? Setting up a customizable database for business?  Organizing and listening to music on the computer or throughout the house AND using a digital music (and other audio and video player?  Watching DVDs and other videos?  These are all the province of an excellent new Mac, and without incompatibilities with Windows computers. AND each new Intel Mac has the ability to have Windows XP installed on it. You supply the Windows disc, that’s all.

What about the cost?  Do the math. What’s it worth to YOU to have a reliable computer you can use, day in and day out (hopefully), and not suffer loss of use, at least the same way as would be likely with a Windows-based PC?  What’s the cost in time and effort, if not in real dollars?  What is it worth to you to (likely) avoid this frustration and just use your computer?  What is it worth to you to actually enjoy using a computer instead of seeing it as a necessary evil that will some day defy you and require someone else, if not you, to spend untold hours (not to mention expense) possibly unsuccessfully, trying to get it running smoothly again?

I know it may be a case of the devil you know versus the devil you don’t know, but in the case of the Mac, it will very likely be a case of no devil at all.  You just have to believe me (and others who know) on this one.

Switching to a Mac is EASY

Switching is easy, too. I won’t go into it now, but you can explore the how-to info HERE.

If you need or want a Windows PC, you can do that, too, or, choose a new Mac, and get both in one computer. Use Windows when you must, and the Mac OS the rest of the time for the reliability and ease of use it offers, and that FUN FACTOR, not to mention the current absence of viruses and spyware on the Mac.  Or, just make the switch to a Mac.  If it’s the user’s first computer, so much the better.

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