Online Original: Make Room For A Mac?

It's time for Orlando psychologist Pamela Green to upgrade her three-year-old Apple Macintosh Performa. Despite her friends' warnings, she's sticking with an Apple. "I am not especially computer literate," says the 44-year-old mother of two. "The Mac is a breeze to use."

While Green's endorsement may be welcome words for Apple Computer Inc., the percentage of computer-buyers who share her views is falling. Many of the Mac's once-key selling points -- ease of use, graphical point-and-click interface, and cutting-edge graphics capabilities -- are now prime features of Intel-powered PCs using Microsoft's Windows 95. Further, the declining prices and market dominance of "Wintel" computers has left potential Mac customers, and even some longtime devotees, in a nearly existential quandary: Why in the world do they need a Macintosh? "If people want to have the same operating system as their friends, and they all have PCs, it's hard to justify getting a Mac," concedes Bob Levitus, author of several Mac guides.

Going against the tide may be tough, but there are still reasons to consider a Macintosh.

GRAPHICS: Mac controls 55% of the desktop publishing market, and it remains the standard among graphic artists and Web designers. Given that Apple has designated so-called "masters of media" as its core user group, you can expect a steady stream of software, support, and hardware upgrades targeted at that market. "Apple's going to try everything it can not to lose the creative community," says Tim Bajarin, president of consultants Creative Strategies and a long-time Apple watcher.

LEGACY: If you're happy with your Mac, and your business has already invested substantial dollars and resources in an Apple system or network, there's still no immediate reason to change. For one thing, the company's G3 machines -- introduced on Nov. 10 -- are powerful enough to handle even the latest memory-gobbling software. Moreover, a full Mac-to-Windows conversion can be an incredible drain of time and money. Unless you anticipate your company relying on essential pieces of Windows-only software, you'll probably want to hold tight. "We are still recommending that companies don't change," says Don Fisk, president of Insight Technologies, a Grand Forks (N.D.) computer retailer. "The cost of turning over is too high."

NOVICES: Computer-phobic newbies who want to do only a few basic tasks may find a second-hand Macintosh (cheap these days) the perfect introduction to the digital world. Though Win95 made PCs more like Macintoshes, the Mac remains, as analyst Bajarin puts it, "the easier computer to use and set up." If you have modest computing goals -- say, word processing or E-mail -- a simple Mac could be the ticket.

If you're an experienced computer user, however, the case for a new Macintosh gets weaker, especially for denizens of Corporate America. In most big offices, PCs have traditionally ruled the roost, and management has begun flushing out Macs to help standardize maintenance and networking, which cuts costs. That change is not as pronounced in traditional Mac strongholds -- small businesses, schools, and homes. But analysts and retailers predict that the pull to PCs will only get stronger as the next few generations of machines come out.

Given that rapid technological evolution -- and the equally rapid speed with which computers become obsolete -- price becomes an important buying criteria. The new G3 models start at $2,000. And the cheapest Macs now cost around $1,500, some $500 more than an entry-level PC. Rob Enderle, senior analyst at Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, Calif., thinks these prices are too high for mainstream buyers, especially for those who use PCs at work: "There's no reason to justify the extra price given that it won't run the entertainment software and it won't allow you to bring in work from home."

Software availability is also becoming an issue for certain Mac users. Though the vast majority of leading programs are available on both Macs and Windows platforms, most software producers are for Windows first. That trend will only gain momentum if Apple's share of the PC market continues to drop from its already tenuous 3.3%. Some home users are already feeling the pinch. Games, for instance, have become especially hitched to Windows, which means you can't even buy some of the latest titles -- such as Tomb Raider 2 and Age of Empires -- for the Mac.

A temporary stop-gap could be found in a crop of emulation software, such as Soft Windows 95 (Insignia, $199) and Virtual PC (Connectix, $150). These allow Macs to simulate a Windows environment, but because they put a drain on processing speed, they aren't designed for heavy-duty Windows use.

Unfortunately for Mac-lovers, the Windows world is quickly evolving into the world at-large. But certain users will find there's still room for the Mac within the vast, and growing, PC orchard.

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