Tempted to switch to a Mac?

In recent years, Apple Computer has reinvented itself with a new operating system, a chain of retail stores, the iPod and a sleek new line of computers that run on Intel processors. As Apple becomes more mainstream and offers more options in software, more Windows users are considering a switch to Mac, according to a report in The New York Times.

As always, to switch or not to switch depends on the needs and preferences of the user. With each system, there are pros and cons to consider:

Software
According to Apple, more than 12,000 software applications have been developed to run on the Mac OSX platform since it was introduced in 2001. These include the popular Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and Firefox Web browser.

But there is still less software available for the Mac than for the conventional Windows-based PC. For those considering a switch, experts recommend taking a careful inventory of what applications you need and then determine what options are available for Mac that would accomplish the same. Mac software is likely to be available for most mainstream applications with some included on newer Mac and others requiring a separate purchase.

Some applications in business software and games may run only on Windows. But new Intel-based Macs that use the same hardware architecture as Windows-based PCs (called the x86) allow you to run Windows on a Mac.

Two methods which run faster than the leading option under the old Mac system, Virtual PC, include Parallels Desktop and Boot Camp. Parallels allows you to run Windows and Mac OS X Tiger simultaneously. For example, you can run software like Internet Explorer and Microsoft Outlook in a window that can be minimized like other Mac programs.

The downside, experts say, is a likely reduction in speed. And Parallels does not support 3-D-accerlerated graphics which means some games and other programs will run slowly or not well. Also, not all peripheral devices such as cell phones or printers are compatible.

Boot Camp, scheduled to be part of Apple’s next operating-system release, Leonard, creates a partition on a computer’s hard disk and installs Windows to it. When a computer starts up, you can choose to run either Windows or Mac OS X.

Boot Camp benefits include running Windows at full speed, full processor and graphics abilities as well as compatibility with hardware peripherals and devices designed for PCs. A drawback is you cannot run Windows and Mac applications simultaneously, and you can run only two versions of Windows: Windows XP Home Edition with Service Pack 2 ($200 US) or Windows XP Professional With Service Pack 2 ($300 US.)

Security
So far, the Mac OS X operating system has not been infiltrated by viruses and spyware threats that go after Windows users, according to a Symantec, maker of Norton Anti-virus. In 2005, there were 114,000 known viruses for PCs. And in March 2006 alone, there were 850 new threats detected against Windows.

But when Windows is run on Intel-based Macs, such as through Parallels or Boot Camp, it is vulnerable to the same security threats that can affect conventional Windows-based PCs.

Hardware
While the physical designs of Apple computers are often sleeker and more innovative, the selection is less diverse than what is available from companies like Dell, Sony, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard. And consideration should be given to compatibility of devises such as external hard drives and printers that may be connected to a computer. In some cases, only Windows may be supported.

Many new Mac users also find that it takes a little time and patience to learn the Mac interface after years of working with Windows. That said, experts say that Apple’s computer systems are perfectly viable for a wide range of users, including graphic artists, photographers, and other creative types. And the Mac mini is a simple system, perfect for those who use their computer mainly for Web access, email and word processing.