PC to Mac or Mac to PC: Have You Changed?

PC to Mac or Mac to PC: Have You Changed?First of all, this is not going to be a Mac vs. PC article, because personally I believe we each have our own preference — and that’s fine. I use Windows 7 on my desktop and laptop systems, I have one older machine running Windows XP, I’ve got iOS on my iPad, and a tablet that runs on Android — and I enjoy using all of them. I have found that all of these systems have their good and bad points that give the user a unique experience. What brought this subject back into the limelight was a question posted in Gnomies in conjunction with a question I posted:

Has anyone switched from a Mac to a PC and why? Algernon Parker recently asked the question about those switching from a PC to a Mac. I thought it would be interesting to see if any Mac users have converted to using a PC.

Here are some of the responses I received.

Zach Bornheimer:

There would only be one reason that anyone would convert to a PC: native software. Usually it’s a one way conversion street. :P

Adam Taylor:

As a graphic designer, I was told way back when that, in order to be taken seriously, I was going to have to become a Mac user. Now it’s 10+ years later and I call bullsh*** on that statement. I am an Apple enthusiast and I will argue with anyone who says that PCs are better — however, I know that’s just a matter of opinion. Graphics software works just as good on either platform. It’s just all about user experience and interface design. I do prefer OS X to Windows.

Aaron Raimist:

You would never need to switch to a PC because Macs can run Windows.

These are excellent points well worth considering for anyone thinking of switching from Mac to a PC. On the flip side, those who have switched from PC to Mac are a more passionate bunch and expressed some valid opinions of their own:

Anthony Wadley:

I am in the process of switching from PC to Mac. There are several reasons that I have made the jump. First, I have two iPads, two iPod touches, an iPod Classic, an iPod nano, and a Mac. iTunes runs better and faster on a Mac because it was designed for OS X and adjusted to work for PC. I started switching to Mac by purchasing a used Mac mini to see if I would like OS X. After only a couple of days I was ready to made the full switch. Mac seems to me to be more stable and better built than any PC that I have owned up to this point. My transformation from PC to Mac will take several years as I will not throw money away; however, as my PCs fail, I will replace them with their Mac equivalent.

Thomas Corbett:

I just switched about two weeks ago, mostly because everyone I talked to loved Mac. I was looking to get a desktop computer, so I bought a Mac mini. To me, OS X works a lot better than Windows, and is a lot faster than my Windows laptop.

Alberto Serafin Lopez:

I switched to a Mac mini running Tiger because I felt like Microsoft screwed me with the empty promises of Windows Vista “Ultimate” edition.

I know exactly what Alberto is saying. Microsoft promised those of us who bought Vista Ultimate that we were going to be able to enjoy a long list of amazing benefits when, in fact, the only enhancement I recall was being able to install the card game Texas Hold’em. Many users felt betrayed by the lack of extras that Microsoft had promised. For some, like Chris, Vista was enough to push them over to becoming Apple users. See links below for Chris’s expert advice.

I bought a new laptop when Vista was first introduced. And while I was fortunate enough to avoid a lot of the problems that others reported having with Vista, I was eager to see how Windows 7 would address these problems. When the time came, I did a clean install of my Vista machine and updated to Windows 7. I must admit that Windows 7 performs very well on my system and yes, it is better than Vista in many aspects. Of course, this is just my personal opinion.

But aren’t all of these comments just nothing more than personal opinions — opinions that have been developed over the years as people have used either a Mac or PC to satisfy their needs or become disappointed when such needs aren’t met?

Now that some of us have taken the plunge and purchased an Apple iPad tablet or maybe an Android-based tablet, or an Apple iPhone or Android-based smartphone, won’t the opinions continue to develop for these products as well? Before I am accused of being a Windows zealot or an Apple fanboy, let me say this: My wife absolutely loves her Apple iPad and would be lost without her toy. When I am able to pry it from her hands, I must admit that Apple has made a great product and the iPad is arguably the best tablet currently on the market. Yet I personally like my Amazon Kindle Fire and use it every day without issue. In addition, my Android smartphone serves me well and 4G speed is one reason I like using it.

So the bottom line, in my opinion, is this: Enjoy the product you prefer and understand that trying to convince — and convert — others to your way of thinking may be a futile effort.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Best OS X Downloads for Any New Mac

That new Macintosh that you have is probably looking lonely without its fair share of applications. At some point we all get a new computer and, if it’s a Mac, it will come bare-boned and ready for all types of applications to suit your needs and pleasures. The applications that I name off today can mostly be found in the Mac App Store, which is available on computers running Snow Leopard and Lion.

These solutions have been polled from the greater Gnomies community. Some of the utilities and applications provided today are free and some are paid; if they are paid, I consider them worth the small investment toward their purchase.

Productivity

Best OS X Downloads for Any New MacTextWrangler: If you code anything or are looking for something advanced like Notepad++ on Windows, than TextWrangler is your equivalent. Being free in the Mac App Store, TextWrangler is highly customizable and can help you code in any language from ASP to XHTML.

Sparrow: If you’re a fan of a simplified layout of your mail, like the Lion design of the Mail app, check out Sparrow. With both a free and paid version, Sparrow is in modular with separate columns for your mailboxes, messages, and message content. Its got a very slick layout with simple layout of buttons and customizability. Sparrow can even connect with Facebook to align names with pictures and Dropbox to attach files.

Dropbox: One of my very favorite applications for sharing documents and other files between multiple places is Dropbox. You start out with a massive 2 GB of space that’s enough for pictures and videos to be stored with documents and other data. Not only on OS X, but all desktop and mobile platforms, Dropbox can sync and view almost every document from any location where it can be accessed.

CyberDuck: If you’re looking for a super simple client to access FTP or SFTP, CyberDuck is for you. It’s lightweight and easy to navigate and configure for any transferring that you need to do. For more advanced users it can also access Google Docs, Amazon S3, Rackspack Cloud Files, Google Cloud Storage, and more.

Internet

Best OS X Downloads for Any New MacGoogle Chrome: I’m not a fan of Internet Explorer, and it’s a safe bet that you might not be, either, if you were to look into alternative browser options that are out there. One of my favorites is Google Chrome — it’s both fast and lightweight. It’s very expandable with extensions and can sync across computers if you have a connected Google Account. Google Chrome is a fast growing browser and is making leaps and bounds over the competition. Based on the open source project of Chromium, it’s being actively developed and stays up to date for avoiding all the nasty browser bugs out there.

Adium: Let’s face it, you probably have multiple instant messenger accounts. An easy way to manage all that with a clean interface is Adium; it’s a great IM tool that lets you connect multiple accounts — even IRC — and manage your instant message life. With access to a wide array of extensions to customize the experience and appearance, you can turn Adium into the ultimate IM machine.

Twitter: Twitter is a very active social network with messages streaming in by the second on everything from friend updates to the latest news depending on who you follow. Twitter has a native desktop application for Twitter that is a simple single column with tabs on the side to manage multiple accounts and all of your messages in a lightweight client that can sit on your desktop.

Colloquy: IRC is still alive and popular these days. The big question is always what the best IRC client is. Our recommendation for a long time has alway been Colloquy; it’s free and very easy to use to connect to IRC servers and get chatting away. For the user who doesn’t mind paying a little bit, there is Linkinus in the Mac App Store, which is the top paid IRC client.

Skype: Even though Microsoft bought Skype, the application is still pretty slick with Facebook integration and is a must for easily video or voice chatting with people over an Internet connection. The application is free for you to voice chat with a group of people without limitation. If you want to video chat with a group of people, however, you’ll have to pay for that service. For most mainstream users, the base Skype system is fine. There’s also the ability to add in your own phone number to the service and the ability to call landlines with Skype Credit.

Utilities

Best OS X Downloads for Any New MacThe Unarchiver: The native extraction utility in OS X is nice, but it just doesn’t do as good of a job as The Unarchiver. The Unarchiver provides more compatibility with extensions ranging from RAR to ISO files, and much more. The application also has a variety of great features to customize what happens with the archived folder and when it is extracted. It’s fast and very user-friendly, which is a must have for files that need extracting.

Cloud: I find myself constantly sharing screenshots to friends and clients needing a simple update on their website design. Combined with the built-in screen shot utility for OS X, Cloud can take those screen shots and upload them to the site, giving you an easy-to-share link to that screen shot.

TeamViewer: Not just for Windows but OS X, too, if you need to access another computer or provide tech support to your friends and family, TeamViewer will do just that. It’s free if you’re using it for non-commercial purposes. If you’re looking for a more professional route, check out GoToAssist, which provides the most features and one-click URLs that allows you instant access to remote computers for support.

Alfred: Sometimes the finder toolbar isn’t enough for finding what you want, and that’s where Alfred comes in. it’s an application that hides itself in the background until you call it up. It gives you all the access that the finder bar gives you, but a lot more. If you quickly need to go to a Web address but won’t be bothered to bring up an entire browser, then you can type in the address to the Alfred bar and it’ll pull up your browser client for you and input the address. It has those features and a lot more to check out. If you’re looking for an alternative to Alfred, check out QuickSilver, which is almost as good.

Growl: If you work within multiple applications, chances are they are enabled for Growl notifications. These are simple notifications that pop up on your desktop to alert you of statuses like someone initiating an IM session with you or the changing of a song in iTunes. It has long been a popular application to install right away; recently it updated and became a part of the App Store. Now you can get it for a small fee, which helps the developer out for creating a better product. If you want an older version for free, though, it’s available on Growl’s website.

Media

Best OS X Downloads for Any New MacVLC: One of the most popular media players out there is VLC because, let’s face it, QuickTime isn’t the best at playing multiple file formats and has many compatibility issues with file formats. VLC comes packed with all the codecs you could ever need to play any video or audio file out there. VLC also leaves a lighter footprint on your Mac than QuickTime and won’t cause it to crash as much. Besides compatibility, it’s also customizable for that perfect home theater computer, as well.

Perian: If you just love QuickTime and won’t change it for another client, check out Perian. It’s a code pack that sits in your preferences panel and gives you access to a wide range of codes that enable QuickTime to play any file — just like VLC.

Picasa: Who doesn’t take pictures these days? One of the biggest problems with taking a lot of pictures is organizing them. Picasa has proven time and time again that it can handle all of your pictures and manage them in organized folders and even upload them to sites like Facebook and Flickr. For the best management of your pictures from your camera, check out Picasa and all its abilities.

SoundFlower: Sometimes you need to reroute audio from one application into another, and that’s where SoundFlower comes in to virtualize an audio source. For example, if you like streaming your gameplay to a website, you can reroute the audio from the game into SoundFlower and then use it as the input setting on the streaming client to send audio to it.

Conclusion

This is just a small portion of the vast amount of applications that are out there to download to your new Mac to make it useful. Obviously, for every situation there are different apps that can be used and downloaded to conform to what you like to do. Let us know in the comments what you use on your Mac!

And if you came here because you just bought a new PC and you were hoping to find Windows software, check out Best Windows Downloads for Any New Computer.

Thieves Can’t Hide Your Mac when You Use ‘Hidden’ Software Protection

Picture this scenario: Someone walks off with your prized MacBook Pro while you are distracted or away from home. You report the theft to the police, who take a report. Hopefully you have insurance to cover your computer loss. Theft of laptop computers at airports number over 600,000 a year. The odds of you getting back your precious computer and the data on it are slim to none. Until now.

MacBook Pro users have a new software called ‘Hidden’ that can help you recover your laptop using identification which includes the following:

1. Hidden software can take pictures of the thief and their surroundings to make locating them easier.

2. Hidden software can take screen shots of what the thief is doing on your system.

3. Hidden software, once activated by the owner, will locate where your laptop is within a few yards of the location where the computer is being used.

What makes the Hidden software even more sneaky is that the thief won’t even know they are being tracked down. The information Hidden records is sent to you for viewing remotely. The police can isolate the location where your laptop is located and catch the crooks right where they are hiding.

Pricing for Hidden is as follows:

1 computer is $15 a year
5 computers is $45 a year
20 computers for $125 a year
100 computers for $395 a year.

On its Web site’s FAQ section, the techies at Hidden software state that installing and uninstalling the software is easy. They also state that thieves cannot uninstall the Hidden software without the administrative password. In addition, the folks at Hidden software state that they will assist you and the police in locating your laptop computer from anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately, the Hidden software works only on Mac computers, like MacBook and MacBook Pro hardware. There is no version for Windows nor for Linux laptop computers. Download Hidden for your Mac.

Comments welcome.

Microsoft ‘Windows 7 Has Sold More Than 350 Million Licenses’

Because I am an MVP [Microsoft Valuable Professional], some may consider my opinion nothing more than parroting the thoughts of Microsoft as a company. One of the things that I enjoy about being an MVP is the fact that not once has Microsoft told me what to write nor suggested I cease writing about a specific subject, even when that subject line may be critical to Microsoft and their products. With this in mind I would like to express my opinion about a blog article by Brandon LeBlanc, a Microsoft employee, in which it states in the article that ‘Windows 7 has sold more than 350 million licenses’, and that this has occurred during the past 18 months.

During the past 18 months I have tried different operating systems on my test computer including a variety of Linux versions. I even tried Mint 10 on my personal work laptop and just about had myself convinced that I could make the switch away from Windows and that Linux could serve my needs. Last December I received a beta laptop from Google known as the Cr-48 which uses the Chrome operating system, again hoping that this notebook could ween me away from Windows.

So why would I want to dump Windows for another operating system? I had to ask myself this question and I can honestly say I haven’t a clue. Each time I have tried walking away, I have returned to my Windows system with open arms. The reason is that Windows is what I am familiar with, has the programs I need and I enjoy using Windows 7. Windows 7 has something that no other operating system has. It can handle office suites, business software with ease and also can handle gaming. Linux, Mac and Chrome can not even compete with Windows on this multi-faceted level. Windows is like the swiss army knife of all operating systems.

I think what we are going to see is a separation of operating systems for specific devices. Apple and Android will continue to dominate the tablet market because both of these operating systems are lite in resource usage and work perfectly on small devices. The Apple Mac remains a niche product for those who want a system meeting their specific needs. Windows will continue to dominate for decades to come because it is a good product.

Windows remains the best operating system on the planet. In my opinion it should come as no surprise that Windows 7 has become so popular in the past 18 months. Windows 7 is the operating system to beat and no one has actually been able to top it on the desktop.

I am sure others of you will have different opinions and chose to voice them loudly and clearly.

Comments welcome.

Source – Blogging Windows

 

 

 

How to Choose Between Two Computers

A LockerGnome reader asks:

I’m going to be starting college in the Fall of 2011 and I am in the hunt for a laptop. I don’t really need a Mac, but I love the ease of use the OS offers. While most of my experience is with a Windows PC, I can’t help but to consider the Mac due to its looks and overall reliability. What do you think?

Deciding between what you need and what you want can be tricky, especially when what you want can help you get the job done in much the same way without failing to achieve the need your alternative would fulfill.

Here are a few suggestions to help you decide between two computers you want, no matter what their brand or operating system may be:

Can I Afford Them?
This is a common question among people considering differences between two pieces of similar technology. Often, the computer with the most power and/or eye candy comes complete with a higher price tag. In this case, you’re deciding between a Mac and a PC, but this decision could easily be between two systems with matching operating systems.

Before you even begin to consider anything else, you should determine if you actually have the financial capacity to grab the pricier option. If you bite off more than you can chew financially, it could lead to serious problems in the short and long term. The sticker shock of some text books, for example, comes as a nasty surprise for many students as they enter college.

Which Choice Will I Be Happier With in a Year?
If you’ve determined that both computers are within your buying range, the next question to ask yourself is whether or not you believe you’ll still be happy with each system a year from your purchase date. Usually, when you buy a computer, it is expected to last anywhere from 2-5 years before becoming obsolete. For many power users, that time period can be perceived to be much shorter and create a buyer’s remorse after the fact.

Even though it is important to consider immediate needs when making your decision, you also need to take in to account what you may be taking for the next year or two. Chemistry doesn’t require powerful hardware to study or work on, but a graphics design or video editing course may. Does the operating system on the computer you choose have the ability to work with the programs you may need to use to get through your coursework?

What Are My Software Needs?
When deciding between OS X and Windows, you may also want to take in to account any software you may need to use to get through your coursework. Are you taking a class that needs you to become proficient with a program that is only available on Windows? This is less of a problem now thanks to more universal programs being developed. Macs are also able to run Windows through programs like Boot Camp or Parallels.

Some systems come with an included suite of software to help you get started. For example, new Macs come with the iLife Suite which gives you fairly powerful video, music, and photo applications that allow you to get right to work without spending more on software. With a Windows machine, you’ve got access to Windows Live Essentials as well as some third-party programs included through the manufacturer.

Do I Have Time to Learn a New Operating System?
If you need to be up and running with your new computer right away, you may not have time to tackle the learning curve of a new operating system. Early frustrations, intensified by stress of a deadline or project, can lead to serious buyer’s remorse. If you’re unfamiliar with an operating system, it’s important to make sure you have a few days to get accustomed to things prior to any desperate deadlines requiring proficiency.

What Are Their Weaknesses?
Lastly, if it looks like a stalemate, examine each option by its weaknesses rather than its strengths. This is where computer shopping can get really confusing. By wiping your mind of all the bells and whistles and concentrating on which one has faults your most willing to overlook, you’re probably going to end up with a choice you’ll be happier with in the long run.

Does one have terrible battery life? Is battery life that important to you? Is one heavy and hard to lug around, especially when compared to the other? Do you plan to take it with you often? Hopefully using this method, the choice will be easier than concentrating on the shiny bits. 16 gigs of RAM doesn’t amount to much if the battery dies on you during class.

Budget Video Podcast Setup

LockerGnome reader John asks:

“I am going to start doing video podcasts and am in the process of picking out what gear [I want to use]. I don’t want to use my MacBook Pro iSight as the quality just isn’t there. As I am not up to speed with the current equipment available these days, I was wondering if you have any suggestions? My budget is around $400.”

Well John, you’re definitely entering the world of online video at the right time. The trick to finding a good video setup is determining exactly what you want from your vlog. Do you want it to be a pro-level rig with green screen and 1080p video? Would you want something a bit more along the lines of you sitting in front of a camera, giving your thoughts on various topics? If you’re looking for a good setup without a lot of investment, here are some ideas that might help you out:

  • Audio is Key – Even if your video looks fantastic, and your edits are absolutely perfect, your audio can make or break your ability to maintain an audience’s interest. Weak volume, echos, background noise, and overdriven audio are clear indications of a poorly planned production and can drive your audience away.
  • Check Your Lighting – You won’t find too many most watched videos on YouTube that have poor lighting. If your subject is lost in a shadow or covered in low lighting artifacts, you’ve got to add another lamp behind the camera. Chris Pirillo, Ray William Johnson, and Philip D. Franco are all fairly well lit in their relatively simple productions, and that small detail makes a huge difference in their overall quality.
  • Keep it Modular – As your video podcast grows, so should its budget. Investing in an all-in-one solution may be a great solution in the short-term, but that means reinvesting in every aspect of your show’s equipment when it comes time to upgrade.

Budget Video Podcast Setup

So, what kind of setup can you put together on a tight budget? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Using an iPhone
    • iPhone or iPod Touch ($200-250)
    • AT2020 or Blue Yeti ($60-120)
    • PC or Mac
    • Windows Live Movie Maker or iMovie (Free)
    • GarageBand or Audacity (Free)
    • With this solution, you’re going to want to record audio separately using GarageBand, Audacity, or any other quality audio recording software. The iPhone and iPod touch provide decent video, but their audio could use some improvement. Once you’re set to edit the video, simply sync up the two audio tracks, detach audio from the video, and mute it. This way you’ll have your best audio track in play. This may not work in situations where you’re out and about, but the audio at your primary filming location should be your best.
  • Pocket Camcorder
    • Bloggie Duo Camera ($165) (Alternatively: The Kodak Zi8 and PlaySport) ($130-150)
    • AT2020 or Blue Yeti ($60-120)
    • PC or Mac
    • Windows Live Movie Maker or iMovie (Free)
    • GarageBand or Audacity (Free)
    • This solution is a lot like the first, only using a dedicated camera which can give you slightly better results. If you decide to go with the Kodak PlaySport, you’ll have the ability to go underwater with your videos as well. One advantage to the Bloggie Duo is its self-facing monitor so you can position yourself as you’re recording for best results. Audio is a bit better on the Bloggie Duo though it’s always recommended to have the best possible audio when recording. Room echo can kill a good video.
  • Webcam Solution
    • Logitech C910 or Pro 9000 ($60-80)
    • AT2020 or Blue Yeti ($60-120)
    • PC or Mac
    • Logitech Recording Software (PC) or Photo Booth (Mac)
    • Windows Live Movie Maker or iMovie (Free)
    • This solution only works in front of your computer, but it does fall in line with your original setup. The C910 gives you 1080p recording capability with a quality camera while the 9000 pro is incredibly simple to use and delivers remarkable 720p video. In some cases, I’ve found the 9000 to be more reliable software-wise and have used it over the C910. This will hopefully change as Logitech tweaks the software. Because audio should be recorded live with the video and you can set the source, you may not need to do any difficult audio edits after the initial recording.

How to Get Clear Stills from Video

A LockerGnome reader asks:

“Could you let me know as to how I might get a better quality snapshot of a paused video recording (playback)? I’m trying to avoid hazy printouts.”

This is a great question. Unfortunately, the very nature of compressed video works against you here. As long as there is movement in a frame, you are likely to end up with slightly blurry stills. There are a few solutions that can help your chances of achieving a solid snapshot from a compressed video file.

Windows
For Windows users, Video Snapshot Genius is a program that takes snapshots automatically as a video plays, giving you the ability to pick the best out of a larger group of photos to use. Through this program, you can export snapshots as a single image or a thumbnail gallery.

You can also run the video through Windows Live Movie Maker and hit “take a picture” when you reach a spot that looks good enough to capture. The trick here is to keep navigating through the video until you come across a frame that looks the way you want it to.

Windows and Mac
VLC
also has an option under the video menu to take a snapshot of the file you’re viewing. It’s best to pause and navigate through rather than capture something as it’s playing live. This way you have the best chance possible of getting a good snapshot.

Patience is the key here, as it can sometimes be difficult to find a frame free of motion blur and/or compression artifacts. With a little luck and time, you should be able to capture a great image.

Should I Wait Until WWDC 2011 to Buy a MacBook Pro?

In a recent email, a reader asks, “Do you think I should wait until WWDC and the release of Mac OS X Lion to purchase a MacBook Pro, or simply buy one now and upgrade later?”

That’s a great question. On one hand, right now is the best time to buy a MacBook Pro since the new line just came out and you don’t run the risk of an upgrade being right around the corner. On the other hand, you may need to deal with the hassle of purchasing Lion and upgrading within a couple months of receiving your Mac.

To date, the only official estimate for Lion’s release is sometime in the summer of 2011, which may or may not coincide with WWDC. Your wait could very well be shorter, or longer than expected.

This all boils down to personal needs and preferences. If you plan on purchasing a MacBook Pro with the solid-state drive option, you’ll probably find TRIM feature included with Lion to be quite useful. That’s not to say this won’t be available to you if you decide to upgrade later.

Currently, OS X Lion is expected to release at a retail price of $129, which follows suit with previous major releases excluding the more recent Snow Leopard which acted more like a minor update than a stand-alone OS version. That’s not to say that Apple won’t change their usual pricing in this case, as they have been reducing their software prices in general lately.

Overall, the decision is yours to make. You can save a little money and hold off until Lion sees the light of day, or have an extra couple of months with an amazing system that works just fine in the meantime.

Why Macs Cost More Than PCs

Every time I hear the same argument about Macs costing so much more than a Windows PC, part of me wants to break out the calculator and explain exactly why there is a price difference. Believe it or not, you’re not paying for a “brand” as much as you are paying for actual differences in hardware and software.

First, let’s talk bloatware. Bloatware is this generally software installed in a new computer that is intended to advertise something. These are usually shareware and trial programs that offer anti-virus protection, office programs, etc. What happens here, is the computer manufacturer gets paid a significant amount of money to include these programs on their computers. This then offsets the cost and allows the company to pass on the savings to the customer. That $700 laptop is really a $900 laptop with a couple hundred dollars worth of sponsored software pre-installed.

Another difference between the two systems is included software. It can be argued that OS X and Windows are roughly the same in terms of cost and overall functionality. One does things differently than the other, but they’re both operating systems. Where the big differences lie is in Apple’s decision to include the iLife Suite with each new Mac. This suite includes a basic photo manager, audio, music, and video editors, and a DVD creation program. If you searched for programs with the same basic functionality on the PC, they would come with a significant price tag. Microsoft has made significant improvements in Windows Movie Maker and other programs offered with their Windows Live suite, giving Apple some added competition in this area recently.

Build quality is usually brought up in the Mac vs. PC debates to a roll of the eyes. The fact of the matter is that unibody designs, polycarbonate and aluminum built materials with actual glass over the trackpad and screen, and other little touches make Macs a strong competitor to even the highest priced PCs in terms of build quality. If you wanted to buy an all-in-one PC with the same screen resolution as an iMac, you’ll easily find yourself spending the same amount for either machine. You may also trade off build material quality for a touch screen, which may work out better for you depending on your actual needs.

Hardware specs are one area where PC users feel they have the best value. Macs usually come with lackluster video card choices, so-so CPU options at lower price points, and have a reputation for being behind the times. What PC users don’t take in to account is the higher demands of a Windows-based PC. Just sitting on idle, the Windows machine eats clock cycles and RAM at often double the amount of the Mac. OS X also addresses kernel requests differently than Windows. If you were to watch a movie in 1080p on a Windows machine and a Mac with the same exact hardware specs, you might find the Windows machine takes longer to load the video and may have more jerks during playback. This is because of a few fundamental differences in how the operating system communicates with the processor. There is a reason the majority of the movie industry does their edits on Mac machines, and have for quite some time.

While this article may appear to be strongly supportive of OS X and bashing of Windows, it’s important to remember that each system has its own areas where it absolutely excels. If you’re a gamer, for example, you probably want to go with a PC since they not only get the first crack at most games, but they also have targeted hardware for that very purpose. Apple has recently started to push their systems as a gaming platform, but frankly the PC is leaps and bounds ahead of the Mac in this area. There are many advantages to going with Windows over OS X in this regard. What matters most is what you intend to do with the computer.

The cost difference between the two isn’t as high as one might think. You get a strong value in included software, no bloatware, better build materials on average, and in many cases more punch per clock cycle. If you wanted to achieve all of this on a Windows machine, you’d likely be spending the same, if not more.

How to Take a Picture With Your Webcam

Taking a photo using your webcam can be a quick and easy way to add an image to your online profile, get a shot of that new gadget you just have to show someone, and even just capture the rare moment your hair looks absolutely perfect. Taking the photo doesn’t have to be a difficult process, and there are several ways to do it.

First, the software included with your webcam probably has the feature built right in. If your webcam didn’t come with a disc loaded with drivers and software, you may be able to find them on the manufacturer’s website. Once installed, reboot your computer and take a look at your taskbar to see if any new programs have been loaded. If not, they may be in your start menu and the folder will generally be highlighted for the first few days after installing.

If, for example, you use a Logitech webcam on a Windows machine, the control software starts up automatically by default and waits in your taskbar near the system clock. As with just about any included webcam software, the splash screen should give you two obvious options to either record video or take a picture. From there, it’s just a matter of following the instructions on your screen.

Taken Using Photo Booth

Mac systems have a program pre-installed that is very handy when it comes to taking photos with a webcam. Photo Booth is located in the applications folder by default and offers users a variety of cool effects and backdrop options. You can even create your own custom backdrop and use that as sort of a makeshift chromakey. In the image to the right, I turned on a dim light and chose the “Glow” effect. Once the shot is taken, Photo Booth sends a copy in to your pictures directory and gives you the option to upload it right away or send it to iPhoto where you can do a little more editing yourself.

There are several options available through cloud services including one service called Cameroid which gives you a lot of the same functionality Photo Booth does, without the requirement of having a Mac. They also include some frame elements as well as a few effects not found on Photo Booth or most webcam-included software.

Taking Using Cameroid

Another cloud service offering webcam snapshots and hosting is Seenly which looks and exacts almost exactly like Photo Booth for the Mac.

For Linux users, Cheese is a great little webcam photo app that allows you to send your snapshots off to Flickr. Currently, the program is optimized for users of Gnome 2.28 and later. Cheese was developed as part of Google’s Summer of Code 2007.

No matter how you choose to take your photos, remember that lighting is important and having a messy background is never attractive. If you have a preferred method for taking snapshots using your webcam, please comment below and let us know.

Best Choice for a First Time Mac User

In an email, the question was raised what is the best Mac for a first-time buyer that just wants to do some basic web browsing, photo editing, and light video editing? While the biggest and most expensive models can accomplish these tasks very easily, let’s take a look at which options would best suit these needs.

The current line of Mac minis is capable of doing everything listed, even basic movie editing through iMovie, however, if you want a smooth experience with smooth multitasking, you’re probably best going with an iMac. The i3 processor is quick and responsive, even when dealing with 1080p video on iMovie. Having a capable monitor built-in is a big plus and in terms of value makes up a lot of the difference price-wise between the Mac mini and the iMac.

If you want to go with something more portable, the MacBook is a good budget choice for web browsing and photo editing but not recommended for video editing due to it’s underpowered processor and lower resolution display. A MacBook pro at a couple hundred dollars more will give you a powerful platform with a capable of handling quite a bit.

Here are some builds I think bring the best price for performance without being overkill for what you’re asking for:

iMac 21.5-inch: 3.06GHz ($1,199)
This is the base model iMac though the differences between it and the step up are minimal considering what you’re wanting to do with it.

Mac Mini 2.4 GHz: 320GB ($699)
One of the wonderful advantages to the Apple warranty is that you don’t have to have to buy or install additional RAM through them. A $100 upgrade to 4GB of memory can cost a fraction of that if you use quality after market RAM. See apple.com for spec requirements and installation instructions.

This particular model is the least powerful out of the suggested options, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re planning on doing a lot of full HD video editing, but it will handle basic tasks fairly easily. Make sure you have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse at the ready since they don’t come included with the Mac Mini.

13-inch MacBook Pro: 2.3GHz ($1,199)
The MacBook Pro combines a decent amount of performance with portability. The Core i5 processor is significantly faster than the one found on the MacBook and the Mac Mini. Even large external monitors will connect to the MacBook Pro without overwhelming the video processor.

As far as software goes, iMovie is a capable movie editing platform included with new Macs without any added cost. It works very well to do most basic tasks and encoding your final product can be done through QuickTime, also included, with decent quality.

Photo editing can be done on a very basic level through iPhoto, though if you would like a powerful alternative without adding to the price, try Gimp. Gimp is the open source answer to PhotoShop and includes a lot of great features.

Cyberduck Review

Looking for a solid FTP client without having to drop a lot of cash can be a real chore. You might find yourself going from program to program only to discover that you need a credit card to unlock that one feature you absolutely need. In addition to that, file transfer clients are often complex and confusing, especially to someone unfamiliar with FTP.

For both Windows and Mac, Cyberduck is an open source solution that works very well and includes support for WebDAV, Amazon S3, Google Storage, Windows Azure, Rackspace Cloud Files, and even Google Docs in addition to standard FTP and SFTP protocols.

Unlike many open source programs, the interface is far from clunky and can actually be pretty intuitive. All you need to do is select what kind of server you’re connecting to, enter your login and password and you’re done. Everything else is pretty much drag and drop.

If you favor a program that gives you tons of features with a more advanced interface, FileZilla is also a great open source alternative as well.

Why I Switched to Mac

Many of you reading the title of this article and the name of this blog are probably thinking, “How is a Mac frugal?” This decision wasn’t made with the idea in mind to sacrifice luxury for a lower price, it was made with the idea in mind of getting the most polished and complete experience at the lowest price. I’m a giant advocate for open source but many programs just need a commercial budget to allow for development and design time to make things work smoothly and intuitively. In areas like video editing, there is little room for obstacles and hurdles between me and completing projects.

As a game reviewer, Windows was and continues to be my operating system of choice for gaming. Windows 7 has never let me me down in terms of performance and compatibility with the games I love. For this reason, my Asus G72 remains an important part of my home computing world.

Video editing is something I like to do but quick edits are often very difficult in Adobe Premiere. For this reason a quick and dirty solution is needed and few programs have worked as smoothly and completely as iMovie which is included free with every new Mac. Windows Movie Maker has poor support for popular formats, terribly restrictive editing features, and a miserable encoding system. iMovie coupled with Quicktime is a solid combination that works very well when you’re needing something published to YouTube in a short amount of time. Unless the project I’m working on requires advanced editing techniques like 3D motion, object rendering, and video effects, iMovie is typically my default editing program.

On Windows, I use either Audacity or Adobe Audition for audio editing. These programs each have their strengths and weaknesses, and they have roughly $300 between them in price. Audacity lacks a lot of the functionality I need in day-to-day work so my need for something more full-fledged comes with a price. Garage Band, included free on new Macs, gives me audio editing and publishing that sits somewhere between Audition and Audacity in terms of features and quality. I know a lot of open source fanatics out there are probably steaming at this last statement. Please keep in mind I’ve written articles about how great Audacity is in the past and what few changes it needs to overtake Audition and compete more directly with Pro Tools.

Also on the topic of audio and video, OSX seems to have a better system of handling audio and video playback. Even on lesser hardware, videos play and edit smoothly with minimal jerks and pauses where they may be unwatchable otherwise. This is partially due to the way OSX addresses these calls and prioritizes CPU usage. While it isn’t a perfect system, it has surprised me again and again just how much more I can do on “lesser” hardware specifications thanks to a more optimized OS.

I also tend to do a lot of screen streaming on the web. A great program for doing this is CamTwist for OSX (free) which allows you to stream pretty much anything you or your computer can see with a multitude of text options and effects. The closest program to this on the PC is WebCam Max which costs money and has less features. While a single third-party program like this shouldn’t be a determining factor to most, it can be if this is important to you.

In a way, I bought a Mac to save money on all the expensive software I had to buy for the PC. If you add up Adobe Premiere and Audition, the difference is staggering and is more than made up for in the price difference between the two systems. So for folks that constantly complain that the Mac is too expensive, it depends on what you use it for.

Mac OS X Trojan Gains Ground

It is widely known among Mac OS X users that they have a very tiny window of being infected with malware due to the nature of the operating system and how it is developed. As Apple reduces and makes Macs less expensive, it attracts a certain group that has a sole purpose to infect computers and use them for their own nasty deeds. To date, most of the exploits have been what most call “kiddie play.” Well kiddie play no longer, it seems that now attacks are becoming more complex and destructive.

The security firm Sophos has uncovered and brought to us a recent development that blows the security of Macs wide open: a trojan called OSX/MusMinim-A. The underground hacking community is taking notice of this exploit and taking it over. What this trojan exploits is the remote access of the system, fooling the user into entering their administrator password allowing the hacker to gain control of the computer.

As Sophos explains, this trojan is in its very infantile stages, but lately development around it has exploded. The development of this trojan can be implemented in many ways and poses a big threat to all applications. With that, another widely seen example is the RSPlug.A; this trojan has been in the wild for quite some time, and it disguises itself to be a plugin required to view a video file but modifies the DNS settings, redirecting users to malicious Web sites.

Sophos did extensive testing with the new trojan and says that even with the announcement of Snow Leopard, that has malware protection built-in, it is not safe. The tests only show that Snow Leopard’s protection is against Safari threats. When the RSPlug.A malware was placed on a simple USB key, it was not blocked from running.

The only solid way to protect your Mac is stop downloading what you shouldn’t be downloading and just use Apple’s App Store. Just like on the iPhone, all applications are checked and made sure to be virus free.