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Monday, December 05, 2005

 

Thoughts on buying a computer

A friend has asked me for advice on buying a computer, I thought I would share my limited knowledge with my blog readers too.

First thing to consider is the choice of operating system. There are basically three operating systems available. Most people opt for a Microsoft one. Most of the computers that I have purchased have come with an Apple operating system. Some choose Linux. If you are considering Linux then you probably have more expertise than I have. Therefore I will not include Linux in my observations which I trust will be useful for those with less expertise than me.

The first consideration when choosing an operating system is what you will use the computer for. For most people who have basic computer needs I believe that Apple's OS X is much more stable and much simpler to use than any of the Microsoft systems so far. People who have never used an Apple computer tell me they wouldn't know how to use one. However I have learned how to use a computer on Apples and I find that most of the knowledge I have gained can be used to figure out how to use a Microsoft system so it should be just as simple the other way. Perhaps there is not much more difference between Apple and Microsoft than there is between different versions of Microsoft.

A few years back a friend asked my advice before buying a computer. He was just starting university. I said that Apple suited me but it may not do what he wanted. He needed to check at the university and see if the lecturers could accept Apple formats. At the university he asked people why they recommended one operating system or another. Those who recommended Microsoft invariably said, 'Because it's what everyone else uses.' Whereas the Apple users could give specific reasons why their computer or operating system better suited their needs. My friend bought an Apple Macintosh and had no problem with the format of his assignments.

In the past there had been compatibility issues between Microsoft and Apple however with the latest Apples this should not be the case—not so far as sharing files goes. The only files I have difficulty reading are Powerpoint shows. People send me clever files they think I might enjoy as email attachments. I can recognise them by the file extension of 'pps'. If this was important to me I would buy Powerpoint and instal it on my Mac. But I don't think there has been one that I can't live without, therefore I simply delete the file and forgo the pleasure.

When people send me Word files I can open them either in Appleworks or Text Edit which come included in the price of my Macintosh computer. I can also create files in these programs and save them as Word files that can be attached to an email and opened by my friends who have a Microsoft Windows operating system.

Microsoft Word is definitely a superior word processor to the one in Appleworks. If I was doing a lot of writing I might consider buying it. In fact, some say that Word for Mac is a superior program to Word for Windows. However I choose not to run any Microsoft programs on my computer. This is not a bias but a safety precaution.

At the moment I believe there are no viruses that affect Macintosh OS X. There are thousands that affect Windows operating systems. There are, however, viruses that affect Microsoft programs such as Word and Outlook Express when they are installed on an Apple computer. Therefore I prefer not to use such programs. There are alternatives that are suitable for my needs. I have had no problems with viruses on this computer. I'm sure viruses have come to me in emails but they just don't do anything. However there are no guarantees where viruses are concerned. Still, virus writers prefer to create more havoc rather than less. They tend to target the more popular Microsoft programs. I think we Apple users will be safe for some time.

When comparing computer prices it is important to consider the software that comes with the computer. With my Mac, included in the price, I got the following:

Appleworks: includes a word processor, spreadsheet (compatible with Excel), database, drawing and slideshow. Unfortunately Appleworks is perhaps a little dated now but it is still very useful. A few years ago while I was running a business, 90% of the work I did on my computer was done on Appleworks.

Text Edit: a very simple to use but light-on-features word processor. I use Text Edit for most of my writing these days. When the writing is complete I copy and paste it into whatever program is appropriate. For example, I am writing this in Text Edit, I can paste it into my Mail program as an email or paste it into the web browser to upload for my blog.

Mail: a sophisticated email program.

Address Book: a sophisticated data base for keeping contacts, works with Mail.

Safari: a sophisticated web browser.

iPhoto: stores and processes photos, is simple to use and probably meets the needs of most casual digital photographers.

iTunes: great for storing and playing music.

iCal: a calendar/diary program.

DVD Player

Calculator

Chess

iChat: a chat program that I never use.

Preview: opens files from many different formats.

World Book Encyclopedia

Garage Band: a virtual recording studio

and a few other useful little programs. Most of these programs have similar interfaces. They are designed to work in the same way as each other so what you learn when you use one program can be transfered to another. When appropriate the programs work together. I bought my computer over a year ago. The software bundle may be slightly different now and it may differ from country to country but it will be similar.

When I tell my friends in Asia about all of this the usual response is that they can get pirate programs for free or for little more. Perhaps you can but how well do they work? There is no guarantee on pirate programs. While they are supposed to be exact copies, my observation is that bugs are not uncommon with them. But there is no one to take your problem to. You have to solve it yourself. At least with Apple software it is guaranteed along with the computer.

You might think I am a little biased towards Apple. Perhaps but not as much as some. There are Apple freaks who buy every update that Apple releases. I am still using the OS and software that came with my computer. It still does the job I bought it for. There have been updates available which will improve the performance of my computer but at a price. I have looked at them and have decided that I can live without them. I am not that fanatical. And IMO, my computer is still way ahead of those with any Microsoft operating system.

If you ask a Microsoft user about Apple they may make derogatory comments. If so, ask them how much time they have spent on an Apple. I use both systems often. In work situations I put in 250 hours or more each year on computers with Microsoft systems.

Hope that helps you choose the operating system now for the hardware.

If you decided on the Microsoft OS then you have thousands of choices for a computer. They range from incredibly cheap to quite expensive. Most of the cheap ones have brand names you may have never heard of. The better known brands are likely to be more expensive. Most of the computers I have used in work situations have probably been cheaper brands. I can't say I am over impressed with them.

I have friends who have IBM ThinkPads and when I use these computers I get the feeling that I am using a quality product. Like my Mac, they are not perfect. Like my Mac, they occasionally break down but like my Mac they are worth repairing. You can choose to save your money and take your chances or you can buy a product that has a name and is likely to last.

A geeky friend once told me it was a better proposition to buy a cheap computer and fix the problems that arise. It is—for geeks who can fix their own problems. But for the rest of us, we have to give money to a highly paid technician to keep our computer going. I'd rather spend a little more up front than have the troubles later.

If you decide on the Apple Macintosh operating system you have fewer choices. At the moment it is only available for computers that are made by Apple. That might change but at the time of writing that is the situation. None of Apple's computers come into the cheap-and-nasty price bracket. They do however have models that are quite competitive considering what you get for your money. Even at the cheaper end of Apple's price range you are still buying quality.

A few years back MacAddict magazine ran an article where they looked at what had to be done to destroy a Macintosh computer. They started by dropping it from waist height and then treated it progressively worse, even having it run over by a truck. Yes, eventually it gave up but it was amazing how much abuse it could take before this happened.

I once dropped my Macintosh iBook onto the concrete floor of a computer lab at Mahasarakham University. I was trying to carry too much and it slipped from my hands. I had not turned it off before this happened. When the students in the lab heard the crash they all turned their heads and gasped out loud. 'Don't worry. It's a Mac,' I said calmly. I picked it up and took it back to my own desk. The OS had crashed. I pressed the start button and the computer restarted with no problems.

One of the disadvantages of buying a Mac is that when you do need to get it serviced you had better not be in some remote place. If you have a Microsoft OS anyone who knows anything about computers can fix it. However I will not let anyone without Mac experience touch the inside of my computer. And such people can be hard to find. My hard drive died when I was in Mahasarakham. Yes, it does happen. No, not the same computer that I dropped. The computer was under warranty but I had to take it several hundred kilometers to Bangkok to get it fixed. Apple have a good international warranty but you have to get the computer to an authorised Apple service centre. Once it is out of warranty I would still want to do that if I had a problem.

The other negative about buying an Apple computer is that if you have specialised needs there may not be software available for you. Game freaks usually buy Microsoft OS. If there is any other software you particularly want to use, check to see if there is a Macintosh version available before you buy a Mac.

Whatever computer you decide on you also need to consider the specifications you require. At the cheaper end of the scale manufacturers, including Apple, usually cut costs by cutting back on what any experienced computer user would think of as basic. Don't buy a computer with less than 512 mb of RAM. Consider buying even more RAM if you can afford it or if you plan to use your computer for memory intensive tasks such as photo editing or music creation.

How much storage space do you need on your hard drive? Basic operating systems and software take up quite a lot these days. I bought my computer with 30 GB of storage. If I was buying now I would buy at least twice this. Anyone who expects to store large amounts of photos, movies or music would need to consider accordingly.

Good luck with your selection. May your new computer give you as much pleasure as mine does me.

Comments:
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I find it weird how one person hate microsoft but love linux?I mean it seem to me it so emtional the hate,I ahve tried firefox and I dislike that my favorite places is gone.So back I am with bill gate :) unix operating systemhttp://www.downloadcomputergames.com/
 
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