Cool stuff: Gifts for new Mac owner

Despite the downturn, Mac sales continue unabated. Whether it's a result of the Windows XP-to-Windows 7 upgrade debacle, the hip "Get a Mac" ads, or a halo effect from the successful iPod and iPhone lines, many consumers are probably celebrating their first holiday season as Mac users.

My sister-in-law is one such convert, and as a dutiful relative, I've tried to reflect her new status in my holiday shopping. But what do you get a new Mac user? My own power-user needs are very different from hers, but I eventually realized that regardless of the level of tech-savviness, every Mac user has the same basic needs.

Cool stuff

With that in mind, I've compiled this list of gifts for the new Mac user and checked it twice. I've chosen software, hardware, books and more that are all under $100, with many costing less than $50. You'll find something here for the switcher in your life -- or you can forward this list as a gentle hint about what you might like to find in your own stocking.

Easing the transition

Despite the Macintosh's reputation for being easy to use, it's still a foreign machine to someone accustomed to working the Windows way. However, ever since Apple switched to Intel inside, the Macintosh can run Windows as well as any Dell. It takes a bit of extra software to do it, though.

Each Mac now comes with Boot Camp, which lets users choose their start-up operating system du jour, be it Mac OS X or Windows. A more seamless experience is offered by Parallels Desktop for Mac ($80) and VMware Fusion ($80), both of which run Windows software in the Mac environment. For an extra $20, the Switch to Mac edition of Parallels includes cables, software and tutorials for migrating data and applications from a Windows machine to a Mac.

But the main benefits of the Mac are found in its native operating system, so the sooner your new user makes the transition, the better. Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual, Snow Leopard Edition ($30), released just this month, describes familiar Windows processes and their Macintosh equivalents, including how to translate data from one to the other. Users interested in the Mac's tools for producing, editing and organizing digital media might benefit from Visual QuickStart Guides for iPhoto and other programs in the iLife suite.

And for ongoing news of new Mac developments, there's always Macworld, Seth Weintraub's blog AppleInk and (need we mention it?) Computerworld's own ongoing coverage.

Games

Though few people buy a Macintosh for the games, there are some great titles that have made their way to Mac OS X and provide a pleasant diversion for anywhere from a few minutes to an entire weekend.

Peggle ($20) is a casual game akin to The Price is Right's Plinko, where players drop pellets from the top of the screen and see how many bricks they can hit on the way down. World of Goo ($20) is a physics-based point-and-click puzzler in which imprisoned blobs of goo are assembled into structures that their fellow goo balls can scale to freedom. And Braid ($10) is a 2-D platformer like Super Mario Bros. but with fluid temporal mechanics that send the player backward and forward in time. Each of these games has a free playable demo.

More involved games that would appeal to hard-core gamers include The Sims 3 ($50), Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 ($30), and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare ($55).

Storage

Mac OS X has a better built-in backup utility than almost any other operating system -- simply connect a backup drive and Time Machine will do the rest. For a new Mac user to take advantage of this feature, he'll need the hardware to go with it -- usually an external hard drive.

Since Macs come with hard drives ranging from 160GB to 1TB, an external hard drive should accommodate that volume while leaving room to grow. A 1TB Western Digital MyBook for Mac comes in at just under $100, depending on where you shop.

If you have a spare hard drive lying around, perhaps from a previous upgrade, you can be even more economical -- sticking it in an external case will cost just a few dollars and put an old drive back into service. Be sure the enclosure is the right one for an IDE drive or a SATA drive.

Gloves

If your new Mac user is a student, chances are he or she got a free iPod Touch with the purchase, courtesy of Apple's annual back-to-school promotion. Mobile devices with capacitive touch screens aren't the easiest to use during these cold winter months, though -- unless you have the right gear.

Tavo Gloves ($30) have specially designed fingertips that conduct electrical impulses to an iPod's or iPhone's screen without exposing the user's hands to the cold. For a less elaborate but more affordable alternative, try Freehands Gloves (starting at $20, although they range up to $70 for cashmere), whose fingertips simply fold back, revealing the finger while keeping the rest of the hand warm.

Gift cards

If you're not sure what your favorite Mac users want, why not let them decide for themselves? Apple offers three kinds of gift card: an Apple gift card, good for any product in its online or retail stores; an iTunes gift card, which can be redeemed for music in the iTunes Store (all new Macs come with the iTunes software preinstalled); or an iPhone gift card, which can be applied to the purchase of a new iPhone.

The gift of time

If you're reading Computerworld, chances are you already know a thing or two about IT. Make yourself available as a resource to new Mac users by volunteering your time and expertise. Arrange a day to sit down together and review each piece of software they're using and might be having trouble with. This could be the most affordable gift of all -- or, depending on your patience, the most expensive.

Apple offers a similar support program, One to One, that costs $99 a year but is available only as an add-on with the purchase of a Mac.

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Ken Gagne

Computerworld (US)
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