If you need to run a few Windows programs, the MacBook can handle Windows, too.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Looking for a back-to-school laptop? MacBook is ideal

Aug. 12, 2007

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard

   You're running out of time to choose a good laptop computer for the student who's heading back to school.
   Prices are generally easy on your wallet this year, but don't forget to figure in the hidden costs of some models. You might find that paying a few hundred dollars more can save you (and your student) a lot of trouble over a two- or three-year period.
   Despite a higher list price than the cheapest Windows laptops, Apple's hot-selling MacBook laptop ($1,099; www.apple.com) is an ideal choice for high school and college students. The MacBook sports built-in wireless networking using Apple's own connection software, which works automatically to locate and connect to wi-fi hotspots and school networks. (The wi-fi connection software in Windows is diabolical by comparison.)
   The MacBook has a 13.3-inch display, perfect for students with cramped desk space. If the cool white case looks too iPodish for you, consider the all-black version. It's the same in every way except color, but Apple charges $100 more. (Such style has an entry fee, no doubt.) I like one other option -- the clear, hard-surface screen. The standard screen has a matte surface. (There's no extra cost for the hard screen.)
   The MacBook also has a built-in video camera called iSight. It takes still pictures, too. A microphone is part of the setup, too. AV (audio-video) chats are easy with the software included with the laptop.
   All Apple models use a different, and much safer, computer operating system than Windows computers use, called OS X. Although Windows users have to defend their computers against an estimated 200,000 viruses, trojan horses and worms, Mac users don't have to worry about any of these; there are no active viruses or other "malware" for modern Macs. There's no spyware, either -- a huge advantage for Mac users.
   That means, as you might expect, that Mac users don't have to bother with antivirus software, spyware detectors or weekly shutdowns to clean out the bad stuff. But don't overlook one of the biggest bonuses: When colleges are forced to ban students from their networks because Windows viruses and worms are flooding their connections, students who use Macs don't have to worry -- and, usually, they don't have to stop using the network. I've head from many students who told me they've been able to keep working on their MacBooks when their colleges ordered all Windows computers off their networks.
   Colleges and high schools expect students to have mastered the skills of word processing with Microsoft Word, and many even require students to know how to use PowerPoint, the presentation software from Microsoft. You can get those two programs (along with Microsoft Excel and other applications) if you buy the student-teacher edition of Microsoft Office ($150; www.microsoft.com/mac/products/office2004). If you buy Office before Sept. 3, 2007, you can get a $25 rebate, too (www.microsoft.com/mac/go/promotions).
   (Windows users sometimes seem surprised that Microsoft has a version of Office for the Mac. In fact, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, the two most important parts of Office, were created for the Mac long before the Windows versions were offered.)
   Apple says 12,000 programs are available for Macs with the OS X operating system, but the MacBook has an unusual feature for students who might want to play Windows games or try out a specialty program in Windows. The MacBook (like its more expensive sibling, the MacBook Pro) can turn itself into a Windows computer in a few seconds. This feature is built into the laptop. All the user has to do is supply a copy of Windows to install on the Mac. (For more on this, see www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec041606.html and www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec112606.html.)
   Be sure to check Apple's educational discount, too. Go to the Apple store online (http://store.apple.com) and click the link under "Education" at the right. Or ask about the discount at your local Apple store. Apple has retail stores around the country and overseas. In Central New York, the Apple store is in the upper level of Carousel Mall.