Stop pining for that new Mac. Get one that's almost new -- a refurbished Mac, from Apple's own online store.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Cheapskate's holiday guide to iPods, HDTVs and GPS devices

Nov. 30, 2008
This is Part 1 of a 2-part Cheapskate's Buying Guide.

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

    Nobody gave you and me $800 billion to spend on holiday gifts this year. So let's see what will fit into our meager budgets when we're shopping for computers and software.
   It's no secret that I recommend Apple's Mac computers rather than Windows PCs. Macs last longer, need fewer repairs and shrug off Windows viruses and spyware. They're also delightful to look at and use. But, as if you didn't know this already, they're hardly cheap.
   So do your budget a favor and stop pining for that new Mac. Get one that's almost new -- a refurbished Mac, from Apple's own online store. Refurbished Macs are always sold with new warranties and are generally less than a few months old. They're discounted quite a bit. One of our laptops at home is an Apple MacBook Pro that sold new for $2795. We bought it as a refurb for $1995.
   To find a refurbished Mac, go to the online Apple store at store.apple.com/us. Type the word "refurbished" (without quotes) in the search form at the upper left. (The search form has a spyglass icon at the left end.) On the page that opens, click the "Shop now" button under the headline that says "Refurbished Mac."
   Look through the list. If you don't see the Mac you want, wait a few minutes and try again. The list changes quickly at this time of year. When you do see a Mac you'd like to buy, don't wait to purchase it. It will surely be sold to someone else if you delay.
   The laptop Mac I recommend most strongly is the MacBook. It comes with a Webcam and microphone, has plenty of memory and hard drive space, and includes, as all Macs do, Apple's superb iLife suite of programs.
   For a desktop Mac, the 20-inch iMac is almost perfect. I say "almost" because the 24-inch model is closer to ideal, but costs quite a bit more. I saw a 20-inch refurbished iMac selling for $999 at the Apple online store, with a 24-inch version selling for $1,299.
   If you must have a Windows PC and need a laptop, try the online discounter called UsedLaptops.com at (of course) www.usedlaptops.com. My oldest Windows laptop, which I sometimes use when I teach Windows software, came from this site, at a huge bargain ($2,988 list price, $475 selling price).
   Here's where we come to the real cheapskate part. Buying software at a time when banks don't know a mortgage from a gas gauge is a no-no. So here's my list of free software that just about everybody needs.
   If you think you need Microsoft Office: Get off the Microsoft treadmill and get the free replacement called OpenOffice. There are versions for Windows, Linux PCs and Macs. Here's where to get it.
   Windows OpenOffice: http://download.openoffice.org.
   Linux and Mac OpenOffice: http://download.openoffice.org/other.html. (Be sure to choose Version 3.0, not an earlier version.)
   Mac users who have older, non-Intel Macs should choose NeoOffice, based on OpenOffice (and also free) from www.neooffice.org.
   If you think you need a better e-mail program -- one that's safer than the Windows software you're using now, maybe -- you could not do better than Thunderbird, the free mail software from the Firefox (and Mozilla) project. Get it from www.mozilla.com/thunderbird. There's a version for Linux and Mac users, too.
   Tempted to buy a scheduling program that keeps track of appointments? Keep your wallet out of sight and start using Google's free Calendar. Find out about it by opening Google's main Web page at www.google.com and clicking the "More" button at the top. Click "Calendar" in the dropdown menu. You and your friends will be able to share calendars, too.
   Need Adobe Photoshop? Put your checkbook down and save yourself hundreds of Adobe smackeroos. The oddly named "Gimp" picture editor might be just the thing to keep your budget afloat. It's free and available for Windows, Linux and Mac systems. Get it from www.gimp.org.
   Want to organize all those photos? Don't buy anything. Download Picasa, the outstanding (and free) photo program backed by Google. It's at picasa.google.com. It's for Windows only, but a Mac version is reportedly on the way.
   And did tell you Picasa is also a whiz-bang photo editor, too? With the Gimp and Picasa, you might never say the word "Adobe" again.
   What about that Web site you've always wanted to design? Forget those $500 Web-page editors. Windows users can free themselves with First Page 2006, from www.evrsoft.com. Mac users can keep their pence by downloading Kompozer from www.kompozer.net/download.php.
   Next Week: The three hottest holiday items -- iPods, HDTVs and GPS receivers.