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TUAW Buyer's Guide: What to get a "switcher"

As a recent fully-fledged "switcher" myself, I'd like to think I have some ideas about what to get the recent Mac convert (and no, this is not just my Amazon wish list - though anyone buying me stuff is free to use it as such). If you haven't already purchased the switcher in your life a gift for Christmas or the Birth of Santa (tm. Bart Simpson) or any other winter-themed occasion, here are some items you might want to consider. Please note that the prices in this guide are in USD and current as of this writing, subject to change without notice. Check with the manufacturer's website or your favorite retailer for updated pricing. Now, onto the goodies!

Books:

Maybe I'm just really lame, but I'm always a fan of giving (and receiving) books geared towards a person's interests and sensibilities. Somehow, a book just seems more personal than a gift certificate, and less easy to screw up than a piece of clothing...


For the new Apple user in your life, you might want to consider some of the following How-To books:

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Peachpit Learning Series by Robin Williams ($19.79)

I really like the Peachpit series of computer books and their Mac books are some of my favorites. This primer to Leopard is aimed at new users - making it perfect for switchers with little (or no) previous Mac experience. For users who are already familiar with the Mac, but want a book focused on the ins and outs of Leopard, this probably isn't the best choice -- but of the Leopard books I perused at my local book store, this one looked like the best bet for switchers wanting to learn more about their new OS.

Also available as an Adobe eBook from Peachpit Press


Apple Training Series: iLife '08 by Michael Cohen, Jeff Bollow and Richard Harrington ($26.39)

Sure iLife '08 is easy to use, but that doesn't mean that mastering can't be a bit of a chore. For switchers wanting to make the most of iMovie '08, iDVD '08, GarageBand and iWeb '08, this book will do the trick. Because it is authorized by Apple, there are lots of pretty pictures and an included DVD with chapter specific lessons and tutorials.


And because a lot of new Mac users are also new to the cult of Mac - what better way to introduce them to the culture via the following books:

Apple Confidential 2.0: The Definitive History of the World's Most Colorful Company by Owen Linzmayer ($13.57)

I read the first version of this book back in 1999 or 2000 and found it utterly riveting - so much so, I actually bought the second edition upon its release in 2004. For anyone unfamiliar with the history of Apple, Inc. (nee Apple, Computer), this book provides a balanced, thought provoking overview and evaluation of the company and its key players.


The Cult of Mac by Leander Kahney ($16.47)

This book can either give the new switcher a level of fanaticism to strive for, or provide comfort that at least they aren't that crazy. The Cult of Mac focuses on the unique (sometimes, very unique) culture that encompasses Mac users and attempts to answer the questions, "why are we so loyal to our Macs?" and "what IS a Mac person?" by profiling different parts of the Mac community at large. It's just a really, really fun book that is a great gift for anyone either brand new to the "family" or for switchers who have sat on the periphery for years, only to recently full embrace life as a Mac fanboy/girl.


Fashion:

Aside from electronic gadgets and digital media, my main obsession, as a consumer, is fashion. Here are some great places to find Mac-centric apparel.

What better way to allow your loved one to show off their new platform than with a shirt from Insanely Great Tees ($17)? These shirts, available in a variety of styles, are a really cool and unique way to identify yourself as a Mac user. Not all styles are available for women (*hrmph*), but the shirts look and fit great. (And yes, the grinning idiot in the photo is me)

If you can't make it out to the Apple Company Store in Cupertino, you might want to check out The Missing Bite - a site filled to the brim with all the Apple swag any Mac lover (old or new) could want. Warning: some of the older stuff IS expensive (but that doesn't stop me from lusting after the Hitchcock "Think Different" poster ($299.95)-- which would look fantastic framed in the entry way of my apartment -- MOM), but lots of stuff is not only affordable, but very, very cool as well. Most of their shirts are available for either men or women, and there are some kid sizes too.


Mike Rose and I were joking about temporary Apple logo tattoos on a recent Talkcast -- at least we thought we were joking. It turns out The Missing Bite actually sells Vintage Logo Tattoos ($2.95) -- could make for a great stocking stuffer.


For lots of us, the holiday's are followed up by resolutions to start new diets or to dedicate more time to working out. The Nike+ Collection is a great way to align your Mac and iPod with those goals. We've covered the Nike+ line in the past, but I want to give it one more shout-out because even ignoring the Nano attachment that is at the real "heart" of the Nike+ system, the Nike+ apparel is a great gift for anyone who loves to run with their Nano (or full-size iPod if you don't need to use the built-in gear pouches). With programming controls and cord management built-into the clothing itself (which, as an addict of workout clothes, I can attest to being both well made and good looking), this stuff is just cool. The Nike+ Hoody (like the one in the picture at the left) is $45 for women, $50 for men and available at Nike.com or at Nike branded retail stores and other retailers that carry Nike+ gear (aside from more traditional sport shoe stores, I've had good luck at places like Nordstrom and Bloomingdales).

Accessories and Upgrades:

Who doesn't love getting add-ons or accessories for their Mac? No one that I know - which is why they make the perfect gift. Some of these might be things that new Mac buyers have already -- but then, maybe not. Although the options are endless, here are some of my favorite Mac-cessories.

I'm going to give one more shout-out to the Nike+ system, because they have some really great gift-sets. For $278, they offer a set that includes a silver 4GB Nano, the Nike+ system, an iTunes Gift Card for 30 minutes of Nike+ workout music, and a $100 Nike gift certificate that can be used for shoes, apparel, accessories, etc. The same kit is available for $328 with an 8 GB Nano instead, or for $128 for the kit and certificates, sans Nano.

Keeping that new Mac laptop/iMac or iPhone or iPod clean is often one of the dilemmas faced by a new owner. Searching the Internet can leave a user with more fears and questions than answers, and no one wants to risk harming their new pride and joy while trying to clean it. Of all the Mac cleaners out there, the one I feel the most comfortable buying for myself and for my friends is iKlear ($24.95 for the Apple kit) by KlearScreen. Not only is a one-bottle solution for the majority of your Apple gear (meaning you can clean your MacBook's body and LCD screen, and your iPod with the same product), it's alcohol free and recommended by Apple Tech Support and used by Apple Care. I got it after observing the employees at my local Apple store using it to clean the display Macs while the store was in a rare lull.

When it comes to buying a new Mac, there is one piece of advice that has become almost dogmatic:
DO NOT UPGRADE YOUR RAM DIRECTLY FROM APPLE.
Why? Well, the mark-up is positively insane (an extra $250-$450 for a 2GB upgrade, an eye gouging extra $950 for a 4GB upgrade). That said, upgrading the RAM is one of the easiest (and cheapest) upgrades any new Mac user can perform to get the most out of their system. Making an exception for the latest generation MacBook Pro's and the highest-end iMac, almost every Mac that has come out int he last 12 months shipped with either 512 or 1GB of RAM. And again, making an exception for the Mac Pro, every Mac uses the same type of memory. RAM prices are crazy cheap right now, and a great way to get even better performance out of your machine. OWC, a very reputable online store focussed on Mac users, has a 2GB (1GB x 2) RAM upgrade for $49.99. If you want to get the switcher in your life even more RAM (and max out that new SR MacBook, MacBook Pro or iMac), a 4GB (2GB x 2) RAM Upgrade is only $99.99. Again, all Intel-based iMacs, MacBooks, MacBook Pros and Mac Minis use the same type of RAM. Check with your switcher on their specific model to find out details like how much RAM their system can recognize (OWC has a very easy RAM finder chart).

With Time Machine, users have even less of an excuse for not backing up their data. For lots of people, the only thing holding them back now is actually getting and setting up an external drive. For the switcher that may need to occasionally interact with a Windows-based computer, it's important to get a drive that will work with that computer. Although every Mac made in the last 8 years will work with FireWire, that connection is (sadly) far from standard on most PCs. Thus, your best bet is to get a drive that supports USB 2.0 AND FireWire - to ensure connectivity to just about any Mac and the vast majority of PCs. Although there are tons of great external drives out there, one of my personal favorites is the Western Digital MyBook series of drives because they are easy to set-up and use and work equally well with Macs and Windows-based PCs. NewEgg.com sells the Western Digital MyBook Home 500 GB external drive for $154.99. This drive, which contains USB 2.0, FireWire and eSATA connections, has a 3-year warranty (this is an important distinction, as some of the older MyBook drives only have 1-year warranties) and works great out of the box with Leopard and Time Machine.

Software

The thing about being a new Mac user is that you are also new to the world of Mac software - especially software made by companies not named "Apple" or "Microsoft." Luckily, the Holiday season is also the season of software bundles, a great way to get tons of Mac software at great savings. Handing someone a printed-out e-mail of registration codes might not be the sexiest gift (even less sexy would be to just forward that e-mail), but if you are buying a software bundle for someone that you don't share a computer with, try this idea on for size: burn a CD or DVD with all of the programs included in the bundle and include a text file with each program's serial number. You can even make a festive CD label for the case or disc itself.

The MacUpdate Promo ($49.95 for 10 programs) has been extended until December 22 and the MacUpdate guys are alluding to some additional surprises before the whole thing is over. I got this promo myself and am really pleased with the software selection and the overall quality of the programs (I basically bought it because it was the same price as RapidWeaver on its own).

The Give Good Food to Your Mac is good until Saturday and a great way to save on some great Mac programs by European developers. If you want to work for your discounts, MacHeist II offers challenges leading to free or discounted apps.

And of course, Mac Santa is offering 20% off discounts for selected products every day through December 24, and 10% discounts for all featured products/developers until December 31st.

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