Charles Arthur On Technology: Why it's time to downsize

One's first reaction to seeing the Mac mini face to face is: surely you can't get a whole computer in that? A metal-and-white enclosure the size of a sandwich box - but far more elegant - packs up to 1 gigabyte of memory, fast Wi-Fi networking, Bluetooth connectivity, a DVD-burning slot-loading drive and an 80-gigabyte disk. But what makes the Mac mini appealing to any Windows user is not its compact size, but the software that comes with it and the price.

For years, Apple has been stuck with the label "nice, but pricey". The Mac mini, starting at pounds 339, represents its first real thrust at the low- cost end of the market, one where you'll find bigger names such as HP and Dell.

The twist: you have to supply your own USB keyboard, mouse and display. The first two will probably cost about pounds 30, even if you're buying new (I recommend a scroll-wheel two-button mouse; it'll work straight out of the box). Keyboards for Windows machines will work fine (but if they have PS/2 plugs, as many of the cheapest do, you'll need a USB adaptor). And any separate display will be compatible. Apple clearly expects some Windows desktop users to plug in their existing machine's peripherals and start work. The alternative is to buy an expensive Apple LCD screen.

If you save cash on the screen, you can spend it getting as much RAM as you can afford - at least 512MB or you'll grind your teeth as the machine struggles to swap data back and forth. Wi-Fi (called "AirPort") is a good idea if you have multiple machines.

After the success of the iPod, the Mac mini has to sell itself not on the basis of performing all Windows functions better than Microsoft does, but with a few specific improvements. On this it scores highly. It's small. It's very quiet; there aren't noisy fans, so you hardly know it's on apart from the tiny white LED on the front. It uses a laptop disk drive, which is slow, but cooler; another reason to get extra RAM.

Once you're plugged in, the fun starts. Along with Apple's e-mail, calendar, address book, synchronisation and browser programs, the Mac mini comes with a program suite already loaded, called "iLife '05", which includes a movie-making program called iMovie HD, a photo organisation package called iPhoto, a DVD-making program called iDVD (you'll need the DVD- burning drive for this to work), a music-making program called Garageband, and the iTunes program that's familiar to Windows users who own iPods, for music organisation.

There are programs for Windows that perform many of these functions; Roxio's Creator 7 Suite for Windows runs music organisation, disc-burning, film and photograph editing. But it's not as elegant or as integrated. The iPhoto application allows for subtle picture editing or simply removing red-eye from snaps. And e-mailing pictures is a one-click task. Similarly, iMovie HD is an increasingly powerful application, and Apple hasn't been afraid to borrow Microsoft's idea of letting you connect your camcorder to create an instant "movie".

Garageband is great fun. Updated from its first incarnation last year, it can import MIDI music files, which instruct a computer how to play a song; many classical and rock works are available online in MIDI format. It can record multiple tracks, and comes with dozens of music loops, so you can produce something that sounds like a disco classic in minutes. Record your singing, and it can tune the bits that are flat or sharp - a technology available to studio stars for years.

On its own, iLife '05 adds terrific value. But is the Mac mini a serious machine? Or are the programs frivolous, befitting the price tag? Ultimately, Apple's long-term ambition is to shift people away from Windows.

On its own, iLife isn't enough. But there are a couple more factors to consider. A program suite launched at the same time as the Mac mini, called "iWork", contains an updated version of Apple's Keynote, a rival to the Microsoft's all-pervading Powerpoint, and a new program called "Pages", which Apple weirdly calls a "word-processing program" but which most people would consider a low-end desktop publishing package. It comes with readymade layouts for science projects, marketing brochures, standard letters and journals. Pages is adequate but lacks a word-count feature - essential for most writing and layout. Anyone looking for a well-designed project, such as a school pupil or a marketing employee, will be delighted. But it's not a real challenge to existing DTP programs.

That could change, though, because Keynote 2 is so much better than its first incarnation. When I reviewed the original version two years ago, the lack of Powerpoint features such as web links and display in pages made it an elegant laggard. Now, it's been upgraded with a vengeance. Web links? Check. Embedded web pages that can be updated live in a presentation? Check. Better animations? Check (even if OTT). It can even export your Keynote presentation as a Powerpoint file, or a self-contained Flash file, or a Quicktime movie - all with working hyperlinks. This is a potential "category killer" - a product that squashes its rivals. You don't need Shockwave to write a Flash site now. You don't need Powerpoint to do Powerpoint presentations. And it costs pounds 49 for the whole iWork package, pounds 150 less than the cost of Powerpoint alone.

The second reason for trying the Mac mini is that you won't be troubled by spyware and viruses. So far, Apple's OS X operating system is virtually a malware-free zone. The peace of mind that brings is hard to overestimate, though Apple keeps quiet about this because hackers are expected to break through its security system eventually.

One final point: if you decide to switch to a Mac, get a program called Move2Mac (www.move2mac.com), which will save you a huge amount of tedious poking and prodding with machine settings to try to get Windows to talk to OS X - something it's reluctant to do. Given that big threats can come in small packages, perhaps that's appropriate: the Mac mini certainly makes using a Mac more affordable and more attractive than ever to Windows users.

www.charlesarthur.com/blog

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn