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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Can I afford a Macintosh now that Windows XP has reached the end? Yes, Yes, and Yes!

You've reached the end of the road with Windows XP? Should You buy a Mac? Or What Else?

By now your Windows XP machine should have told you that Microsoft will no long support Windows XP. You may have felt a surge of panic at this point.  

Does this mean that your computer will stop working due to Microsoft? Will it contract a virus or other malware? Will I lose my Buffy and Harry Potter fan fiction to hackers?

Here are the answers:

No, your computer will not stop working due to Microsoft. It just means that Microsoft would like you to get Windows 8.1 and probably a new computer, too. They will help you move your programs and data over to the new computer.

But you're on your own concerning computer security and maintenance on your old computer.

Your Windows XP computer will probably not contract a virus or other malware if you stay away from Web sites promising “Hot Lesbian Three-Ways!”or “Make Money from Home the Easy Way! Just send us $19.95 with your credit card and we'll send you the details!” I would advise you to get an anti-virus program for your Windows XP computer right away. On my Windows XP partition, I'm using AVG Free Anti-virus. PC Magazine gave it its highest recommendation for a free anti-virus. For $55 you can buy the full package direct from AVG.

And, no, hackers will not steal your precious fan fiction. You will lose them to a failing hard disk if you don't regularly back up your hard drive. So go get a multi-terabyte USB hard drive from Costco, Best Buy, Staples, or Frys, and BACK UP YOUR DOCUMENTS AND SETTINGS FOLDER! They 're cheap. $100 for 2 Tb? What are you waiting for? Costco closes at 8:30 PM on weeknights, 6:00 PM on weekends!


Well, this is the MacValley Blog, so if you've got the cash on hand, buy a new Mac or recent vintage used Mac. I'm not advising putting off dental work to get a Mac. I'll deal with the El Cheapo solution to your computer issues when I get to Linux. Your ultimate answer, though, is a Mac running OS X 10.9.2.

A Mac combines the time-tested industrial-strength underpinnings of UNIX with the Mac graphic user interface. The Mac operating system, OS X, has built-in defenses against intruders. It will ask a program that wants to install, “So, have you been cleared by Apple for cyber cleanliness?”  

You can install anti-virus software on a Mac. In most cases, though, the anti-virus catches Windows viruses and malware and keeps you from passing them along to your Windows-using friends and co-workers.  

Malware can use Java and Flash, two programming environments that are vulnerable. Apple doesn't install them by default.


Right, the lowest-priced Mac, the Mac Mini, costs $599. You can buy a Windows 8.1 machine for $300 or less. What makes a Mac worth twice as much as a Windows 8.1 machine?

Well, to begin with, the Mac Mini runs on an Intel Core I5 processor. That $300 bargain box runs on an Intel Pentium or an AMD chip. They're fine chips, but not as powerful as the Core i5.

Look at the ads closely. The cost of a comparable Windows 8.1 box with Core i5 processor, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, two video-out ports (HDMI and Mini-DisplayPort on the Mini) is at least $600. True, the Mini doesn't include a keyboard and mouse. But you can use the keyboard and mouse from your current Windows setup or buy a cheap USB keyboard and mouse.  

The Mac Mini will also take up less space than a Windows mini-tower and give you 4 USB 3.0 ports in the back. No, they don't give you mostly the old technology USB 2.0 ports and a measly 1 or 2 USB 3.0 ports. It's all USB 3.0.  

Go ahead, test drive a Mac Mini. True, the Apple Store hooks it up to a gorgeous 27” Cinema Display, but still...isn't it the best computer experience you've ever had?

 And if you try out a Retina MacBook Pro, they'll have to pry you away from it with the Jaws of Life. But I digress...


 So have a seat, drink some bottled water and relax. Let's see what you need to fulfill your Mac urges.

 First, a Mac Mini. Now, if you can wait until June, they're due for a refresh. Better Intel processor, better graphics. But want it now, you can have it.

Second, video display. At home, you've got a behemoth of a Viewsonic CRT. You've grown sentimentally attached to it, considering how much you paid for it. And due to a couple of soda spills, it is stuck to your desk. So let's leave it alone.

Hmmm, you can get 1280 x 1024 resolution out of it. Sufficient for your needs. You'll need either an HDMI to VGA adaptor or a MiniDisplayPort to VGA adaptor. Let's seee....hmm.

At Apple, a MiniDisplay Port to VGA adaptor costs $19.00. At, $15.71. Let me clue you in on an insider's deal. Go to for great prices on stuff. I'm using their USB keyboard and their over-the-head DJ headphones. On the headphones alone, you could save hundreds of dollars. Dr. Dre headphones at $399? With only a B.S. in Accounting, I found these Monoprice headphones for less than $30.00. And they include two pairs of headphone cables.  Read what Macworld said about them!

 So, you'll need the MiniDisplay Port to VGA adaptor for $16.00. The headphones for $30.00. A new keyboard and mouse for $15.00.  

How to Save on Software for your new Mac and not pay hand over fist

Now about software, the great worry about Apple. You've got presentations, spreadsheets, and word processing to process. Don't worry, your new Mac comes with Apple's Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. They'll open Microsoft Office documents and can save them back in Office format.

If you need to open them someplace where your Mac isn't available, save them to iCloud, Apple's cloud storage service that comes free with your Mac. When you set up your Mac, you can set up your iCloud user name and password. From a Windows PC Web browser such as Internet Explorer or Chrome or Firefox, you can open up the Web versions of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.  

 As for Microsoft Office for Mac, ask if your company can use the Microsoft Home User Program. I got MS Office for Mac 2011 for $9.95 through work..  

If you use Google Drive, log right onto it. Macs work great with Google Drive.

And now for the insider secret. If you want a standalone desktop office suite for next to nothing, look into LibreOffice. It opens an amazing range of file formats. Just as a file conversion tool, it's worth looking into.

The Hardware that you bring to the Mac will work just fine with it

Now about your printer...okay, it's an inkjet or laser printer with a USB connection and/or an Ethernet connection. Plug it into your new Mac and it should automatically recognize it, install printer drivers, and you're ready to go. No fumbling around for lost CDs.

Oh, CDs and DVDs. Your new Mac doesn't come with a DVD drive. Now the Apple Store will sell you the Super Drive for $80, but you can do just as well for half the cost with a USB drive for a Windows Ultrabook. Me, I'm using a 10 year old LaCie DVD drive that's built like a tank. Still works great.  

Now for other peripherals. Your Web cam should work as is with the Mac. I bought a cheap Web cam at Big Lots! I plugged it in and I've got video.

Some words about External Hard Drives

External hard drives. Okay, this is the deal. If your external hard drive works with your Windows XP box, it probably came formatted in the Windows NTFS disk format. Now a Mac can read a NTFS hard drive as is, but it can't write to it unless you get some 3rd party software.  

Now USB flash drives come formatted in the FAT32 disk format, which is an older Windows format used in Windows 95/98. Your Mac can read and write to it and also format flash drives and hard drives in this format. So if you need a hard drive that your Windows XP/7/8 box AND your Mac can read and write to, reformat a hard drive in FAT32.  

Now a Mac uses its own hard disk format, known as HFS+ Journaled. You can get 3rd party software for a Windows computer to read and write to an HFS+ disk. You'll need to reformat an NTFS hard drive if you want to use it with the Mac's own backup software called Time Machine.  

Remember, reformatting a hard drive erases the contents. So if you want to use a Windows formatted external hard drive with your Mac for backup duty, make sure you copy the contents to another hard drive. Better yet, just buy a new one and don't worry about wiping out precious photos. Just plug it into the Mac. The Mac will ask you if you want to use it for your Time Machine backup. If you agree, it will automatically reformat the drive and set it up as your backup.  


Well, Macs, like BMWs, keep their value and don't depreciate as much as a Windows machine. But still...

You can go to and and for used Macs. You can also go to eBay. 


You want a Mac that you can upgrade to 10.9. It may come with 10.6 Snow Leopard as the original operating system, so ask “Can I upgrade this to 10.9 Mavericks?” Don't be shy, there's no point in settling for a Mac that can only run 10.6 Snow Leopard.

As for the cost of Mavericks, it's free. All you pay for is the Internet connection from your house to Apple's servers.

 Now you will see some Macs for $200 and under. Check to see if those Macs use the PowerPC G4 and G5 processor. Apple stopped using those in 2005 and switched over to Intel processors. The PowerPC Macs can  only use OS X 10.5.8 as the most advanced OS.

 You don't want a PowerPC Mac unless you have specific needs for one. You may have a trove of old Mac games that run on Classic OS. That's another can of worms that I'll deal with later.

 You may have read the Mac Tuts+ article on how to turn an old G4 Mac Mini into an iTunes server. Read the article first before committing to buying a G4 Mac Mini! It’s an excellent article, but don’t spend any money on a G4 Mac Mini in the hopes of getting a super-cheap Mac that can run 10.9.2.


The answer for that situation is this. You want to dedicate part of your Mac to run as a full-bore Windows system. This is done using the BootCamp software that Apple provides with OS X. You, in turn, have to provide a Windows installation disk. A real Windows installation disk, not that emergency disk that came with your PC. Prepare to spend $100 or more.  

Alternatively, if you don't need to run heavy-duty games, you can buy a Windows installation disk and use it with a virtual machine. Your choices include Parallels Desktop (which I use happily), VMWare for OS X, and the free VirtualBox software.  

So, what’s my price tag so far?

New Mac Mini $599

MiniDisplayPort to VGA $16

Keyboard $9

Mouse $5

Headphones $30

External USB hard drive $100

USB DVD-RW drive $40

That comes to $799 before sales tax. Figure 10% sales tax in Los Angeles and your total is $879. Still enough left for a Windows installation disk so you can play some zombie shoot-up game.  


So Remember!

 You pay as much for the equivalent PC as you would for a Mac Mini

You can run Windows on a Mac with ease; but you can't run OS X on a PC without a lot of effort.

You won't worry that some Godawful malware will get your computer


Tom Briant

Editor, MacValley Blog











































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