More for Mac Users in Superstore Aisles than Many Realize
by Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published online in LowEndMac
column May 19, 2004
Mac users tend to be passionate about their computers in ways
that Windows users rarely are. They know that their computers simply
offer a better user experience than the majority platform.
Still, there can be those moments of doubt, times when even the most
committed Mac user asks her or himself whether they've made the right
choice. Some of us have those dark nights of the soul when wandering
through the brightly lit aisles of a computer superstore.
My hometown, Vancouver, BC, doesn't have an Apple Store -- there are
currently none in Canada. There are several good Mac retailers, but far
more computers, peripherals, and gadgets are sold in electronics
superstores. The biggest is the Canadian-based Future Shop chain
(recently purchased by US-based Best Buy). They do sell Macs. There are
always a couple of eMacs and iBooks off in a corner somewhere, but far
more of their stock is PCs, printers, software, drives, routers, and
Wandering the aisles of this and other computer superstores need not be
as depressing an experience for Mac owners as it may seem at first.
These stores stock more products for Macs than it might appear -- more
than the local Mac-specialty stores, in fact. But don't try to ask the
store's salespeople -- they won't know, and they'll probably try to
sell you a PC.
Take a walk down the printer aisle. Nearly all the printers, scanners,
and all-in-one models from HP, Epson, Canon, etc. connect to a computer
with USB and come with both Windows and Mac drivers (if not in the box,
the drivers can be downloaded from the company's website). The display
models may have a sticker on them listing OS X compatibility
with Windows. Even if it's not on the hardware, it probably says so on
the box. (If you're not sure, check the company's website before
Nearly all digital cameras work flawlessly with Macs.
It's the same story with wireless routers and access points. Most can
be configured using a browser, meaning they can be set up from a Mac as
easily as a PC just by typing an IP address into the browser of your
choice. And the 802.11b or g standards (though not the less-popular
802.11a) will work fine with Apple's AirPort or AirPort Extreme
wireless adapters. (There may be a trick or two needed to set up
wireless encryption, however. To use encryption with my Linksys
wireless router, Mac users need to know to enter a '$' in front of the
long passphrase, for example).
note: If you
have older Macs or networked printers, you might need a router that
supports AppleTalk -- something I discovered my new USRobotics router
doesn't do. Off to the apartment where there's no old hardware for it.
Cables and blank CD and DVD discs are commodity items; they're no
different for a PC or a Mac. (Though you may need to know whether your
DVD burner uses +R/+RW or &endash;R/-RW blank discs: Apple's
SuperDrives use &endash;R/-RW blanks.)
If you have a desktop Mac model, you can probably use any of the
standard PC-style IDE hard drives; your Mac even uses the same kind of
RAM as an equivalent PC. (There are several kinds of RAM in common use
these days. Whether you're buying for a PC or a Mac, you'll need to
know what to get, but once you know, you'll end up with RAM that would
work in a PC as well as in a Mac.)
DVD-burners can be somewhat problematic. I have an external FireWire
case that I used to use with an IDE CD burner. More recently, I tried
it with an HP DVD burner. It worked fine with my PC, but my Mac only
saw it as a CD-ROM drive. Knowing that Apple's SuperDrives are really
re-branded Pioneer hardware, when I found a Pioneer A-05 DVD burner on
sale, I gave that a try. It works fine with both my Macs and PCs. Note
however, that Apple's iDVD software won't work with third-party drives.
Few non-Apple MP3 players work nicely with Macs, however. Companies
that once offered Mac support tended to drop it after Apple released
its iPod/iTunes combo. I have two MP3 players that work with
but not OS X (and not with OS X's classic mode
either). A few
models may appear as an external hard drive, letting you drag and drop
songs to them.
Palm OS PDAs (including models from Palm, Sony, and Handspring) will
work fine with Macs, although it will take some third-party software to
make a PDA running Microsoft's pocket version of Windows (such as
models from HP/Compaq and Toshiba) connect to a Mac.
USB mice and keyboards from companies such as Logitech and Microsoft
are Mac-compatible and let Mac-owners get to use PC-style scroll wheels
and extra buttons.
While there's more Mac-friendly hardware in the electronics superstore
than one might think, walking down their software aisles is less
uplifting. A few educational or kid-game programs offer both Mac and
Windows versions on the same CD, but most application packages stocked
are PC only -- even if the company has a Mac version, and even if both
would fit on the same CD. (Adobe's affordable Photoshop Elements, which
offers 80% of the power of Photoshop for 20% of the price, is a rare
example of an application for grown-ups that includes Windows and Mac
versions on the same CD.)
You can tell yourself that most of this PC software is unnecessary
junk, and you would probably be right. But it's still frustrating,
especially for game players, who are often forced to wait six months to
a year for the Mac version of a popular game to be released -- if it's
released at all. (If you're a game player, or have one in the family,
you might be best served by getting a game system like Sony's
Despite the game gap, there's more than enough stuff in the typical
electronics or computer superstore to keep a Mac user in gear, even if
the store's staff may be the last to realize it.