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PC Killer: The $500 Mac mini

While visiting some friends a few weeks back, I happened to notice a message from somebody@somewhere.ru which popped up on their XP notebook computer sitting beside the bar (where I was seated) in the kitchen. I asked whether they had anti-virus software and was told that it came with the machine … three years ago. Knowing that the computer was always on and connected to a DSL line, I volunteered to take the machine home and fix it, a sure sign that you’ve had too much to drink. What I found the next day, unbeknownst to my friends, was a full-blown web server hosting porno movies, feature-length films including The Matrix, a hacked, downloadable version of Windows XP with the registration ‘features’ disabled, and an incredible array of hacker tools. To make a long story short, just before the sun set, I had managed to shut down the Russian web server as well as a very good spam generator and restored the notebook to normal operation, at least as normal as XP can be. It also freed up about 35 gigs of disk space. Later I was telling this story to a colleague who works in the federal courts, and he mentioned that one of their secretaries had recently been paid a visit by the FBI. The rest of the scenario was pretty much the same. The poor woman had no idea her PC had become one of the busiest porno sites in the state of Virginia.

Today’s message is a simple one. If you have non-technical friends with PCs and high speed Internet connections, do them and your country a favor. Encourage them, beg them, or buy them a Mac so that we can begin to clean up Bill Gates’ mess. "Will all of my Microsoft Office documents work?" Yes. In fact, if you have a kid of school age, you can buy the student edition of Microsoft Office for about $129 and install it on three Macs, and only one person has to be a student! "Can I get my office email?" Yes. VPNs work better on a Mac than they do on a PC. "Can I still surf the Internet?" Yes. And you can do it without using one of the world’s worst security threats, Internet Explorer. "Can I use my existing monitor and USB keyboard and mouse?" Yes. "How much will it cost?" Finally, you can say, "The same as you would pay for a comparable PC." An in-depth hardware review is available here.

What Apple’s Mac mini has really done with its introduction last week is level the playing field by now providing a comparable Mac product for every price point in the PC product line. For any age student or a second family machine in the kitchen or den, the Mac mini is almost perfect: small footprint (stack up 5 CD cases and you’ll have an object the size of a Mac mini), uses existing peripherals, and costs about what you’d pay for an iPod photo. Yes, you’ll probably want to add some RAM (512MB is adequate) when you buy the machine. Even with the additional RAM and a copy of Microsoft Office Student and Teacher Edition, the cost still is under $750 for a networkable, rock-solid, dependable personal computer. The first Mac OS X virus was reported (but still not confirmed) a couple weeks ago so Apple’s track record has been pretty good considering that PC zombies, worms, and viruses now number in the hundreds of thousands. Be sure to caution your friends that initially they may miss not receiving their weekly message from Microsoft announcing yet another security patch, but they’ll get used to it. I have.