As the mad dash to find gifts for everyone on your list reaches its peak, here are some suggestions for what may be the right gift this holiday season.
For starters, try the Holiday Gift Guide on Apple Computer Inc.'s Web site. There, you can search for gifts by price range or by such categories as "kids," "travelers," "artists" or "gamers."
While Apple's guide is fairly comprehensive, a few items stand out:
If your budget allows, an ideal gift for the Mac user is an iPod, Apple's portable music player. The $499 20-gigabyte model can hold 4,000 songs, the $399 10-gigabyte model 2,000 and the $299 5-gigabyte version 1,000 songs.
Apple also sells Windows-compatible versions of all three models, although the MusicMatch Jukebox PC software doesn't integrate as well with the iPod, as does iTunes.
The iPod syncs its music from the iTunes program in the user's Mac. Connecting through a speedy FireWire port -- 30 times faster than the original 1.1 ports, which most other portable-music players use -- the iPod can ingest a gigabyte of music, about 250 MP3-encoded songs, in less than 2 minutes.
This feature also makes the iPod a handy portable hard drive for those who need to move large files between Macs in different locations.
Since its introduction a little more than a year ago, the iPod has become even more useful -- thanks to two software upgrades.
Using Apple's iSync program, Mac users who are running OS X 10.2 software can transfer the contents of their Address Book and iCal calendars into their iPod.
Although you can't edit content on the iPod as you can with a Palm-like device, it can be kept current by regularly syncing it with the host Mac.
If your Mac user already has an iPod, a good gift might be a protective case. Available in materials ranging from leather to silicone rubber to hard, clear plastic, the cases range from $30 to more than $100.
You can read reviews of more than a dozen cases, as well as other iPod accessories, at the iPod Lounge Web site.
JBL Creature 2.1 speakers
Introduced last summer, Harman Kardon's $130 JBL Creature speakers add extra audio punch to any Mac.
This strange-looking system -- its shape has been compared to the Star Wars stormtroopers' helmets -- consists of right and left speakers for the desktop with a subwoofer that sits on the floor.
Because the "Creature" uses smaller speakers, its audio isn't as good as that of Harman Kardon's acclaimed 10-inch tall SoundSticks, which debuted last year.
But then, the Creature system costs only $129, $70 less than the SoundSticks.
Another advantage of the Creature is that it can be used with older Macs, since it plugs into the audio out jack rather than a USB port, as do the SoundSticks.
Anyone who owns Apple products knows that looking good is part of the appeal. However, the attractive shiny metals and clear plastics Apple uses also tend to pick up fingerprints and smudges easily.
To keep an iMac, iPod or iBook looking as it did when it first emerged from the box it arrived in, there's the iKlear Apple Polish Kit ($24.95). The kit consists of 8 ounces of cleaning fluid and 12 polishing cloths.
The company says the cleaner works on -- and is safe for -- just about every surface of a Mac, including LCD screens.
Every Mac user should have a few reference books at hand for those times when questions or problems arise, or just to learn more about what your Mac can do.
Dozens of titles exist -- on everything from tips on using Mac OS X to manuals on how to make a DVD. Depending on the subject and length, Mac books cost $15 to $50, but most fall in the $20-to-$25 range.
The excellent "Missing Manual" series from O'Reilly's Pogue Press division offers titles on Mac OS X, iMovie2, iPhoto and AppleWorks 6. The books are written in clear, understandable language with a dose of humor.
The "Visual Quick Start Guide" series from Peachpit Press also is good, though these books look much more like regular instruction manuals and generally lack the wit of the Missing Manuals.
For those new to the Mac, there are the inevitable "Dummies" books.
Veteran Mac author Bob LeVitus has written 10 of these books, which explain the often confusing world of computing in terms that don't intimidate the technically challenged.
Despite the prevailing myth that the Mac is game-poor, new Mac titles continue to appear, from the kill-everything-that-moves type to strategy games. The popular "Sims" is available for the Mac, as are versions of Tom Clancy's "Ghost Recon" and several new "Star Wars"-based games.
Sports simulations include Links: Championship Edition 2002 for the golf-minded and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3.
Games for children, from toddlers to preteens, are even more abundant -- including "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "Spiderman" and "Monsters Inc. -- Mike's Monstrous Adventure."
But a cautionary note on games: Make sure that the Mac the game is intended for can handle it.
Many of the newer, graphics-heavy titles may run so slowly as to be nearly unplayable on older iMacs, or may not run at all. Just make sure the Mac meets the game's minimum system requirements, which should be printed on the box.
Your Mac as gift factory
Finally, here's how Mac users can take advantage of their computer's abilities to make personalized gifts.
One of the best gifts your Mac can make -- assuming you have Mac OS X and iPhoto -- is a glossy picture book. After designing the book in iPhoto, including captions, one button uploads it to Apple's online service.
A 10-page hardback book with your photos printed on acid-free, glossy paper costs $29.95 (it's $3 for each additional page). And if you order by Dec. 31, Apple will waive the usual $7.99 shipping fee.
Digital-camera owners can tap into online photo services to create high-quality gifts. Upload your favorite photos to a Web-based service like PhotoAccess -- and you can create calendars, jigsaw puzzles, mugs, T-shirts, even gift wrap.
The finished product shows up in your mail within a week.
If you own a digital video camera, you can use your Mac and iMovie to make videos of special events or the grandchildren for gifts.
You can transfer the iMovie to a regular VHS tape by connecting your video camera to a VCR. If you have a SuperDrive on your Mac, you can use iDVD to burn your movie to a DVD.