"Money is like muck--not good unless it be spread," the British thinker Francis Bacon once quipped. If you're like most people, you're spreading more muck at this time of year. To assist you, I offer a selection of great holiday gifts for the Mac users in your life.
If a loved one doesn't already have a CD-ROM drive, or suffers from the embarrassment of slow CD performance, you're in luck. These devices are faster and cheaper than ever. Differences between most of them are trivial, but you can weed out inferior products by checking a recent roundup in a Mac magazine. Look for an 8X drive (which suggests eight times the performance of the original drives, but delivers more modest improvements) for $150 to $200 via mail order.
It's amazing how many geeks fail to back up before their hard drive dies. But as a rule, storage devices rank among the most deadly dull gifts. Fortunately, Iomega's handy, compact Zip Drive livens up the category. Last year's hottest storage technology--which stores 100 megabytes of data on small, inexpensive cartridges--is this year's gift bargain at $149. (All prices quoted are for mail-order purchases.)
If you've got kids, a color printer should be high on your list. And Epson's Color Stylus 500 offers superb graphics (and adequate business letters) for less than $300--amazingly inexpensive for this quality.
Do you subscribe to your telephone provider's caller ID system? If so, YoYo boosts your telephone to a higher level. For only $139, this small, round device (from Cupertino, Calif.-based Big Island) displays a caller's number (and white pages listing if you subscribe to that service) and any data you store on your Mac about the caller.
Who doesn't have a family shutterbug? If yours is looking for the next photographic rush, try the DC20 from Kodak (http://www.kodak.com), a small, easy digital camera that delivers decent images; only $300. A drawback: It only stores 16 images, though it's easy to erase the bad ones or download the good ones to your Mac.
Running over budget? Try the least expensive digital camera--the Color QuickCam from Connectix (http://www.connectix.com), only $199. (Its grayscale sibling costs only $80.) This little gem, which connects directly to your Mac, captures 16-bit movies or 24-bit still images. Image quality is not tops, but I can't think of a better way to get started with digital cameras.
Looking for something more modest? Here are some sure hits:
Even today's low memory prices can't compete with RAM Doubler 2--only $54 (via mail order) from, again, those clever souls at Connectix. The product's compression scheme offers virtual memory that triples your physical RAM. Don't confuse this with the sluggish VM of the Mac OS; in most cases you won't even notice a slowdown compared with physical RAM. One caveat: This product works great for running multiple applications simultaneously, but won't help applications such as Adobe Photoshop that use their own VM scheme.
Happen to know any of the half a dozen or so holdouts who have yet to discover the Internet? Apple's $50 Internet Connection Kit (available from dealers, Apple or via mail order) offers everything a newbie could need--a dial-up tool to a local service provider, Netscape Navigator, QuickTime VR Player and more. Apple even throws in the latest Mac OS. Granted, all this stuff is available free online--if you can get online to begin with and then find it--and getting it that way does offer a bonus: an opportunity to reread "War and Peace" while it downloads. Fifty bucks well spent.
Need one final trifle to demonstrate keen sensitivity to your beloved's daily struggles? Improve that special someone's everyday life with 3M's $15 Precise Mousing Surface. (For info, check http://www.3m.com.) The textured surface is so good that it pains me to contemplate all the times I needlessly cursed my mouse. Not as ingenious as 3M's Post-It notes, but still a minor miracle.
Charles Piller can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org