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Macintosh Or IBM-Compatible? You Decide

The Macintosh brings out the extremes in people. Either they love it or they're predicting its doom. This extremism is too bad, really, because it clouds a legitimate dilemma for the computer newcomer: Which machine should I buy - a Macintosh or an IBM-compatible?

I'll give my answer in a moment, but let me be upfront about my bias. I don't believe one machine can please everybody. I've found that businesspeople generally prefer IBM-compatibles; artists like Macs. People ought to use what they like, not what some guru tells them to.

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Four months ago, the editors sent me a Power Macintosh 7100. In many ways, it's a worthy competitor to my Pentium machine. The Power Mac runs at 80 megahertz; the Pentium at 90. They each have CD-ROM players, 16 megabytes of random-access memory, and 500-megabyte hard drives. The main difference is that I've spent a decade on IBM-compatible machines; the Mac was new.

The Mac was easy to set up. I only had to peek into the manual to find out where to plug in the mouse (in the keyboard). The machine powered up nicely. It looked to be a cinch.

The first sign of trouble was two carefully wrapped memory chips at the bottom of the box. The vendor had forgotten to install all 16 megabytes of memory. So I pulled out the manual to figure out how to install the chips myself. I was amazed to discover that in 133 pages, the manual had no diagram showing how or where to plug in memory chips. Instead, the book recommended going to a certified technician.

I know most users will never have to open up their computers to look inside. But if they do, they ought to be able to do simple things without padding the pockets of some factory-authorized technician. My Pentium manual, which is slightly larger, not only shows how to add more memory, but it also details how to replace the microprocessor. Apple Computer, which makes the Mac, ought to get with it.

I called the vendor about the memory, but several friends who own Macs and Apple's own technicians turned out to be far more helpful. After I installed the memory chips and turned on a feature called virtual memory, everything worked fine.

The Power Mac is easy to learn. I was able to become reasonably proficient in less than half the time it took to learn the Windows interface used by IBM-compatibles. But don't be fooled by Mac zealots who say it's ultra-simple. You still have to learn Mac keystroke combinations and other procedures.

Also, beware the argument that you shouldn't buy a Mac because Apple Computer will be crushed by the juggernaut of IBM-compatible machines. It's clear that Macintosh has lost the battle to become the world's standard desktop computer. But in many ways it's more innovative than IBM-compatibles and has a long life ahead in important niches, such as publishing, video-editing, and graphics.

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So if you're starting out on your first computer, don't hesitate to buy a Macintosh. It's a little more expensive than IBM-compatibles, but it's easier to learn and far easier to enhance with add-on peripherals. The machine also grows on you, like a friend. When I sit down at my Pentium computer, I want it to work. When I'm at my Power Mac, I want it to succeed.

On the other hand, consider an IBM-compatible if you need the latest and greatest in business software. And if you've already invested hours and dollars on an IBM-compatible, think long and hard before you move to a Mac. The Power Mac is better than the Pentium overall. But not that much better to justify a switch for most people.

* Send comments via Internet ( or to CompuServe (70541,3654) or America Online (LBELSIE).

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