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Steve Jobs as Santa's Little Helper

November 30, 2000|JIM HEID | jim@jimheid.com

Icons roasting on an open fire, Steve Jobs nipping at your nose. . . . Yes, it's that time again: time to think about holiday gifts for the Mac lovers in your life. I've outlined some software and hardware favorites in five categories and ranging in price from $30 to $300.

To avoid having to pack up and return your good intentions in late December, it's important to verify that any hardware you're contemplating will work with its recipient's Mac. That can be tricky if you aren't Mac savvy. You might have to peer around the back of the computer to look at its model name. Or it might mean conspiring with a Mac-savvy friend: "Do you think Pat would like a FireWire CD burner?"

Buying Mac gifts rarely involves orbiting the mall in search of a parking space. Although CompUSA outlets often have Mac departments, most retail computer stores don't stock many Mac wares. Mac users rely on mail-order and online retailers such as MacConnection (http://www.macconnection.com; [888] 213-0260), which offers good prices and great service. Unless noted otherwise, you can also buy the products recommended here from the Apple Store (http://www.apple.com/store; [800] MY-APPLE).

Let the games begin. Who doesn't love a computer game? Well, me. My aching wrists have kept me out of the game arena for some time, so I turned to Andy Ihnatko, who writes a monthly gaming column for Macworld magazine. His top pick: "Unreal Tournament," from MacSoft (http://www.wizworks.com/macsoft). This $50 classic kill-'em-all gladiator game also provides network- and Internet-based multiplayer modes.

Game traditionalists will love MacSoft's $30 Scrabble, a point-and-click version of the classic crossword game. You can even compete with other letter lovers over the Internet. Scrabble isn't available through the Apple Store; order it from MacSoft at (800) 229-2714.

A better mouse. When Apple introduced the iMac and other colorized machines, it also unleashed the industry's worst mouse, a round rodent shaped like a hockey puck. Apple atoned earlier this year with the $59 Apple Pro Mouse, whose oblong shape and buttonless design--you click by pressing down on the entire mouse--makes it far more hand friendly.

Boot up and tune in. Eskape Labs' $169 MyTV/FM turns any iMac or other nonbeige Mac into a TV and FM tuner--just the ticket for kids or students who don't have room for a separate TV set. MyTV/FM puts Regis in a window that can fill the screen or shrink to postage-stamp size. You can even record snippets of shows as QuickTime movies.

Speakers that really speak. To do justice to a Mac's audio capabilities, add Harman/Kardon's $199 SoundSticks (http://www.harman-multimedia.com). Available only through the Apple Store, SoundSticks combine two external speakers and an exotic-looking subwoofer that pumps out deep bass. They look and sound great.

The SoundSticks system requires Mac OS 9.0.4. This version has been shipping on Macs for months, but if you're buying for an older Mac, verify that it's running Mac OS 9.0.4 by choosing the About This Computer command from the Apple menu. If it isn't, consider tossing in a copy of Apple's $99 Mac OS 9.

Satisfy burning desires. What to give the Mac user who has everything? A place to store it. Anyone would appreciate a CD-RW drive, which enables you to "burn" CDs--great for backing up a hard drive and for making your own custom audio CDs.

My pick: LaCie Inc.'s $299 FireWire/iLink CD-RW (http://www.lacie.com; not available through the Apple Store). This drive connects to the FireWire connector present on all nonbeige G3 and G4 desktops, all iMac DV models, the iBook Special Edition and the latest PowerBook. If you're buying for an older iMac that lacks FireWire, get the $249 USB version.

One last tip: If you're giving hardware, try to discourage your curious recipient from shaking the box to guess its contents. Happy shopping--and happy holidays.

*

Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine.

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