Budget Gifts for Mac Users

ite the recession, Mac sales continue unabated. Whether it's a result of the Windows XP-to-Windows 7 upgrade debacle, the hip "Get a Mac" ads, or a halo effect from the successful iPod and iPhone lines, many consumers are probably celebrating their first holiday season as Mac users.

My sister-in-law is one such convert, and as a dutiful relative, I've tried to reflect her new status in my holiday shopping. But what do you get a new Mac user? My own power-user needs are very different from hers, but I eventually realized that regardless of the level of tech-savviness, every Mac user has the same basic needs.

With that in mind, I've compiled this list of gifts for the new Mac user and checked it twice. I've chosen software, hardware, books and more that are all under $100, with many costing less than $50. You'll find something here for the switcher in your life -- or you can forward this list as a gentle hint about what you might like to find in your own stocking.

Easing the Transition

Despite the Macintosh's reputation for being easy to use, it's still a foreign machine to someone accustomed to working the Windows way. However, ever since Apple switched to Intel inside, the Macintosh can run Windows as well as any Dell. It takes a bit of extra software to do it, though.

Each Mac now comes with Boot Camp, which lets users choose their start-up operating system du jour, be it Mac OS X or Windows. A more seamless experience is offered by Parallels Desktop for Mac ($80) and VMware Fusion ($80), both of which run Windows software in the Mac environment. For an extra $20, the Switch to Mac edition of Parallels includes cables, software and tutorials for migrating data and applications from a Windows machine to a Mac.

But the main benefits of the Mac are found in its native operating system, so the sooner your new user makes the transition, the better. Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual, Snow Leopard Edition ($30), released just this month, describes familiar Windows processes and their Macintosh equivalents, including how to translate data from one to the other. Users interested in the Mac's tools for producing, editing and organizing digital media might benefit from Visual QuickStart Guides for iPhoto and other programs in the iLife suite.

And for ongoing news of new Mac developments, there's always Macworld (with its own suggestions in the Gems of the Year round-up), Seth Weintraub's blog Apple Ink and (need we mention it?) Computerworld's own ongoing coverage. (Also note PC World's Apple section.)

Games

Though few people buy a Macintosh for the games, there are some great titles that have made their way to Mac OS X and provide a pleasant diversion for anywhere from a few minutes to an entire weekend.

peggle mac gifts
Peggle is a game available for the Mac.

Peggle ($20) is a casual game akin to The Price is Right's Plinko, where players drop pellets from the top of the screen and see how many bricks they can hit on the way down. World of Goo ($20) is a physics-based point-and-click puzzler in which imprisoned blobs of goo are assembled into structures that their fellow goo balls can scale to freedom. And Braid ($10) is a 2-D platformer like Super Mario Bros. but with fluid temporal mechanics that send the player backward and forward in time. Each of these games has a free playable demo.

More involved games that would appeal to hard-core gamers include The Sims 3 ($50), Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 ($30), and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare ($55).

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