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If I couldn't use a Mac

Sang Tang

Joshua Piven's The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook sits on my desk. The book provides instructions on how to deal with certain scenarios, say wrestling yourself free from an alligator or landing an airplane. What it doesn't provide, however, is a guide for going without your Mac and using a Windows-based PC, which is a worst-case scenario for many TUAW readers. What if I was forced to use a PC notebook? What would I use?

There are certain scenarios in which you have no recourse but to use a PC notebook, so let's run through a couple of them. The first, and most obvious, is if it's standard equipment at your job. Even here, though, there are some variations. Companies with tight computing policies will give you little or no options for hardware and software; they pick out your notebook for you, and you can't install anything because you don't have admin rights.

Other companies, however, will allow you some choice on the hardware but maintain a tight reign on software. Though the converse can also occur, it is less common.

Another scenario, also out of the control of many, is if your parents will buy you a notebook, but they place restrictions -- ahem, "Here's $500 so that you can you get yourself a laptop." You're given a set budget that, even with the extra birthday cash grandma gave you, won't even come close to getting you a MacBook.

Although I've always owned both a PC and a Mac, my first PC notebook was an IBM ThinkPad 500 (now made by Lenovo). Each subsequent PC notebook purchase would also be a ThinkPad: a T20, T30, and company issued T43 and Z60. And if I had to buy a PC notebook, it would be an IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad (most likely one from their T Series). For me, it all boils down to the keyboard. ThinkPads are equipped with full-size keyboards, and their feel and "springiness" are unparalleled, in my opinion.

However, I'm the only TUAW'er in the ThinkPad crowd. For Aron Trimble, Erica Sadun and Mike Rose, "hackintosh-ability" is important. That's why, in addition to her Macs, Erica Sadun owns three Dell Minis; the Dell Mini is a popular notebook in the OSx86 community. Aron Trimble followed in Erica's footsteps by purchasing a Dell Mini last fall. However, if he had to choose a machine that was strictly for Windows use, Aron would pick a Sony Vaio. Aron says that, in his opinion, "they have some of the highest quality and best designed hardware."

Similarly, Chris Rawson half-seriously considered buying a 17" Vaio in early 2008, back when "Apple was taking too damn long to update the MacBook Pro." However, the Vaio's 1.5 hour battery life, and the fact that it came with Windows Vista, turned him off to the idea altogether. "I'd rather have no computer at all than deal with that hot mess," says Chris.

Steve Sande, like many, would prefer to virtualize Windows on a Mac rather than own a Windows-based PC. "If I had to get a PC, I'd still get a MacBook Pro and then install VMWare/Windows 7 on it," says Steve. Why? "Because I could still run Mac OS X on it when I needed to."

But do we even need notebook computers anymore? While notebooks have their place in the personal computing usage continuum, the role has become less diverse than before. Since Aron Trimble purchased his iPad, his MacBook Pro never leaves the desk, where it's hooked up to a 23" Apple Cinema Display. "I feel bad for it," says Aron. Likewise, Steve Sande sold his MacBook Air shortly after he purchased his iPad because "it wasn't being used at all."

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