I am the proud owner of a MyBook external hard drive

Western Digital MyBook I am a serious computer user and I slow mine down. No matter what the specs are, I always manage to somehow make even the fastest computer slow. I’ve had both PCs and Macs and both have needed to be fixed up a few times. I don’t know how to reformat hard drives and for what I’m trying to do, reinstalling the operating system works fine. This is the second time I’ve reinstalled OS X on this MacBook, which I got in January 2007. To make things easier this go around, I bought a Western Digital MyBook external hard drive at Circuit City.

It’s a 320GB Essential Edition, is plenty for me, especially because it was only $100. It doesn’t have a lot of fancy features, but I really just wanted something inexpensive and reliable to back up my files on. I’m going to store my enormous media collection on it, mostly filled with movies and TV shows, as well as keep backups of my very important website files.

So far I’m very happy with it, except it took me ages to move everything over last night, but I think that was because my computer has been incredibly slow lately. When I moved files back to the fresh OS, the transfer went much smoother. I’m going to leave Illustrator and Photoshop on MyBook because they take up a lot of resources and I don’t use them very much. I think I’ve used Photoshop once. Illustrator is more for when I’m actually feeling inspired, which hasn’t been lately.

Don’t spend money on software

Finding good, reliable software is hard sometimes, especially after being spoiled by programs like Photoshop or Coda. But spending precious money on software is not the smartest thing to do when you can find equally good (and sometimes better) programs for free. Almost all of the programs on my computer were free, with the exception of Illustrator, Photoshop and Coda.

Software for Starving Students is a great resource for both Mac and PC users. (Again, sorry Linux) Their collection of freeware is geared toward students, although anyone could find most of the programs useful. They have a version for both Mac and PC. There is a good number of programs (30+ in both packages) and I have most of them. Unfortunately, you have to download the file and burn it to a CD that will install everything. If you don’t want to do that, they have a list of all the included software and you can pick and choose which to install.

Two other great websites are Open Source Windows and its Mac equivalent, Open Source Mac. They list the essential types of software, including browsers, word processors, graphic programs, and instant messengers.

For Mac users, FreeMacWare is a great resource for free software. They have almost every free program that’s available. If you’re looking for programs not offered at the above websites or just want to clutter up your Applications folder, this website will help you.

Considering the switch?

MacBook I’ve had people come up to me when I’m on my Mac and ask questions. “Is it really much easier to use?” or “Are they worth it?” In short answer, it depends on who you are and how you plan on using your computer. The switching debate has been around for awhile and I want to put in my two cents because even though they aren’t worth that much, it might help someone out.

Before you decide whether or not to switch to a Mac, ask yourself this question: “What do you plan on doing with your computer?” If your answer is writing a paper here and there and checking your email, then stick with a PC. Why buy something expensive you’re barely going to use? It’s not going to make a difference what computer you’re on if you’re just using Microsoft Word anyway. If you’re going to play games, stick with a PC, obviously. But if you’re going to be spending a lot of time on your computer, especially if you’re designing, you might want to consider a Mac.

Why Apple? The Mac community will tell you a thousand times over that Macs just work. And they do, usually. There’s cases where they break, where their hard drives crash and so on. But the amount of those cases are significantly lower because they’re higher quality. Apple is an American company and while Dell is, too, tech support for Dell is in India. Apples are more expensive, but if your Apple lasts you ten years while your Dell lasts you two, what’s the better deal? Even if the Dell was only $500 and the Apple was $1500, you’re saving money.

Another thing Mac users will testify to is that they work right out of the box. And that’s true. You don’t have to customize anything. No tweaking all the settings, no uninstalling fifty trial programs you didn’t want in the first place. (Although Macs do come with trial software, such as iLife, you can simply delete it if necessary, and that’s only one trial, not twelve.)

Honestly, my favorite thing about Macs is the software. People can say what they want about the hardware, the GUI, but my favorite is the software. I’ve found so many freeware programs that do exactly what I need. I do have a PC also and when using it, I get sad that I don’t have my Quicksilver or my Cyberduck. Yes, Windows does have freeware, but the quality of those programs just isn’t the same. I’ve also yet to find a good Windows equivalent to Coda (yes, I know it’s not free, but it’s worth it.)

Another thing in the debate is the Mac community, or cult if you will. They’re right. If you have a Mac, you’re automatically in a secret society where members help each other out, simply because they own a Mac. I still don’t know why this is, but it’s true. I’ve instantly liked someone because they belong to the Apple fan club.

There are many reasons to choose a Mac, reliability, aesthetics, or even the community and many reasons not to, price and the fact that they aren’t as common (big effect on students) . But the bottom line is, the decision should be based on what you’re going to use the computer for because I can tell you it’s not worth it to pay $1500 for a Mac you’re just going to check your email on. If you’re going to be an amateur movie director, by all means, get a Mac. All that software comes with it. But if you’re not, spend the extra money on something more worth your time.

Replace Microsoft Office

I personally don’t use Microsoft Office for two reasons. One, I hate it. Two, there’s other options. My mom was able to get me an educational version for $15 last year from her university’s bookstore. The Office for Mac is the same formatting Nazi that it is for Windows. Because of that, I decided to try out NeoOffice, an open-source office suite for Mac (its Windows base is OpenOffice.) It doesn’t have the weird automatic formatting, but it’s able to do everything MS Office can do.

There are also no-download-required options to replace Microsoft Office.

I’ve only tried Google Docs and found it to be very nice. I still prefer to have actual software on my computer for some reason. But it is nice if you’re on a computer you can’t install software on (or don’t want to).

No Download Required: 30+ Apps That Are Killing Microsoft goes into detail about more web apps that aren’t only office suites, but simple replacements of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. Mashable has very nice articles, although I find they’re hard to locate.

P.S. When reading Study Hacks, I came across a link to an article, Living with Microsoft Word: Tips for Survival. So if you do like/want to/have to use MS Office, that article will give you some tips.