A convert with a crush on his Mac

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This month, I celebrate an anniversary. No, not my wedding anniversary; that was last month. This anniversary marks my second as a Mac convert. Over the past two years, my Mac has lived up to all its promises and has never ceased to delight me.

One of the main reasons for my initial interest in the Mac was security. Having spent countless hours repairing my family’s, friends’ and co-workers’ computers after the ravages of malware, it occurred to me that there must be a better alternative. With its Unix core, the Mac OS X operating system was very appealing to me.

Yeah, I tried several flavors of Linux but never could get any of them configured precisely the way I wanted.

When it comes to raw, out-of-the-box security, the Mac has you covered from the minute you plug it in. Most ports are closed by default, and like Windows XP, OS X comes with a built-in firewall that can be enabled with a few mouse clicks. As far as malware is concerned, well, there are very few viruses or pieces of spyware written that can infect a Mac machine. This isn’t so for the PC. In fact, security vendor Sophos estimates that a brand-new, unprotected PC has about a 50-50 chance of getting infected within its first 12 minutes online. The Mac OS makes it hard for malware to get through.

For example, one of the ways malware is able to “hide” from users under Windows is via hidden file extensions. Many users aren’t aware that even if you tell Windows to display all file extensions, there are still some that are hidden by default. To make matters worse, a Trojan horse or any installed program can reconfigure your extensions so that they are no longer hidden.

Under OS X, you aren’t permitted to hide a file’s “real” extension if hiding it causes the file to appear to have a different extension. Furthermore, if you attempt to append an extension onto an application’s true extension, the true extension will become revealed and you won’t be able to hide it.

Let’s say you have a file called MyApp.app. The common .app Mac extension is hidden by default. If you were to alter the .app extension by appending .jpg to the end of it, you would see MyApp.app.jpg without any changes to the operating system’s default configuration. If you were to change the extension to read MyApp.jpg.app, the application would cease to work.

Another thing that helped in my decision to try a Mac was the abundance of applications available for OS X. My non-Mac constituents had warned me that there were so few Mac applications that I’d be certain to regret my switch. In fact, the most common justifications for not buying a Mac consist of a lack of software, a lack of games and compatibility issues. These excuses are simply myths and have no basis in fact. Just take a look around; there are thousands of applications available for Macs.

According to systems integrator James Clemens at the Babylon, N.Y., public library, his recent addition of eMacs into the library’s large Windows environment proved that Macs could play just fine with PCs. From running Microsoft’s Office suite to doing your taxes via TurboTax or TaxCut, Macs can do it all. When it comes to music, OS X has you covered, too. ITunes allows you to quickly build a playlist and burn that to a CD with just a few mouse clicks.

Don’t get me wrong — I love Windows XP, and with all the changes of late, it’s a secure and fairly stable operating system. But after two years of continuous operations, I’ve had to restart my Mac only once because it froze. And if total cost of ownership has you worried, fear not. In my experience, Macs are more stable and require less technical support than their Windows or Linux counterparts.

Whether it’s freezing screens, blue screens, malware or spyware that has you down, be glad that an alternative is available. As cybersecurity and awareness guru Winn Schwartau says, “You don’t have to take it anymore.” So maybe it’s time you gave Mac OS X a try. As I like to say, once you go Mac, you never go back!

Douglas Schweitzer is a freelance writer and Internet security specialist in Nesconset, N.Y. He can be reached at dougneak@juno.com.

This story, "A convert with a crush on his Mac" was originally published by PCWorld.

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