Man, everybody iis different. If you take two people that use different OS platforms and put them in a room, the two of them will argue why theirs is the best. People used to say that you cannot compare Macs and PCs because of the different architecture. However, as they (Apple) have made the move to intel, that chasm that separated the two systems have gotten significantly. I do not mean to sound cliche but I myself, like the thousands of other users do find the Mac platform to be superior. but I am not going to fight you down on that. I will try my best to not digress and se how much I can help you with your question.
I made the switch from Windows to PC just late last year because I myself do (graphic) Art and I was advised that the Apple was much more stable. I have not found any reason to dispute that since I have started using it. My use a 17" Powerbook G4. I am running a 1.67Ghz processor, 512 Mb DDR SDRAM, a 5400 rpm, 100 Gb(Actually 93Gb) hard drive. My operating system is Mac OS X 10.4.5. Tiger.
How do we, Mac users cope? We do just fine. Mac OS X Tiger comes with what we call, "Classic Environment." It allows the mac to be able to run native Mac OS 9 applications when needed. Actually, I have used mac OS 9 before and compared to this Tiger, I would boast a bit and say that Tiger has a breeze. I would even go as faras saying that it is the King of being user friendly. Expose is beautiful. It makes my work so much easier and Spotlight is a darling. The computer mulitasks brilliantly and I do not think that any other computer running a different OS with the same hardware specs as this powerbook will be able to do it so sweetly. Plug and play on the platform is heaven but I have only gotten problems with Dell printers and Dell all-in-one devices and I lament the fact that the laptop line still does not have physical support for right clicking. Other than that I have no complaints. My system has never crashed, I hardly ever have to force quit applications and when I do, it is because of 3rd party application add-ons and it is never a headache. And for a fact, I can also proudly hold my head high and say that there are no viruses that can affect a Mac OS X Tiger system. There is no spyware or malware that can affect it. So, tell me, compared to Windows swhen Microsoft often bring out security updates all the time and users afre talking about some virus that attacked their system, and some worm infecting files and stuff, when we have out systems and none of this happens to us; tell me, how do you think we cope?
Now everything depends on what you are going to use it to do. You are going to do Art so I am assuming that you probably want to do some stuff in Photoshop and if you aquire some other stuff through download or purchasing, you will most likely need a good 80 Gb system with at least 512 Mb RAM. To answer one of your questions; yes there are applications available for download for the mac. If you want help with chosing some when you do buy your mac, you can e-mail me that is not a problem, I would be glad to help. There are optional web browsers, the same Microsoft Office, with Entourage-the equivalent or better to Windoze's Outlook which by the way is so helpful. There are games, a bunch of applications that a lot of us will find very useful, all available via download and most of them are freewaare.
Now the next part that you have to consider is whether you want to go power PC with your purchase or do you want to buy an Intel based Macintosh. That answer should be simple enough to answer if you do a bit of reading on application Manufacturers that will have software ready for when the new Apples begin shipping out this month. If you are considering your performance and you are contemplating using software from Adobe, they clearly stated that their line-up of products will not nativelhy support Intel based macs to until the next year-2 years. [Correct me if I am wrong anybody] If you buy an intel based Macintosh computer now, your Adobe applications will be running in an emulated mode under what Steve Jobs calls, "Rosetta." People who have reviewd the Intel Macs or Mactels, have stated that Adobe Photoshop does not run at the speed that users will expect on these computers. Now I use Adobe and Photoshop as examples of software that you may use or for comparison purposes of other software/applications to their likeliness.
Bearing this in mind, that and the fact that you are a student, you would not have to worry about the Mactels. And if you want to stay on top of the classes or keep up, you can buy the G4 or G5 Power PC Macintoshes.
Now there are several ways you can go. You can buy a mac mini but you have to be prepared to have your own mouse, keypad and monitor to go with it. That may be the best way to go. You get a really good system. I think it is an 80 GB hard disk, 512 DDR SDRAM, built in 802.11b/g, and bluetooth, 32 Mb graphics card, 1 Firewire port and 2 USB ports and a DVD RW drive for US$699. If that is not your style, you can look at the iMac G5. A complete computer system with a built in Webcam and remote with a boss configuration of a 20-inch widescreen LCD, 2.1GHz PowerPC G5, 512MB memory (533MHz DDR2 SDRAM), 250GB Serial ATA hard drive, Slot-load 8x double-layer DVD Burner and ATI Radeon X600 XT with 128MB DDR video memory for US$1499.
Like I said, everyone is different and so too would their needs for hardware vary based on software necessity be. You will know what you will buy because of the amount of money you will have. You may be working with a limited budget that may not allow you to go for the iMac G5 so you may go for the Mac Mini instead. Or you may decide that you will buy an Intel based PC now and you do nto actually mind if your Photosshop does not excel in performance on it because you have the patience for 2 years and after that will be smooth sailing for you.
As it is, Photoshop flies on the G5 and 160 Gb-you cannot go wrong with that. the 20" wide screen is alluring but you may sacrifice all of that when you areready.
If I had to buy one, honestly, I would buy the 20" iMac G5. But you will just have to prioritize between your funds and what performance you want to get out of your machine and how long can you wait for your native Intel based software. Therin you will find out which computer to buy.
Visit the apple website, www.apple.com and I am sure that you will see something that you like. If not, call them and talk to one of the reps and see what happens. Plus i think there are specials for students in the US who wish to purchase their computers.
I hope I was able to help you there.
Take care. Bye.