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How big will the Mini be?

Early reactions show wide and varied purchasing interest in newly unveiled Mac Mini. Photos: Mac Mini

Windows developer Alex Gorbatchev just bought his first Mac.

The Toronto resident said he has long wanted to see how the other side lives, but the iMac was "too expensive a toy."

"I've never had my hands on a Mac and I'm really curious to get my hands on one," Gorbatchev said in an e-mail.

News.context

What's new:
The much-anticipated Mac Mini has arrived, and some Windows users who've toyed with the idea of a Mac are ready to open their wallets.

Bottom line:
Apple figures many Windows users have been interested in a Mac, but were daunted by the price tag. Now that the cheaper Mac Mini has arrived, how many PC users will switch?

More stories on the Mac Mini

Gorbatchev is just the kind of person Apple Computer hoped to appeal to by introducing its $499 Mac Mini. The company reasons that plenty of Windows users have been interested in a Mac but are turned off by the hefty price tag.

The Mac Mini is indeed cheap by Mac standards, though it's still pricier than bottom-of-the-line PCs. That said, analysts say it is just the kind of device that could spur PC-toting iPod owners and others to give the Mac a try--the so called "halo effect" Wall Street has been looking for.

The main question now is just how bright a halo the new machine will shine on its maker.

Needham analyst Charles Wolf said that he now estimates 11 percent of iPod-toting Windows users may buy a Mac now that the Mini is on the market. Before that, he assumed the rate would be closer to 4 percent.

"The iPods only failure has been its inability to stimulate meaningful purchases of Macintoshes," Wolf said in a research note prior to Apple's Wednesday announcement of record sales and earnings. "We believe the Mac Mini will increase the percentage of iPod-toting Windows users who purchase a Mac by almost threefold."

Olly Hodgson is another who says he may switch when the Mini officially goes on sale Jan. 22.

The Cheltenham, England, Web developer says he, too, is considering buying the Mac Mini as a way to try out life as a Mac user.

"I hear so many good things about Apple's OS X, but I've never actually used it," Hodgson said in an e-mail interview. "With the Mac Mini, I can buy into it cheaply and see if I like it."

If all goes well, Hodgson said, he'll end up with a computer that's just as powerful as his two Windows-based PCs, only smaller and quieter. If not, he says it will still be useful for testing how Web sites he creates look on a Mac.

While Gorbatchev and Hodgson were attracted by the computer's lower price, the Mini's small size also is also drawing attention from potential buyers.

San Francisco production manager Paul Hocker is thinking about getting a Mac Mini for his parents. They spend half the year in Virginia and the other half in Maine and currently have a PC in each place so they don't have to lug a large computer back and forth.

"Since they have a monitor and keyboard already in both locations, they could easily take just the Mini with them," Hocker said. "By only using one computer, they will have all their files, e-mail, games, etc. on the one computer that they have with them."

If Hocker does buy Mom and Dad a Mac Mini, it won't be his first Mini purchase. He already bought one for himself. The machine will probably act as an iTunes music server, replacing an aging G3-based iMac. Hocker said he already has three Macintoshes in his house, not counting the Power Mac G4 that belongs to his boyfriend.

Gorbatchev said he's not yet totally sure how he'll use his new Mac Mini. He already has two Windows laptops and three desktop PCs.

His initial thought: Use the Mac Mini as a media PC, depending on how quiet the machine. How he uses it will also depend, he said, on the quality of the audio that can be sent from the headphone jack.

"An optical output would've greatly increased its chances (in) the media PC area," he said. "I was pretty disappointed that Apple didn't see this aspect."

The Mini does have its limitations--it's hard to upgrade, has a comparatively slow processor, and of course, as Apple CEO Steve Jobs said Tuesday, it's BYODKM (Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard and Mouse).

Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg said most people who have a keyboard mouse and display also have a PC connected to those things.

Gartenberg added that although some people may need to spend more than the $499 to buy a keyboard, mouse and monitor, the low sticker price breaks an important psychological barrier.

"There's been a lot of interest in the Mac for many years now," Gartenberg said, but most people "just didn?t want to pay for it."

Those who don?t want to pull the plug on their Windows machines have options that don't require buying a new set of peripherals to make the Mini usable. St. Louis graphic designer Sharon Heisel is considering getting a Mini to sit alongside her PC. A device called a KVM (keyboard, Video and Mouse) switch would allow her to toggle back and forth between the two machines.

If she does get a Mini, she would stick to the PC for her design work, but use the Mac for Web surfing and e-mail, due to its better record when it comes to viruses and security.

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