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My Mac Mini and me

Not a to be mistaken for a shopoholic, CNET's Jeff Pelline was among the first to buy a Mac Mini--to fulfill his curiosity.

I'm definitely not one to shop till you drop, but I snapped up a Mac Mini on Saturday morning--at a mall, no less. You know, just to feel good.

"Why?" my wife asked when I got home, holding my son with one hand and my "headless" Mac--in its own little box with a handle--in the other. (No need for a bag--that's my style).

"Oh, why not. Look, one of my favorite mottos is "spon-tan-e-i-ty."

It didn't break the bank, either--for $499, I got a computer and a DVD player, and I quickly built a home media center with our existing HDTV. (Oh, and I got to download iLife '05 on my other Mac, a $79 "value.") This toy also fulfilled my curiosity--as a consumer and a journalist.

My 2-year-old son, Mitchell, and I showed up at the Apple Store in Marin County, Calif., at 8:45 a.m. It opened an hour earlier than usual--at 9 a.m.--to begin selling Mac Minis and iPod Shuffles.

It was cold and foggy, and the mall was deserted--except for about 20 people waiting in line at the Apple Store. These Apple faithful were a motley crew: an older woman who wanted an iPod Shuffle ("I want to play books on tape"); a man and his daughter ("My cousin works at Apple, but I don't need his employee discount at this price"); and a teenager ("I want the Shuffle"). And I wanted the stripped-down Mini.

Shoppers' big smiles were quickly wiped off their faces when a clerk broke the bad news: There were no iPod Shuffles in stock.
The doors flung open on time, and we all marched inside. "Are you excited?" an Apple clerk asked. "Yes," most people shouted. But those big smiles were quickly wiped off their faces when a clerk broke the bad news: There were no iPod Shuffles in stock. She tried to corral them and get them to order online--the wait is two weeks to three weeks--but most just left in disgust.

The line quickly shortened, and I found myself at the front. I paid for my Mini and was home in half an hour. I plugged my headless Mac into the Sharp HDTV in the living room, and in no time, Mitchell was watching "Finding Nemo" and "Dora the Explorer" on the "big screen." The DVI connection heightened the picture quality. Later, we listened to music from "Ralph's World" from the pint-size Mac, courtesy of an iPod. We navigated with a wireless keyboard and mouse borrowed from my desktop Mac.

Our home media center was hardly complete: We wanted to surf the Net, and share music and photos from the home Wi-Fi network, but this off-the-shelf model had no wireless card. I knew that, but I wanted to get started right away. ("Spon-tan-e-i-ty," remember?) I'll get the card installed for an extra $79 next week, and we'll be in business. In the meantime, we can surf the Web by taking the 3-pound Mini (I've already nicknamed it "Mini Me") to the den, where I have a cable modem.

Mac Mini review

    Thumbs up:
  • Compact, good-looking design
  • Easy to set up
  • Good price
  • Thumbs down:

  • Can buy more PC at this price
  • Wireless requires dealer install
  • Still a lot of cords
I know we'll get our money's worth from the Mini. I can plug it into a small flat-panel TV in the kitchen, and take it to Lake Tahoe or to work. I still have my original "Web TV" in the garage; with this setup, I'm going uptown.

The Mini isn't for everybody, however. Some would call it too small--even the familiar ring you hear when firing up a Mac sounds muted on the Mini. It's not that much of bargain, either. You can buy a fully equipped Dell desktop PC, with a flat-panel monitor, for the same price, according to Dell's Web site.

I'm not going to trade my IBM laptop for a headless Mac, either--I like its substance and style.

Most of all, my latest purchase reminded me of "," mocked by Gizmodo in a recent posting that is fun reading. "Will it be merely an incremental improvement?" reads the ad, titled "Announcing the Apple iProduct."

"It doesn't matter," the posting continued. "We'll still trumpet it as a brand-new product, and you'll buy it. You'll know you want it."

But the lesson from Apple should be taken seriously. Steve Jobs is a college dropout, not an MBA. But (unlike many MBAs) Steve is smart enough to know that if you build good products and market them, people will come--they'll even line up in front of your store on weekends.

You don't need to spin Wall Street; the iPod--barely three years old--accounts for a third of Apple's sales.

That's some feat. Ten years ago, Apple was almost out of business: It was losing hundreds of millions of dollars and laying off thousands of employees. As Bill Gates put it, "They had a hit with the Apple II, they had a hit with the Macintosh, and they have a hit with the iPod...and that's very impressive. There are a lot of companies that don't have three hits."

Apple isn't the only one generating buzz in the technology business--and God knows, the industry could use more. In the interest of equal time, the release of "Halo 2"--the follow-up to the most successful title ever for Microsoft's Xbox--was a smash hit.

I'm going to sit on the sidelines for a while and let others do the buying. But looking around the house, one innovation would get me back into the mall: a computer shaped like a Faberge egg.

Any takers?

Jeff wonders if he can staple this column to his tax return and get a deduction for buying a Mac Mini as a "business" expense.

Mitchell Pelline gives his approval to his father's purchase of a Mac Mini.