Tech Audit

Big Mac Attack

Is it time to go nonstandard? Macintosh on the desktop? We may be moving toward the day when there will be no computing standards and we will be free to pick what is truly best. But can a law firm safely move away from the Microsoft standard today?

Law firms and courts tend to behave like novice stock market investors, buying when they should sell, selling when they should buy. Today, Windows seems omnipresent and any other solution seems questionable. But a contrarian view of computing justifies a hard look at today’s Macintosh.

Every few years we nostalgically look at, and sometimes write about, the Macintosh. Invariably, we conclude that most of Macintosh’s features are better than conventional Windows, but not so much better as to overcome Windows warts. Things are different now.

It used to be difficult to mix a Macintosh into a Windows network. No longer. It is pretty much plug and play.

There used to be many must-have programs that only ran on Windows. That is becoming less and less true now. For instance, electronic legal research is more effective through a Web browser than through a proprietary program. Word processors, in our opinion, are becoming less central to the practice of law. But if you love your word processor, Chicago lawyer Mark Hellmann tells us that Word 2004 on the Macintosh is more powerful than Word for Windows.

The Macintosh iMac G5 desktop machines have received good reviews. The iMac looks like a keyboard with a relatively thin monitor. Hard disk and other peripherals are in the monitor. The design is not only striking but functional.

However, it is the G4 iBook laptop that has us salivating. Depending primarily on screen size, base price starts at $1,000. CompUSA displays G4 iBook configurations that are $1,300 with 12-inch screen, $2,050 with 15-inch and $2,800 with an impressive 17-inch screen. With adequate RAM, these machines elegantly multitask at a speed that leaves Windows in the dust.

One can purchase reasonably powerful Windows desktop machines without monitors for about $350. But it is hard to find reasonably powerful Windows laptops for less than $1,000, particularly if known reliability is important. At last, Macintosh hardware is competitive. Mac desktop machines are not unreasonably priced, but it’s the laptops that are a bargain. The superior Macintosh interface and the solid plumbing of its operating system make it fun as well.

We had a paralegal who wanted to use her own Mac­in­tosh laptop within our Windows and Linux office network. No problem. She just plugged in and Lotus Notes, within which she spent 90 percent of her time, functioned natively.

If you prepare tax returns, you probably will not find a native Mac program that matches heavy-duty Win­dows tax preparation programs. And timekeeping may be difficult, but there are solutions:

• Emulation (running a Windows time-and-billing program within Macintosh).

• Exporting data from Mac into Windows.

• Dictating time (and having a secretary input on a Windows machine).

• Building a timekeeping database.

But disadvantages with the Mac are becoming fewer and fewer. And they are counterbalanced by the increased functionality of a great platform with programs of its own. The fact that these Macs easily integrate into your Win­dows network assists the transition.

G4 for You

David Beckman recently bought a G4 iBook, which his son absconded with and took to college. After a semester, his son reports his friends repeatedly have to reformat their Windows hard drives because of pernicious matter that flows through college networks. The iBook has been rock solid, with no need to reformat.

The iBook came with 256MB of RAM. Beckman added a gigabyte of RAM for $160 by purchasing a single chip from a third-party vendor and easily plugging it in. The iBook also has significantly longer battery life than typically found on Windows hardware. David Hirsch likes the machine so much that a G4 iBook will likely become his next purchase.

And for those Windows programs you must have, a Windows emulator such as Virtual PC 7 (now a Microsoft product) probably is sufficient for noncore applications. The hype would lead you to believe it will run Win­dows better than Windows runs Win­dows. We will believe that only when we see it.

If you purchase Word and/or Virtual PC for the Macin­tosh, you certainly won’t be Microsoft free, but you will be on your way to a new experience. There are a lot of things making this the right time to take a long, hard look at Macintosh, including the fact that some old systems and software may need replacing. There has never been a better time to consider Mac­intosh.

There are lawyers out there using Macs. Right now they are a silent minority. But as a group they are loyal, self-confident and sharing.

The last time we were in Chicago, the highly trafficked Apple store on Michigan Avenue appeared on its way to becoming a commercial icon. Apple stores are starting to show up in upscale shopping centers.

But perhaps the best reason to purchase a new Macin­tosh is the iPod, which works with about any computer but is rumored to be most compatible with the Mac. That is sweet revenge to the Mac owners who have had to put up with Microsoft limitations. And the iPod can be used for more than music; it will also store data.

David Beckman and David Hirsch practice in the law firm of Beckman & Hirsch in Burlington, Iowa. Contact Beckman by e-mail at or Hirsch at

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