Mac Gift Guide: 10 picks for your favorite Apple fan

Whether it's a new OS, a laptop backpack or a one-of-a-kind widget, options abound

With Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday now behind us, the holiday shopping season is in full swing. But shopping for Mac users and Apple fans can sometimes be a challenge -- especially if you want to get something other than the obvious choices, or if you're not as big an Apple fan as the person you're shopping for. With that in mind, here are 10 great gift ideas for the Mac user on your list.

Mac OS X 10.5 'Leopard'

If you're shopping for a die-hard Mac fan, chances are good that he has already upgraded to Leopard, which has been out since October 26. Many users, however, delay making a major upgrade like this for weeks or months -- sometimes for cost-related reasons, sometimes to make sure those first-release bugs have been found and fixed. Others wait until they're ready to buy a new computer so that they can simply get the latest operating system included.

With more than 300 new features and revamped apps, the US$129 Leopard is a great gift for someone who's been on the fence about when to make the jump to the operating system. Even for nontechnical users, Leopard is a holiday winner because it includes Time Machine, the easiest (and coolest) backup software on the planet, and screen-sharing via iChat.

If you're the power user in the family who always gets stuck with the "something's wrong with my computer" phone calls, Leopard is a gift that keeps on giving -- to you. That's because screen-sharing with iChat works great as a remote troubleshooting tool for family and friends.

If you're eyeing Leopard as a gift, keep two things in mind. First, make sure the people you're buying for haven't bought it already (or plan to buy it in the immediate future). Also, you'll want to be sure that their Mac meets the minimum Leopard system requirements. (Among other things, they need a computer with at least 512MB of RAM, a PowerPC G4 or better chip running at a minimum of 867 MHz and a DVD drive.)

An external hard drive

Since we mentioned Time Machine as a reason to give Apple's latest operating system, let's move on to another smart gift idea for Leopard users (or as a companion gift to the operating system): a large-capacity external hard drive. Time Machine makes backing up easy, but it's best to use it with an external hard drive. The bigger the drive, the better the safety net Time Machine can provide.

So, how big is too big? There's no such a thing as too big when it comes to data storage. However, a 500GB drive is probably ample for most Mac users to maintain solid backups of their systems and digital media such as photos, movies and music. Apple's online store currently offers a deal on a 500GB USB 2.0 drive from Iomega -- priced at US$169.95 -- that's worth considering.

iLife '08

Many Apple fans went out and bought copies of iLife '08 when it shipped in August, but as with Leopard, there are no doubt a number of Mac users who didn't upgrade immediately, figuring that they'd get a new version of iLife with their next Mac. ILife '08 is a perfect gift for these users, particularly if they never warmed to the earlier versions of iLife because iMovie seemed slow to import video or GarageBand seemed too complicated.

Apple addressed these issues and added handy enhancements to every application in the suite, making it well worth the US$79 price tag. For those who like to share photos and videos online, the updates to iWeb and the .Mac Web galleries are impressive enough on their own to make iLife '08 a great gift.

If your giftees have already upgraded iLife and spends a lot of time working with iMovie and/or GarageBand, you might consider getting them Final Cut Express 4 or Logic Express 8. Although these are a little pricey at US$199 each, they offer an introduction to the realm of Apple's professional video- and audio-editing tools for budding videographers, musicians and DJs.

The more budget-minded should consider iMovie plug-ins such as those from Gee Three and cf/x, which offer enhanced special effects and other features, or Jam Packs that add all manner of audio loops and add-on tools for GarageBand. The Gee Three software ranges in price from US$29.95 to US$49.95, but you can save money when buying more than one. The cf/x plug-ins range from US$1.50 to US$9.95, making them the digital equivalent of stocking stuffers, while Jam Packs go for US$99 each.

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Ryan Faas

Computerworld

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