Should I get a Mac for University?

With the affordability of a baseline model Macbook today, Macs are within the reach of most varsity students’ budget. I’m sure many varsity students will be contemplating between purchasing a Mac or a Windows laptop during their respective institution’s computer fair. Hence, I will be addressing the main issues pertaining to the usage of a Mac in a varsity environment.

Firstly, it is imperative to find out about the software being used in your respective course. If the course uses mainly Windows only software, it may not be advisable to purchase a Mac because it would be of great inconvenience. Of course, you can always choose to bootcamp Windows for schoolwork but considering that you will be spending the bulk of the time in a Windows environment anyway, it would be more cost effective to get a Windows-based laptop from manufacturers like Dell or Hewlett Packard.

Secondly, office suite software like Microsoft Office come in Mac versions too. Hence, you would still be able to open Word documents, PowerPoint presentations or Excel spreadsheets. However, the style and formatting may differ a little if you were to share office documents with another user on Windows. This is just a minor inconvenience though and it can be addressed very easily.

In fact, Apple also has its own office suite called iWork, the latest being iWork 08. This is available as a separate purchase and it has a word processor called Pages, a presentation software called Keynote and a spreadsheet software called Numbers (only available in iWork 08). Keynote in particular is a very powerful presentation tool and would be very useful if your course (eg Business, Accountancy) consists of alot of project presentations. Do take note that if you were to purchase a Macbook, you would require a mini DVI to VGA cable to be able to hook up to the projector for presentations.

Thirdly, connectivity options like Virtual Private Network (VPN), Wireless Access and Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) do work on Macs.

VPN should be a breeze to setup. Your institution would be able to provide instructions for it.

As for RDC, you can download Microsoft RDC from here. Microsoft RDC is still currently in Beta mode and it has run out of date but it will still work fine. The only issue here is that you will get a pesky ‘out of date’ message everytime you startup RDC. Alternatively, you can download Cord which is also a RDC Client. However, do take note that for RDC on a Mac, you have to enter the IP address instead of just the name of the computer which you can do so on Windows. For instance, you would have to enter ‘123.456.67’ on a Mac and not ‘ABCServer’ to be able to connect.

Wireless access setup should also be a breeze in a varsity environment and there should not be any major connectivity issues.

Last but not least, should you purchase the Mac in University, from an authorized reseller or online? Well generally, the University deals tend to be more value for money. You get software packages like Adobe CS and extended warranty ie Apple Care all rolled into one package. However, it really all depends on your needs, budget and your risk appetite. I do advice that people purchase the Apple Care though because alot of things can happen after the first year and you wouldn’t want to shell out on servicing should something malfunction.

I’ve personally used a 1st Gen Black Macbook in NTU since 2006 and I’ve been very pleased with my experience. In particular, the Keynote presentation software was really useful in differentiating my projects from the others and never fails to wow the tutors 😉 And connecting to my school’s server using the Microsoft RDC Client was a breeze and I could easily practice my SAP modules online this way. I hope this guide would help to answer most of the queries pertaining to getting a Mac for University. – Vader


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