Last week we posted the 2007 TidBITS Gift Guide Survey and asked you to rate the items that the TidBITS community had recommended as the top gifts to give during the holiday season. After much tabulation and analysis, which required tapping a supercomputing cluster to borrow processing time because it's that important, we're now ready to present the results.
After you've read this year's top picks as chosen in the survey, be sure to check out the full TidBITS Talk threads: Hardware, Software, Games, Computer Miscellaneous, and For the Macintosh-Minded. The discussions are still active, so be sure to check them out to find more details about items that didn't quite make the cut in the survey, along with a number of gift ideas that came in too late to be included in the survey.
Apple Software -- No one will be surprised to learn that the top item in the Apple Software category was Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, followed by iLife '08 and iWork '08. What was a bit surprising was to see .Mac in the bottom spot; apparently Apple's online service isn't universally appreciated among portions of the Mac community. We're sure every TidBITS reader is familiar with Leopard, iLife, and iWork, so we won't waste your time with further descriptions or accolades.
Game and Entertainment Software -- In a race that was too close to call, not one, not two, but four games bubbled to the top of the Game and Entertainment category: World of Warcraft, Bejeweled 2 Deluxe, Lego Star Wars I and II, and Super Mario Galaxy for the Nintendo Wii.
World of Warcraft from Blizzard Entertainment: Andy Affleck wrote, "In my nearly non-existent downtime this year, I play a fair amount of World of Warcraft. This massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) has been around for some years now, but it keeps getting better and the game remains fun. Along with the sheer joy of hack-and-slash fun, there's also the interaction with other people through online organizations called guilds. In addition to adventuring together, we have hosted dueling tournaments, online parties, and even a wedding. World of Warcraft is not for everyone, and it can be dauntingly expensive over the long term. But I feel I get more enjoyment out of my $15 per month subscription than from my more-expensive cable TV bill."
Bejeweled 2 Deluxe from PopCap Games: Andy also suggested this one, writing, "Another family favorite has been Bejeweled 2 Deluxe. Like Sudoku, it's good for mindless puzzle fun which, in our busy lives, is often very needed and welcome. I especially like the hidden mode (unlocked after your score is sufficiently high) in which gravity reverses itself every time you remove gems from the board."
Lego Star Wars I and II from Aspyr: This recommendation comes from a second-hand, but unimpeachable, source: a 10-year-old boy. "Ayoub" wrote: "My 10-year-old son suggests Lego Star Wars I and II as two of the best games in the universe. I do know that he enjoys playing these, and that the Star Wars theme is consistently carried out in the game. He also has enjoyed introducing some of his friends to this game and they seem to all enjoy it heartily."
Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii from Nintendo: Lewis Butler raved, "The game I'm most interested in seeing is Super Mario Galaxy. Yes, the 897th sequel to Donkey Kong is coming out for the Nintendo Wii and if you believe the buzz, it leaves the previous 896 games in the dust. Okay, 897th might be a slight exaggeration. It is over 100 though. This is a fully 3D game with a variety of physics models as Mario once more tries to rescue the princess, this time whilst traveling through space. Amazingly enough, Nintendo has managed to take the barrel-dodging Mario through over 25 years of mostly decent and even innovative games. The look and play of Super Mario Galaxy has gotten rave reviews (there's even a Wikipedia entry) and although I haven't been able to play it yet, it's on my 'I really want' list for this year. Along with a Wii to play it on."
Lukas Mathis seconded the suggestion for Super Mario Galaxy, noting, "It really is an amazing game. GameRankings.com, a site which aggregates game review scores from several publications, currently lists it as the second highest rated game of all time, beating out such classics as 'The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time' and 'Metroid Prime.' The site is a great resource for people who don't usually buy games, by the way. Instead of getting your nephew some random movie license game (which is probably rather bad), go to GameRankings.com and find a game that is actually good."
Software That Improves Your Mac Experience -- We're not talking about getting warm socks for your Mac here. Sometimes the best gifts are the most useful, and these programs will make anyone's Mac experience smoother and more productive. Two programs stood out from the pack in this category, both long-standing utilities that have proven their worth for years: LaunchBar and Fetch.
LaunchBar from Objective Development: Lewis Butler waxed eloquent about LaunchBar's many virtues. "There's only one piece of software that I automatically install on any Macintosh I am going to be using for more than a few minutes. Sure, there are a lot of useful doodads and gewgaws that are nice to have, but there's only one that has become absolutely essential to how I use the computer. So much so that I find myself truly annoyed when it's not installed. LaunchBar. It does everything, it does it well, it never causes me problems (unlike some of the knockoffs I've tried), and it just works every time without issue. LaunchBar allows me to ignore the Dock, launch any application in a couple of keystrokes, queue up music, and open files with a specific app. It also does a lot of other things I don't know about; I use only about a third of its functionality, and even that makes it indispensable to me."
Fetch from Fetch Softworks: While LaunchBar has so many features that even rabid users admit they're using only a subset, the FTP program Fetch, from Fetch Softworks, goes in the other direction, focusing on ease-of-use and background capabilities such as support for secure FTP variants. There are plenty of other thoroughly capable FTP clients these days, but Fetch gets the job done quickly and easily.
Software with which You Make Things -- Many people see computers purely as communication and entertainment devices, but we know better - Macs make things, and with these programs anyone can create a Web site, plot out a book, redesign your living room, and much more. Despite votes for MacRabbit's CSSEdit, Panic's Coda, BeLight's Live Interior 3D, and others, the runaway favorite in the polling was the jack-of-all-graphic-trades GraphicConverter, from Lemkesoft. Kevin van Haaren wrote "GraphicConverter has been around forever for good reason. I'm not fond of its actual image editing tools, but for conversion, stretching, resizing, and especially batching these operations, it's a great product. I even prefer its slideshows to iPhoto's."
Other Software -- Some applications resist easy categorization, but there's no arguing with their success or their utility. Two products stood out in this grab-bag category as perhaps the most talked-about independent Mac programs of the year, and as usual, they end up being mentioned in the same breath: the virtualization packages VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop. VMware is offering a "buy one, get another half off" holiday promotion, and Parallels has a number of holiday specials, including one that bundles several key Windows utilities for backup and virus protection). We've written lots about the pair, both here in TidBITS and in Joe Kissell's "Take Control of Running Windows on a Mac." But I think Joe summed it up best in "Parallels and VMware Continue Rivalry; World Peace Remains Elusive" (2007-10-07), when he said:
"All I'm saying is that Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion are still, all things considered, pretty evenly matched....Some readers will surely take exception to my claim, and of those, some will insist that Parallels is better while others will insist, with equal fervor, that Fusion is superior. Which more or less proves my point. I've read comparisons of the two programs on various Web sites, and of course I've used them enough in writing 'Take Control of Running Windows on a Mac' to form my own opinions. In a nutshell: Parallels currently has the edge in usability and convenience features; Fusion currently has somewhat better compatibility and raw performance. But these statements are only approximations of the truth."
Apple Hardware -- As with Apple software, no TidBITS reader needs a description of the various pieces of Apple hardware that appeared in our survey, but we thought the order in which the devices were ranked was quite interesting. The MacBook was solidly in the lead, with the iMac in second, well ahead of the iPhone in third. Most notable in some ways was the Apple TV, which brought up the bottom of the list, behind even the iPod shuffle. Perhaps the problem is that the Apple TV still can't produce sufficient television worth watching?
- iPod touch
- iPod nano
- AirPort Extreme with 802.11n
- iPod classic
- AirPort Express
- iPod shuffle
- Apple TV
Hardware from Other Companies -- Apple may control the vertical and the horizontal, but that leaves plenty of diagonal breathing room for other companies to create innovative hardware devices. One product, or, rather, one type of product, stood head and shoulders above the rest in this category: the external hard disk drive for backup. The first recommendation came from Peter Sichel, who wrote: "At the risk of seeming obvious, I'd like to suggest an external FireWire drive for use with Time Machine. I recently picked up a LaCie d2 Quadra Hard Drive - 500GB which looks good and handles the job nicely. Having space for both a bootable backup and Time Machine volume offers some great peace of mind." The suggestion was supported by the near-simultaneous posting from Jonathan Ploudre, who said, "How about an external hard drive for your Leopard-enabled family members? Finally you can set up a backup solution that might be relatively foolproof."
But then the controversy started, with "Paul" immediately warning against the d2 specifically. "I bought that identical drive, and so did a friend. We both sent them back after repeated failures involving extended 'freezes' - his on a PC, mine with my (previous) iMac. Never did find out why we experienced this issue." Another person sent private email to express concern with that drive model too, and Jim Schaff wrote, "As an alternative to the LaCie drive, there is a new system called Drobo that is very easy to use, offers data protection and is expandable. Watch the video on the home page to get a feel for how it works." The Drobo, cool as it is, placed only in the middle of the rankings, perhaps due to an understandable wariness with a device that doesn't yet have a long track record.
We have had no problems with the LaCie d2, but regardless of which brand or model you choose, we can certainly stand behind the recommendation of an external hard drive of some sort to help family members back up more regularly than they would be likely to do otherwise.
Computer Miscellaneous -- Some products don't plug into our Macs or extend their capabilities directly, but that doesn't mean they're not useful. This category's stand-out winner was crystal clear: KlearScreen wipes. "Fcchuan" wrote, "Flat screens are getting larger and cheaper. As evidenced by the popularity of LCDs, plasmas, and Apple's computer product line. Keep them clean with KlearScreen wipes. There is no way computer users will leave these gifts unused."
iPod/iPhone Products -- The iPod and the iPhone are generating an entire ecosystem of products, even though neither is so far open for software development (that's changing in February 2008 for at least the iPhone and iPod touch). The voting was too close to decide among the top three products, so we present them all for you here.
iGo Power Adapters for iPod and iPhone from iGo: "TheFoodGeek" suggested this item via Twitter, and it's a great one for anyone who needs to charge a slew of different devices. Especially if you travel frequently, keeping your devices charged typically means hauling multiple power bricks. The iGo system provides one power source and adapters for different devices. Starting in January 2008, iGo will also start carrying adapters for Apple's magnetic MagSafe connector used on the MacBook and MacBook Pro; currently, MagSafe power adapters can be purchased only from Apple.
Apple Composite AV Cable from Apple: Thanks to Stefan Seiz for this last-minute recommendation via Twitter. This little cable is handy for connecting your iPod or iPhone to a TV, for those times when you want to watch your stored video on a screen that's a lot larger than the built-in screen.
ToughSkin cases for iPod, iPhone, and more from Speck: Jean MacDonald said, "I love my Speck ToughSkin iPhone case. The belt clip doubles as the perfect stand for video viewing on the airplane. Worth the $29.95 I paid for it at the Apple Store, but I see lots of great deals on it online." Mark Delfs concurred via Twitter, saying, "The Toughskin by Speck Products is the best case for both the iPod and iPhone."
For the Macintosh-Minded -- Every year, our readers come up with ideas that have, well, almost nothing to do with the Mac or even computers. By far the top vote getter in this category were the TomTom Go GPS navigators from TomTom International. We haven't been able to work with TomTom's revolving door of PR people to get a review unit at a time when we could test their devices, but overall, we're big fans of these GPS car navigation devices, whether from TomTom, Garmin, or Magellan. See Adam's series of reviews in "Find Yourself with GPS" for looks at some older models that are still available and for a discussion of desired features.
Reading Material -- Video may have killed the radio star, but plain old text is still going strong. We added this category after a number of magazines and books made it into other categories, and we're a bit red-faced - happy but embarrassed - to say that our Take Control ebooks were the top choice. Thanks everyone - we appreciate the support!
But a close second was a subscription to Macworld, still the flagship magazine of the Macintosh industry, and an interesting third place went to NetNewsWire, perhaps the most popular Macintosh RSS reader and thus a conduit with which any lucky recipient could find more to read than the hours in the day permit.
Finally, we'd like to note that Andy Ihnatko's latest book, "iPhone Fully Loaded," finished in the middle of the voting, undoubtedly largely because it's so new that almost no one could have seen it yet, but our copy arrived just a few days ago. Although we haven't had time to read much, the full-color design and layout is gorgeous, and Andy is clearly being his hilariously inimitable self within. If only there was an ebook version so we could bundle it with Ted Landau's "Take Control of Your iPhone" (which has expanded from its initial focus on troubleshooting), due out within days.