Perhaps it’s indicative of the state of the software industry, where less and less software is available as a discrete boxed product, but hardware and accessories garnered far more recommendations this year than software of any sort. Another possibility is that hardware can both wear out and become obsolete, as you can tell by reading through suggestions from previous years. Some suggestions, like a UPS, a Kensington TurboMouse, a second video card and monitor, or a Palm OS handheld remain apt, whereas others (like a serial switch box) seem merely quaint.
A number of these products are available from TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics. They may not always have the absolute cheapest prices, but it can be worth a few bucks to deal with a known reputable supplier in the unlikely event something goes wrong.
Go Cordless — We expect it of our telephones these days, so why not mice? Mike Cohen wrote, "I recently bought a $40 Logitech Cordless Mouse, and it has become my favorite mouse. I’ve never used a cordless mouse before, and I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it is to work without the cord getting in the way, especially if your desk is as cluttered as mine. After I bought it, I discovered they also have the Cordless Optical Mouse for $50."
You Can Never Have Too Much — We’re glad Roy Morita made this suggestion, or we would have had to do it ourselves. "I recommend either PC100 or PC133 SDRAM memory assuming, of course, that the gift recipient has a compatible machine. With the price of memory going down almost daily, I just saw a 256 MB PC133 module being advertised by Circuit City for a mere $19.95 after rebate."
Prices seem to have stabilized recently, but even so, extra RAM is absolutely worthwhile, particularly if you’re planning to upgrade to Mac OS X. For recommendations of RAM suppliers, check out the TidBITS Talk thread on the topic.
Go Large — Just as memory is getting cheaper, it’s amazing how much hard disk space you can buy these days for very little money. Whether you need more storage for applications, digital video, or MP3 music files, a larger hard drive is a good investment. Allen Trautman also uses his drives for large, fast backups. "I’ve just ordered a holiday present for myself: a Maxtor D740X 40 GB UltraATA/133 7200 RPM internal hard drive to supplement the factory-installed 40 GB drive in my Power Mac G4 533DP. Having two same-sized drives allows me to do backups of any size. I do regular backups to CD-ROM, but I didn’t have the storage to back up all those digital video files I’ve been editing with iMovie. Outpost had this unit on sale for about $90, making it a very reasonable storage choice."
Another storage option is an external FireWire enclosure for an unused hard drive. TidBITS Managing Editor Jeff Carlson carries a small MCE Transport Pro case, which holds the 12 GB hard drive from his old PowerBook. It’s been perfect for capturing and editing digital video while on the road, and since it’s powered by his PowerBook G4’s internal FireWire port, it takes up little space in his bag. The MCE Transport Pro FireWire & USB Combo Do-It-Yourself Kit costs $140; you can also purchase a similar kit with a PC Card interface, instead of FireWire and USB, for $100.
Or, Go Really Small — Sometimes what’s important isn’t the amount of storage, but rather the size of its container. Richard Wanderman keeps his important data in his pocket. "I’ve had a cool device called a DiskOnKey for about three months and I’m in love with it. It falls into the category called ‘solid state hard drive,’ but that doesn’t do it justice. The size of a highlighter pen, the DiskOnKey comes in memory sizes of 32, 64, 128, or 256 MB, and uses your Mac’s USB port for connection and power. It needs no drivers in Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X and is compatible with Windows, too. The price is about $60 for the 32 MB size. It’s one of the better ‘sneakernet’ devices I’ve found. A search on Google will find many similar devices but be aware of the driver issue that may crop up with some of them."
Music Anywhere — We couldn’t publish a TidBITS gift issue without mentioning the item many of us hope will miraculously appear in our stockings. Conan Gorbey said it best: "The hardware gift of the year has to be an iPod. This little device will change the way people think of music delivery. Suddenly, having ‘hard copies’ of music will seem a little odd when all you want is a soft version to upload to the iPod. It’s a great combination of software and hardware, and has an aura of being ‘so obvious that no one thought of doing it’ that Apple seems to be able to pull off from time to time." The iPod’s $400 price prompted Conan to add, "Obviously you would need a rich friend to give it to you…," but we’ll remain ever hopeful on Christmas morning. (See Jeff Carlson’s hands-on review in "iPod Makes Music More Attractive" in TidBITS-603.)
‘Books Always Make Good Gifts — While we’re looking at Apple’s offerings, a few readers pointed to a pair of gifts you can open every time you use them. Kevin van Haaren writes, "Okay, not a gift for your average friend or family member but a great gift for yourself (that’s how I got mine) or that really special someone is the PowerBook G4 Titanium. I bought the 667 MHz model with DVD drive, 1 GB of RAM and a 30 GB hard drive. It is, hands down, the best computer I’ve ever used. For the first time since I decided to buy laptops for myself, I don’t feel like I’ve given something up to gain portability (except a lot of money). Mac OS X is responsive, the screen is readable… and the width! It’s amazing how much easier it is to work on multiple documents simultaneously using the PowerBook’s 15.2-inch screen, and movies on DVDs look awesome. That’s topped off by true dual monitor support, FireWire, an AirPort card, and even expandability through the PC Card slot, all in a package that doesn’t throw my back out when I haul it around."
Bill del Solar prefers a more compact volume. "The Apple iBook, with at least 256 MB of RAM (for Mac OS X), a 20 GB hard disk, and a CD-RW drive has turned out to be a great little computer (and a Mac) for a lawyer or judge to take to hearings. The AppleWorks bundle is quick and works very well for taking notes on the fly. The combination of Mac OS X and that hardware makes a really sweet package."
Palm Keyboards — If an iBook is still too large for your tastes, Derek Miller suggests a keyboard for your Palm OS-based handheld. "As I mentioned in my review of Palm OS word processors (see "How You Slice It: Two Mac Friendly Palm Word Processors" in TidBITS-604), I find a keyboard for my Palm indispensable. If you have Palm-using friends, I highly recommend such a keyboard. The Palm Portable folding keyboard (and the Targus Stowaway, its identical equivalent for Handspring Visors, other Palm OS devices, and even Pocket PCs and the like) is by far the easiest to find. The GoType! keyboard from LandWare does not fold, but seems more durable. And a few other keyboards are also now available, such as the Travelboard, KeySync, and Happy Hacking keyboards (some are noted on the About.com site noted below)."
iPray Thee, Hear Me Speak — Andrew Cohen suggests the gift of speech for iMovie users or anyone wondering what to do with old records or audio tapes. "The iMic is a great and reasonable ($35) gift for any user who wants to dress up their iMovies with voice-overs or capture audio from an analog device. It enables you to connect any standard line-level or mic-level microphone to a Mac with a USB port via a 1/8-inch stereo plug. It’s a good solution for those who already invested in a quality microphone for their video camera. You can also use the iMic to connect an audio tape deck or turntable, and coupled with Roxio’s Toast Titanium, finally get that important audio off the dusty cassette tapes and onto a CD."
Video Tapes Don’t Last Forever — You spent the extra money at your wedding or other important event to have it videotaped – are you sure you can still watch the tape? If you’re concerned about the relatively short life of VHS tape (15 years seems to be an optimistic figure), consider converting your videos to digital media. Kevin van Haaren writes, "A bit expensive at $265 (but cheaper than a iPod or digital video camera) the Dazzle Hollywood DV Bridge analog to DV converter is really nice for working with analog video tapes with iMovie. iMovie sees it as a DV camera so no drivers are needed. I’ve been using mine in Mac OS X with iMovie 2 with few problems (a couple clips I captured from really poor tapes crash iMovie when saving back out to tape, which I think is an iMovie problem)."
Burnin’ Ring of Fire — In addition to his iBook recommendation above, Bill del Solar suggests one way to protect your investment: "If you have a connection to the Internet, you need a firewall. If you have a fast Internet connection, you need one even more. The SonicWALL SOHO3 firewall appliance is a great little box that lets you pick and choose which traffic to allow, in which direction, and over which port. It’s able to repulse various different kinds of attacks because it is stateful instead of being merely a packet filter."