Welcome to our annual holiday gift issue! This year, TidBITS readers expound on Macintosh-related products that they recommend as great gifts. Suggestions range from inexpensive items such as snazzy mouse pads and cool shareware to more pricey hardware devices. There's also information about donating computer equipment and inspiration for gifts that help newer users ramp up on the iMac, the Internet, and their entire Macintosh world.
Welcome to the TidBITS 1998 special gift issue, which falls outside our regular weekly publication schedule and features gift ideas contributed by TidBITS readers. Although we may not know much about any given suggestion, we've tried to provide necessary contact information to help you do more research or purchase any of the suggested gifts.
The range of suggestions was once again broad, although we were struck by the number of items that we recognized from previous gift issues. Be sure to skim the entire issue, if only because some suggestions don't fit snugly into any of the categories we've created.
Finally, best wishes for a happy holiday season from the TidBITS staff: Adam Engst, Tonya Engst, Geoff Duncan, Jeff Carlson, Matt Neuburg, and Mark Anbinder.
A Bunch of Yo-Yos -- Gordon Meyer <email@example.com> suggests the Yo-Yo call manager device from Big Island Communications. "The stylish device hooks to your telephone line and Macintosh to provide caller ID, speed dialing, contact management, and other phone-related features. It can even send a message to your pager (or send email) so you don't miss a call when you're away from the office or home. It's quite flexible and has a great user interface. [In fact, it won Apple's Human Interface Design Excellence award in 1997 for best overall design. -Geoff] You can use it with your main machine if you'd like, but it works nicely with an older Mac that you no longer use as often. I have mine connected to a Color Classic that serves as our kitchen computer."
Palm It -- Susan Pinochet's <firstname.lastname@example.org> main gift idea for a Mac owner is a Palm III. "What a great little adjunct to the Mac this is! This is the most Mac-like and Mac-friendly PDA on the market. The sync process works like a champ and lets me download any textual data to carry with me. It has replaced my paper organizer along with several pounds of books, magazines, and newspapers in my backpack - plus it fits in my pocket. I can also carry games to play when I'm done reading. I'm definitely looking forward to the revamped Palm Desktop (based on Claris Organizer), currently in public beta."
Multiple Monitors Rock! Brian Forte <email@example.com> offers a suggestion near and dear to our own hearts: a second monitor. "I'd recommend a video card and a second display as a gift. It's hard to wrap and doesn't provide for the 'Ooh, very nice' smile until well after unwrapping. Nonetheless, my Mum's been raving about the dual-display setup (an Apple 15-inch AV and an Apple 17-inch MultiScan) on her 6400/180 since I organized and set up same for her birthday. She's not a Photoshop maven or programmer, so I didn't spend big on either the display or the card (in fact I bought both second-hand). The productivity benefits and general coolness of two displays aren't lessened, however, just because she puts her word processor in one display and her browser and email application in the other."
Blue With Envy -- Kent Lufkin <firstname.lastname@example.org> has his eye on a different sort of monitor for Christmas. "For the graphics user who's lusting after a monitor that accurately displays what will end up in print (or vice versa) at about half the price of some 21-inch models currently available, I recommend LaCie's new 19-inch Electron Blue Diamondtron monitor and matching Blue Eye hardware calibrator. The monitor's viewing surface is flat - both vertically and horizontally - to minimize distracting reflections. The Blue Eye hardware calibrator actually adjusts gun output to maintain consistent color characteristics that compensate for drift and phosphor degradation. Finally, at just $769 for the monitor and $479 for the Blue Eye - and a trim 19-inch footprint - it fits both modest budgets and modest desk spaces!"
Cheap Scanners -- Based in large part on price, Mike Cohen <email@example.com> recommends a MicroTek scanner that MacWarehouse is selling for $65, and TidBITS Managing Editor Jeff Carlson has been happy with the $80 UMAX scanner he bought from Small Dog Electronics earlier this year. [My only complaint is that it tends to scan a little dark, which is easily adjusted in Photoshop or GraphicConverter. For only $80, I can now scan nearly anything, like pictures to put up on the Web for distant relatives to view. -Jeff]
Get a Graphics Tablet -- Gavin Bell <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommends a graphics tablet, even if you are not a Photoshop wiz. "I have a pair of 17-inch monitors and it is easy with a tablet to zip from one side to the other. They can also do the Control-click thing with ease."
Christian Smith <email@example.com> seconded the idea with an unusual use for a tablet. "I've been surprised that I've never seen this mentioned in any of the gaming magazines: I can't be the only one who has tried this. When WarCraft first came out my wife and I had fun playing against each other. Then I started using my Wacom tablet instead of the mouse and she decided she didn't want to play against me any more. For certain types of games, a graphics tablet makes a great game controller."
Please Back Up! Craig Isaacs <firstname.lastname@example.org> echoes another suggestion that's near and dear to our hearts. "If you really love someone, give the gift of time and safety: a tape drive to allow for completely unattended backups and security."
Work that Mouse -- William H. Ansley <email@example.com> writes: "This has been said before but, for anyone who has a Mac and a large monitor (or more than one monitor) I recommend giving them a Kensington mouse, just for the MouseWorks software. Kensington MouseWorks is so much better than Apple mouse driver, it isn't funny. MouseWorks allows acceleration: I can make my pointer zip across my 17-inch monitor when I move my Kensington Thinking Mouse fast, but when I move the mouse slowly, the pointer slows down, so I never overshoot a point on the screen. You can also configure MouseWorks to snap the pointer to the default button in a dialog box (although this doesn't always work). The TurboMouse (actually a trackball), the Kensington Mouse (two button), and the Thinking Mouse (four button) all work with MouseWorks. I've had my Kensington Thinking Mouse for over five years now on two different Macs and it has never given me a moment of trouble. I wouldn't be without it." [MouseWorks also enables you to set up pop-up menus of frequent commands, plus customize the button actions - one of the single biggest improvements in my computer work is being able to use the right mouse button to double-click. -Jeff]
Your Roots are Showing -- Genealogy has taken hold of several of our relatives in the past year, and if anyone in your family might be interested, David Kanter's <firstname.lastname@example.org> suggestion is ideal. "If any Mac user is into genealogy work, point them to Leister Productions' Reunion 6 for the Mac. This brand new version is a brilliant, made-for-the-Mac product that help you organize family information and produce a wide-range of charts and reports which you can tailor to your needs. Although Reunion is easy to use and its default settings serve most users, the program is also extremely flexible. Even genealogy veterans using another program should look at Reunion - it can import (and export) data using the GEDCOM format, so converting an existing database into Reunion is usually an easy process. Back in January, Macworld gave Reunion 5.02 a 4-star rating (with the other two programs getting just 2-stars)."
Computer Cooking -- They may be one of the most stereotypical computer uses, but recipe databases can be helpful. Molly Bullock recommends Computer Cuisine, "which has been great for helping me track my recipes. I've tried similar commercial programs, but this one is the best I've seen. And best of all, it's $10 shareware! The menus are easy to use, and it has over a thousand recipes included. (Just last week I tried the homemade recipe for eggnog and it was great!) I like the layout and design of the database - it looks great, but note that you need FileMaker Pro to use it."
An Alternative Word Processor -- If you're interested in trying something a little different in the word processing world, you might find that you agree with James Beinke <email@example.com>. He writes: "After reading the TidBITS article about Nisus Software offering an earlier version of Nisus Writer for free, I downloaded it and have found it fills a special niche. The page layout feature is especially useful for creating booklets. The online help is good. The price of upgrading with manual can't be beat."
Stating the Obvious -- Peter Jones <firstname.lastname@example.org> offers an obvious idea. "So far, no one has mentioned the one Macintosh-oriented gift that would seem to be a natural: Mac OS 8.5. Under $100, even including shipping (or run out to your nearest retailer for a copy)."
CD-ROM-based Training -- Dennis McGann <email@example.com> recommends any Personal Training Systems Interactive CD-ROM Tutorial as a Christmas gift. He writes: "I bought the Photoshop 4.0 tutorial when it was offered by MacWarehouse at a deep discount. I wasn't expecting much, but found the tutorial easy to follow and logical. The instructor's voice is also pleasant. I learned a lot and enjoyed it. PTS offers many other tutorials, including QuarkXPress, Illustrator, PageMaker, Word, and Excel."
BBEdit -- Bare Bones Software's popular text editor gets a nod from Steve Hideg <firstname.lastname@example.org>. "BBEdit has become the most-used tool I own. It's wonderful for authoring/editing HTML, C, Java, and other languages (I occasionally use it for AppleScript and Lingo as well). I work at a university, and manage our public labs with RevRdist (by Dale Talcott at Purdue). BBEdit is the perfect tool for editing RevRdist's control files.
"BBEdit is scriptable, too. I'm using it to configure Netscape preference files for users in our labs. Its search capabilities are great, including grep as well as multi-file search and replace. It can open the data fork of any file, and generate hierarchical file/folder listings (just drag a folder into an open BBEdit document). These are just a small subset of BBEdit's features - it's an awesome program. You can get a free demo of BBEdit 5.0 or a copy of the freeware BBEdit Lite from the Bare Bones Web site."
Sundial -- Earl Atwood <email@example.com> recommends the visually stunning Sundial. "It's the original time-lapse desktop picture. You can see what the Golden Gate Bridge looks like at 6 AM in the morning or at 9 PM at night. You can also download a demo."
Starry Night -- Mark Altenberg <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommends the perennial treasure of star-gazers. "Starry Night by Sienna Software is one of my favorites. This program is beautifully designed and easily encourages hours of playing around, viewing the stars and other heavenly objects from any place in the universe and any point in time. It can compel almost anyone to become an amateur astronomer."
Teach for Multimedia Authoring -- David Huston <email@example.com> raves about Teach, a program for authoring multimedia presentations. "Teach is powerful, fast, efficient, easy-to-learn, and fun-to-use program that rivals Authorware in its capability, but is simpler to learn and use. All the effects work via drag & drop, and you can drag hundreds of pre-programmed objects onto your presentations. And, since they're not Java, they work fast! To modify movies, text-boxes, graphics, animations, narration, sounds, and so on, all you have to do is open a few dialog boxes and specify the changes you want for appearance, timing, and interactivity. For ease of organization, all your presentations are organized as book-like projects and subdivided into chapters and pages. Teach organizes your pages automatically - creating a contents list of each page (for the designer), as well as tables of contents of chapters and pages (for the user). I have introduced 12-year-olds to Teach and they were creating their own books within 4 hours. Teach has even more ready-to-use resources that teachers can use to present ideas of instruction in multimedia formats: templates for quizzes, tests, flash cards, Internet use, branching, feedback, and more. It's $49 and you can download a 30-day demo."
Have a Virtual Holiday -- Tongue firmly planted in cheek, Wade Riddick <firstname.lastname@example.org> suggests that you "give the gift that keeps on giving a headache: a PC. Remind your loved ones why they use a Mac, and buy them a copy of Virtual PC. It's a handy product to have around the office: make your coworkers green with envy when you configure your PC to connect to the Internet in six seconds through the Mac side. And that doesn't even broach the world of stupid PC tricks such a gift would open up."
Join the Linux Revolution -- Tom Gewecke <email@example.com>, who has written about Linux on the Mac for TidBITS (and will do so again soon), recommends "a book and CD-ROM that lets you run Linux on your Mac, put out by Prime Time Freeware."
Oodles of Shareware -- A neat present for a new Macintosh user might be a CD from SiteLink. Most of what they offer can be found on the Internet, but trying shareware programs or Kaleidoscope themes from CD is a lot faster than downloading them. Also interesting is the Desktop Vistas CD, which offers numerous high-quality photographs that would be perfect for desktop backgrounds. The best part is that SiteLink's CDs are inexpensive, running around $10. Definitely worth a look.
Tomb Raider II -- Saint John <firstname.lastname@example.org> says: "If I hadn't pre-ordered it six months in advance, I'd be ecstatic to see a copy of Aspyr Media's Tomb Raider II under my tree. Anyone who does action games knows about this one. It's nearly perfect for the budding Indiana Jones. The scenery is always good, and sometimes great. The camera doesn't show Lara Croft's vision, but rather works like a John Woo film, tracking her from suitable angles as she runs about. There's incidental music and sound effects - you can tell where the bad guys are walking if you have stereo speakers. The story (told largely in QuickTime movies between levels) is not just 'Aliens have attacked - shoot everything' - and, even so, you don't need precision mousing skills merely to shoot the bad guys. Lara is quite capable of aiming her own guns. Aspyr has put some Mac sensibility into the interface, making it better than a mere DOS port. There are many action games out there, but if I was stranded on a desert island I'd want Tomb Raider II."
Battle-girl -- Michael O'Hara <email@example.com> writes: "I'd second a recommendation of Tomb Raider II; however, I'd also like to recommend a shoot'em-up, Battle-girl. It isn't even 3D, but it doesn't matter: Battle-girl is a real time sink featuring frenetic action and yummy music. It also works well on older PowerPC-based Macs, where Tomb Raider II might have a problem."
Galapagos -- No, not the turtles or the islands. This suggestion from Saint John <firstname.lastname@example.org> came in response to a request for visual, non-violent games. Saint John writes: "Galapagos is an older 3D game that didn't make many waves when it came out. Although it's possible (and in fact likely) that the character, Mendel, will be destroyed by a trap she has to get through, she doesn't kill anything. And its non-traditional play makes it uniquely involving. You don't control Mendel so much as you control her environment - switching dangerous areas off, shepherding her into the next room, and so on. Mendel will learn in time not to go in certain directions, but without your help she's doomed. It's not exactly Starship Titanic, but it's not Starship Troopers either. I have a review of it online, and you can see more info at Anark, which developed it, and at Electronic Arts, which distributed it."
You Don't Know Jack -- Mark Altenberg <email@example.com> offers the You Don't Know Jack series from Berkeley Systems as a game idea for people who don't like computer games. "This series has the amazing ability to turn your computer into a game show and it virtually makes the computer disappear: the experience is quite different from any other computer game. Very funny and irreverent, too! Highly recommended, especially for people who thought they'd never play a computer game!"
Snood -- Phil Landis <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommends Snood, "a fun game which both adults and children seem to find addictive. You can download and play it free (without the custom difficulty settings). Registration provides full capability and is only $10."
Myth -- Mike Weber <email@example.com> writes: "I have to put in a plug for one of my favorite games of all time, Myth from Bungie. It's as gory as they get, but the play world is amazing. Third-person 3D views from any angle, in real time! Network play facilitated by the free bungie.net! Incredible 3D sound effects! I played the Myth demo for months before finally caving in and buying the actual game. The demo even lets you sample network play: good enough for weeks of fun. Myth II has just been completed and should be available shortly."
The Ultimate Rodent Gift -- We're going to have to try these 3M mousepads, since they continue to garner rave reviews every year. Dave Fitch <firstname.lastname@example.org> was the first of many to suggest them this time around. "The best thing anyone could get me for Christmas - aside from a CPU upgrade card - is a 3M mousepad, officially called the 3M Precise Mousing Surface. They're small, kidney shaped, very thin (2 to 3 mm) and stick to your desk so they don't slide around. They work well and really do grip the ball in your mouse. They're relatively cheap (less than $15) and will last a hard-mousing user about 8 months."
Rodent on the Rug -- Joshua Rafofsky <email@example.com> writes: "A few years back I was cited for my gift idea of a mouse pad customized with a photo. No doubt those pads have worn down by now and it's time for a new one. The gift of choice this year is an improved product, the mouserug. This pad is the best I've ever used. It's fashionable and durable, with a smooth mousing surface which (best of all) keeps your mouse ball clean. It is sure to get plenty of attention, since it closely resembles an expensive rug. Watch yours closely - these things have a way of mysteriously disappearing around the office!"
Have a Gelly Holiday -- Stephen Kayner <firstname.lastname@example.org> offers an inexpensive gift idea that is sure to please: the Fellowes Gel Wrist Rest and Mouse Pad (stock #91741), which costs about $12 to $16. "There's also a matching keyboard wrist rest. I've used several different kinds, but these are the best I've found! The Fellowes gel provides just the right combination of cushion and support."
Give the Gift of Connectivity -- Apu <email@example.com> suggests the gift of Internet access, or at least an email account. "Many Internet providers have provisions for multiple email accounts for use by the subscriber and his or her family, but often people only use one account for themselves and never take advantage of the others. Give them to your family - it might not even cost you anything. Or use a free, Web-based service. It's great for people who might have limited, shared network access (at work, home computer, local library) but otherwise couldn't receive email."
Mike Vlasman <firstname.lastname@example.org> seconds Apu's suggestion and extends it to include some of the giver's time to make sure things work properly. "Here in the backwoods of Manitoba, our local ISP is wonderful but not too Mac literate. A few of us do house calls for Mac users in the area and it's made all the difference."
Pick a Peck of Peaches -- Dori Smith <email@example.com> offers an idea for the new Mac user. "If you know anyone who's getting an iMac as a present, add on Peachpit's iMac 3-Pack, which is a cost-saving bundle of Peachpit's Visual QuickStart Guides to MacOS 8.5, Quicken 98, and AppleWorks 5. It's the set of manuals that should have come with the iMac."
Full Service Present -- I guess Anne Carley's <firstname.lastname@example.org> mother was nice to her kids. Anne writes: "In keeping with the hard-to-wrap theme, my siblings and I are giving our mother the following: a year's email and ISP account; a year's service from local Mac tech; a RAM upgrade to the maximum her machine can stand; a Web page for her professional literature, articles, and small press catalog (I did the first cut; she can request edits and updates at will); and nice business cards."
Donate an Old Mac -- Michael O'Hara <email@example.com> offers a philanthropic suggestion. "Give away an old computer to a stranger. School districts are often happy to take older equipment, provided it isn't too old. I just handed over my old SCSI Microtek Scanner to the Oakland School District, and I'm sure they would like any nice 68030/040 Macs you might have laying about as well. For information from a group that facilitates computer donations, check out Parents, Educators, and Publishers (PEP) Directory of Computer Recycling Programs."
Xtend Your Mac's Control -- If you like the idea of automating your house from a Macintosh, Jacob Kaplan <firstname.lastname@example.org> suggests the XTension software and some modules. "XTension is a Mac program that lets you automate your whole house from a computer. XTension works with the X10 protocol, which sends commands through existing power lines to certain modules, and turns on the lights or appliances which are connected to the modules. There are different types of modules (such as motion sensors), and most are available from Radio Shack as well as online. XTension is much better than MouseHouse (the other Mac program for doing the same thing) in that it uses AppleScript, so you can script almost anything to happen at certain times. Not only that, but the XTension site has so many tutorials that it makes even complex concepts seem easy. There's also a great email discussion list for XTension with an active group of users."
Hook Kids with MacAddict -- Anne Garland <email@example.com> offers an interesting take on Macintosh publications. "For young Mac fans, a subscription to MacAddict would make a great, inexpensive gift. My ten-year-old son loves the magazine - he checks the mail regularly to see if the latest issue has arrived. It's full of useful articles (he actually went to his archived back issues to help me solve a problem with my machine), and the enclosed CDs are fun and well-designed. It also has an attitude, which appeals to kids (but might not to some of our parents - who knows)."
Planetary Images -- Paul J. Schinder <firstname.lastname@example.org> notes that "the National Space Science Data Center has a Web site where anyone can order CD-ROMs. The $10 Planetary Images CD-ROM makes a nice gift."
Despair to the World -- A few suggestions were interesting enough to include even though they weren't Macintosh-specific (think of them as appropriate for the sort of person who would use a Mac). For instance, Jeff Carlson <email@example.com> found this hilarious product. "Sick of staring at the photo of a golf course at sunset that your boss hung in your office? Do you consider 'motivation' and 'confidence' to be expletives? Despair, Inc. offers Demotivators, a line of lithographic prints which humorously mock the feel-good industry that produces beautiful photographs emblazoned with inspirational corporate messages. Choose from posters such as Mediocrity ('It takes a lot less time and most people won't notice the difference until it's too late.') and Stupidity ('Quitters never win, winners never quit, but those that never win and never quit are idiots.'). Each print measures 24 inches by 30 inches, and costs $15."
Smart Videotape Labels -- Michael O'Hara <firstname.lastname@example.org> suggests: "I'm quite enamored of Sony's new smart label system. It stores information about what programs are on any tape (and how much time remains) on a label containing an embedded microchip, affixed to each tape. Simply hold the tape in front of the VCR and the contents of the tape pop up on the television screen. It does require a new VCR with a sensor on the front: you swipe the tape across the sensor, and it reads the label so you can find a particular tape, a tape with a particular amount of recording time available, and so on. Of course, the label is accessible when the tape is playing in the VCR as well."
Continue Your Education -- If you know people who want to expand their computer knowledge, Tom Gewecke <email@example.com> recommends "a year's membership in ZD University, which has several dozen online courses on computer subjects of all sorts."
The Ultimate Remote -- Mike Cohen <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes: "If you have several remote controls for your TV, VCR, stereo, and so on, you may be thinking of a universal remote. I tried several and found none could replace all my remotes since they were missing functions. A few days ago, I found one at Brookstone that can do anything - Tune In. It has a built-in modem, which appealed to a techno-geek like me. When I found Tune In wouldn't work with my stereo, I called the support line and a support technician helped with setting up new, downloaded code. When our first try didn't work, the support technician had to look further for a code, so he called back a few minutes later with a code which did work. He also helped me re-map some of the keys for the CD player."
Ruby Radio Stories -- Finally, Christian Smith <email@example.com> offers an unusual suggestion. "The ZBS Foundation is a non-profit organization which produces some of the finest radio stories I have ever heard. Their Ruby series chronicling the adventures of Ruby the galactic gumshoe is great; I've also heard wonderful things about the Jack Flanders series. I just ordered a complete set of the third Ruby adventure: ten hours of audio on ten CDs for $55. The ZBS Web site (which is built on a Mac) has QuickTime and RealAudio examples. These folks produce high-quality work at a good price."
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