At the 2005 San Francisco Macworld convention last month, Apple CEO Steve Jobs once again entertained the audience with good news regarding...

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At the 2005 San Francisco Macworld convention last month, Apple CEO Steve Jobs once again entertained the audience with good news regarding Apple’s profitability, market share and, of course, the highly anticipated unveiling of all the new goodies. On the hardware side, the iPod Shuffle and the Mac mini were the two biggest announcements. For me, the Mac mini is the most exciting of all.

The Mac mini is Apple’s lowest-cost Macintosh ever. The $499 model comes with a 1.25-gigahertz PowerPC G4 processor, 256 megabytes of memory, a 60-gigabyte hard drive and the Apple CD/DVD Combo drive. For $100 more, you get a 1.42-gigahertz processor and an 80-gigabyte hard drive.

The entire computer is a mere 6.5 inches square, 2 inches tall. It has the necessary ports like FireWire, USB 2.0, Ethernet and a built-in modem. Slip a CD or DVD into the Mac mini’s drive and you’re ready to go.

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So much for the technical specifications. Now for the reasons to get excited about this new little Macintosh.

The Mac mini’s price is low because you are expected to BYOMKD, or “Bring Your Own Mouse, Keyboard and Display.” The Mac mini comes with none of these necessary devices. That’s because Apple lets you decide whether to use its peripherals or some other brand. You read that correctly. Apple is letting you decide what kind of devices to attach to its new little computer, which is very un-Applelike. Until now, Apple has always included its own keyboard and mouse with its computers.

So why am I excited about this? Because for the first time, the vast number of Windows users out there who have eyed a Mac but were reluctant to get one because of the price now have a viable option to pursue.

Part of that option is for them to use the equipment they already own. The other hurdle overcome by the Mac mini is available desk space. Most users simply have no room on the desk or floor to put a second computer system. The Mac mini’s tiny size and the ability to use the same keyboard, mouse and display now make that a nonissue.

Over the years, there have been myriad attempts to put a Macintosh inside a Windows system. None have met with success. Software emulators were too slow and iffy running anything of consequence. Hardware add-ons were also a disaster.

But now, PC users can have a real Macintosh at their beck and call. Using their existing keyboard, video display and mouse, all that is needed is a KVM switch, a hardware device that enables a single mouse, keyboard and display to control more than one computer at a time. Using an inexpensive KVM switch like the KVM-201LT, 2-Port KVM Switch from Addlogix ($44.95, available at www.kvm-switches-online.com), any PC user can instantly have the best of both worlds at their command. Just flip the KVM switch and you’re using your Windows computer. Flip it again and you’re using a Macintosh.

At first blush, you may think that Apple’s intention with the Mac mini is to get a Macintosh to people who can’t afford a more expensive models. And while that’s probably true, I believe they may have been far more clever. With the Mac mini, Apple may have found a way to break down the biggest barriers to Windows users wanting to give the Macintosh with its elegant OS X operating system a try.

So if you’re a Windows user, think about how much more powerful your system will be functioning as both a Windows and Macintosh platform all rolled into one.