Stealing Macworld's thunder

Do Windows users sit idly by while Mac aficionados rouse themselves into a frenzy over thinner computers and streaming video? Har!

Every year in early January, Apple aficionados gather together in San Francisco to celebrate the big Mac news of the year at the Macworld Conference and Exposition. Windows users, on the other hand, celebrate...Rubber Ducky? Or a public prerelease of the first service pack for Windows Vista? It doesn't seem fair.

However, except for the hardware news (the MacBook Air is very thin), this year's report from Steve Jobs wasn't nearly as exciting as last year's iPhone announcement. In fact, some of the news--and rumors--are old hat for Windows fans.

For example, Apple TV will now offer downloadable movie rentals that cost from $2.99 to $3.99. On Monday, Netflix announced unlimited streaming movies for most of its subscribers. Apple plans to offer 1,000 movies, while Netflix already has 6,000 available. The quality of HD films on Apple TV will likely be higher than Netflix, but for mainstream movie fans (who don't want to buy a separate device), Netflix has iTunes trumped for now.

One rumored announcement that wasn't included in Jobs' keynote--at least from what I've read so far--was the ability to save YouTube videos with iTunes and convert them automatically for viewing on iPods. Perhaps Apple is saving that for iTunes 7.7. The truth is that Windows (and Mac) users can already easily watch YouTube videos on their iPods, PSPs, or other portable video players, although it is a two-step process.

First, use a Firefox extension like Ook Video Ook or Video Downloader to save the streaming Flash video as a local FLV file. (The new RealPlayer 11 can also save YouTube videos to your hard drive.) Now that you have the FLV file locally, you can watch it anytime on any PC with a compatible video player like FLV Player. You can then also convert that FLV file to an MP4 file for viewing on your iPod. One popular free software application expressly designed for converting movies for iPods is the Videora iPod Converter. Other converting software abounds.

Despite the silly Mac vs. PC commercials with John Hodgman and the sometimes juvenile behavior in Web forums by fans of both platforms, the differences between Mac and Windows are quickly becoming irrelevant, at least on the software side.

Mac OS X users can use Parallels or Boot Camp to run Windows; ambitious Windows users can even run Mac OS X; and a quickly growing number of important software developers now provide full cross-platform functionality, that is, software that runs on Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux.

So, rather than use the opportunity of Macworld to unleash our unwashed PC and Mac trolls into online venues, we should appreciate what each platform brings to our cornucopia of downloadable software delights. Thanks, Apple!

Do Windows users care about Macworld? Tell me about it in the comments.
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