This Christmas, I presented my wife with a new Mac mini. I honestly wasn't sure if she'd be even slightly interested in switching to the Mac, but I figured if she showed no interest in it, I could hold onto it myself or simply return it. To my surprise and delight, my wife was very much interested in the Mac mini and was eager to switch. And starting about midway through Christmas Day, she started hounding me about setting it up. That's a good sign.

This conversion deserves a bit of background. I am, as you may know, one of the more prominent Windows-based writers on the Web. This simple fact makes the notion that I'd buy a Mac for my wife seems like an April Fools joke, I know. But the truth is, I've owned one or more Macs since summer 2005, and I'm a big fan of Mac OS X, albeit one who is perhaps more honest about the system's shortcomings than the typical Mac fanatic. That said, Apple's computer systems are viable for a wide range of users, including graphic artists, photographers, and other creative types. And a truly simple system like the Mac mini is perfect for the mass market, those people who simply need email, Web access, and word processing.

My wife is such a person. Indeed, she shares none of my love of technology, and approaches a computer the way one should approach a computer, I guess, as a tool that's required to get a job done. Her job, in fact, is writing. She writes and edits articles for Boston Home & Garden magazine, and also for various health-related publications. She does a lot of research on Google, uses Microsoft Word for editing and writing, and corresponds with coworkers and friends via email. Like me, she works from home.

Ah, I can hear you thinking, but she has a Windows expert at home ... Isn't that perfect for tech support? Perfect for her, perhaps, but not so perfect for me. Our offices are not in the same part of the house, for starters, and that makes it harder for me to monitor her system regularly as I do with the many machines in my own office. When I do get up to her office, I'm always surprised by how many alerts and updates there are, waiting for someone to acknowledge them. She's just not particularly interested in PC housekeeping.

The truth is, her computers have always been problematic. And like a typical office worker in any company, she puts up with the small abuses of Windows on a regular basis. She's learned to simply reboot when things stop working. She accepts that sometimes printing or network access just don't work for any logical reason. And the constant air turbine-like sound that emanates from her Dell PC? That's just how PCs sound, she thinks.

Well, no more. As the new and even exciting center of her computing experience, my wife's Mac mini was ready to go. Well, almost. The stock 512 MB of RAM was a bit paltry for my tastes, so I had also ordered a 1 GB replacement memory stick, which I installed into the little white box the day after Christmas. That task was a bit difficult, as it turns out, because Apple engineered the tiny Mac mini case without screws, and you need to use a putty knife to wedge the thing open, a scary task given the delicate nature of the device. Installing the memory was a piece of cake, once the case was open, but I had another difficult time getting the case back together, which requires a deft positioning of the two halves. After three aborted tries, it snapped back together, good as new.

Before putting the Mac mini in my wife's office, I decided I'd set it up downstairs with a spare monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and install various Apple software updates and configure the system a bit. Like a champ, the Mac mini booted right up with my PC-centric hardware, and I was pleased to discover that the device featured a 1.5 GHz microprocessor, not the 1.42 GHz version I had ordered. (Many other Mac mini customers have noted this surprise upgrade.) After downloading about 90 MB of Apple updates, and taking my wife for a short tour of the UI, I installed Microsoft Office for Mac 2004 and switched the machine over to Apple's Mighty Mouse.

At this point, it was time to bring over her documents, email, calendar/scheduling information, and other data. This can be a hairy task, depending on how you proceed. Those who purchase a Mac at an Apple retail store can take advantage of a free service in which an Apple guru at the store will copy your data over for you. Unfortunately, I had purchased the mini through Apple.com, so I had to do these conversions myself. Since I've tested various PC-to-Mac synchronization tools over the years, however, I knew where to start.

The documents were the easiest to transfer, since we have a home network. Prior to the mini, my wife stored all of here documents on our home server, but I figured this would be a good time to move them to the local hard drive so she could utilize Apple's Backup software, which lets you backup to iDisk (Web-based storage that's part of a .Mac subscription) and other locations. To copy her documents to the Mac mini, I simply connected to the network share courtesy of Mac OS X's integrated Windows networking, and drag and dropped her documents into her new Documents folder.

Email and calendaring are decidedly more difficult. My wife had been using Microsoft Outlook for both, and had various email accounts configured in that application. Configuring Apple Mail for these accounts was drop-dead simple (even for her Hotmail account, which requires a third-party add-in called MacOS X HTTP Mail Plugin), but then I had to actually get her previous email, contacts, and calendar information from Outlook to the Mac. The email would need to be moved into Apple Mail, contacts would go into Apple Address Book, and calendar info needed to be copied into Apple iCal.

There are many, many ways to migrate this data, but opted for Little Machines' Outlook2Mac, a wonder $10 shareware program that exports Outlook email, contacts, and calendar information into various formats, including those required by the Apple applications cited above. My wife has an unbelievable amount of email archive folders, so the conversion took a while, but once I had the appropriate data files in a folder on the PC, I could simply copy them to the Mac and then import them into the appropriate applications. This worked pretty well overall, though there is some clean up work yet to be done: Some contacts contain slightly mangled information, while all of the calendar items were imported into a single iCal calendar.

Moving Internet Explorer (IE) Favorites to the Mac was even easier, since my wife will be using Mozilla Firefox going forward. First, I installed Firefox on the PC, and let it convert her Favorites and other settings. Then, I simply copied the Firefox Bookmarks.html file (which is stored in C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\[profile name] by default) to the Mac (where it's stored in /Users/[user name]/Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles/[profile name] by default). Voila, she's up and running with all her saved Web addresses.

Looking forward, I'm interested to see how well this switch goes.