jamesb, I have two laptops. One is a 3 year old compaq with windows xp and the other is a 2 year old mac book pro I bought on ebay for about $1600. If I were to make a recommendation to anyone, it would be, buy a mac. Have an old desktop laying around with windows but overall the mac experience is best and works with every program I'll ever need.
Two years ago I purchased a windows vista unit for my wife and it's nearly caused divorce. Today, the only windows computer you can purchase is one with Vista and I'm here to tell ya, it sucks big time compared to my mac and my wife would agree.
It wasn't until recently that I updated that 3 year old windows laptop with the suggested updates from Microsoft and immediately after updating I caught a virus. I've been deleting programs and battling this thing for nearly a month. The windows computer is slow now and surfing the net with Norton is a pain. Gradually this has pushed me towards utilizing the mac more and the more I use it the more I dislike Microsoft computers.
No matter what you do, windows should not be an option and I could go on all day with reasons why not but in the end, buy a mac.
Now I told you I have a macbook pro and it happens to have a 17" monitor... It's the big dog with 4 gig of ram etc etc. A macbook will suffice and frankly, I wouldn't mind the smaller computer which can be picked up for under a thousand at AffordableMacs.com. You can upgrade the ram to 4 gig for under $100. It will do everything you need plus more.
This is my opinion based on experience and working from home with computers for a living. BUY A MAC!
Only advantages, not noticeable disadvantages to speak of. The only disadvantage when it comes to computers are today's Microsoft products.
Once you buy a mac, you'll understand what I'm saying. Not only that but there's a big difference in how long the battery lasts. When I leave my house for the day with my mac, I don't need the plugin charger I simply leave it at home. With the windows computer, the battery has never lasted as long as they claim and the longer you have it the less it lasts.
I could go on and on about the differences but you'll just have to experience it for yourself. Nothing to fear about the switch because most all programs for windows are also available for mac. Much of the interior components of the mac are similar to a windows computer just higher quality, hence the price. Macs don't come loaded with needless advertising, windows are loaded with them.
Good luck, I've said all I have time to the next step is yours. $1500 budget is plenty for a macbook. I bought mine through ebay and did not regret it. Wish I'd have purchased one sooner.