ISSUE 498: The high-tech office- May
Apple's iMac is a colourful home computer
that proves its power against PC machines
When Apple "Not the Chair" Steve
Jobs introduced the iMac last year, I was skeptical. Its colourful
plastic design struck me as odd, rather than "different" as the company
proclaimed. Jobs' plan to promote computers the way Swatch
promoted watches -- as a fashion statement -- left me cold.
On a more substantive level, I worried that the
machine's lack of traditional input and output devices would leave
long-time Mac owners unable to use their current inventory of printers,
scanners and hard drives, at least without further investment in
adapters and connectors.
But did the market listen to me? Not a chance. The
iMac has been a wildly successful product, both in its original 233 MHz
blue-only incarnation, and in its revised, slightly faster forms that
come in five fruity colours.
So, I went out and bought one. Tangerine, if you must
As promised by Apple, out-of-the-box set-up was easy.
There were only a few cords to plug into the side and it was ready to
be turned on.
The first time it ran, the system asked a number of
questions and then started right up into an Internet connection script.
That made it easy to connect to my existing Internet account. There is
also an option to connect via the built-in modem, or by the built-in
The latest version of Apple's Mac operating system was
stalled, and an assortment of applications is included. The selection
is biased towards a home user and includes a cookbook program and the World
Book Encyclopedia. Other programs, such as Appleworks, could be
useful on a small office computer. It includes a very competent
integrated package with word processor, spreadsheet, database, a
version of the well-known Quicken financial program, and Adobe
PageMill Web page creation software.
Some users have complained about the iMac's
hockey-puck-styled mouse. They say its round shape makes it hard to
tell which end points where. I haven't found this a problem.
I'm less happy, however, with the keyboard. To keep it
the same width as the iMac itself, Apple shrank its formerly standard
keyboard. In the process, a number of keys, including the page up/down
and the arrow keys, have been moved to unusual locations.
Other keys, such as the end key, have simply vanished.
I also don't like the white letters on dark keycaps. As a semi-touch
typist (at best), I find the white lettering, along with the peculiar
key locations, makes it harder to find my way around the keyboard.
A bigger limitation is the standard 32 megs memory.
With the operating system alone requiring almost 20 megs, there simply
isn't enough free memory for the computer to function at its best.
Most users should budget at least $100 or so for an
additional 32 Megs of memory. (I suspect that Apple is shipping the
systems with a minimal amount of memory to make the price look more
attractive. This is similar to the practice of advertising computers
without a monitor, a strategy not possible given the iMac's built-in
Boost the memory, though, and you end up with quite a
nice performer. Apple's advertised benchmark tests suggest its PowerPC
G3 processors are as powerful as Intel processors running at
twice the speed. There has been a lot of debate about how meaningful
such results are.
I ran a simple little test of my own, on both my 266
MHz iMac and my 400 MHz Pentium-II Windows 98 computer. I copied the
same, small Microsoft Word document onto the desktops of each
machine, and double-clicked on them, timing how long it took for each
to load into Word 98 on the Mac or Word 97 on the PC.
The results? (Drum roll, please....)
The Pentium II took 4.6 seconds to load the file, and the iMac, though
rated at a slower clock speed, opened it in 4.2 seconds or a blink of
an eye faster.
That's fast enough for me. It can run PC emulation
programs such as Connectix Virtual PC at a bearable pace (which
wasn't true on my older Mac) and allows me to use the
iMac as another Windows machine in a pinch.
I still think the iMac looks odd and certainly seems
out of place among the stark beige of all the rest of my office
equipment. And Mac-stalwart graphics professionals will need the added
power and connection features offered in Apple's higher-priced models.
Underneath the colourful plastic, however, the iMac is
a powerful, capable computer. Despite be-
ing marketed for the home market, it is worth a second look for many
business users, especially since as soon as I bought one, Apple an-
nounced that it was boosting the speed from my model's 266 MHz up to
New Mac users may be interested in evening classes
being given at Apple's Richmond location. For details, contact James
Olsen: 542-4225 (firstname.lastname@example.org). *