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ISSUE 524: The high-tech office- Nov 9 1999


Interim chair Steve Jobs has revitalized Apple Computers with colourful new products

When Steve Jobs came back from the wilderness to Apple Computers two years ago, the adjective most used in the press
to describe the company was "beleaguered."

One of the (many) causes of the mess was an out-of-control product line. At that time, the company was offering more different models of Macintosh computers than Baskin-Robbins offers flavours, confusing potential customers and making it difficult for the company to fore-
cast demand.

Among the first steps taken by so-called interim-chair Jobs was to axe the bloated product lineup. Henceforth, Apple would offer four lines of computers -- consumer and pro-user versions of desktops and notebooks.

This doesn't mean that the company isn't continually tinkering with the models that fill each niche, however. In addition to the new iBook, which is finally filling the consumer notebook niche, Apple has recently announced up-
graded models for two of the other three product

* iMacs are the company's consumer desktop computer and have proven popular since their release a year and a bit ago. With more than 2 million sold, the original product has been steadily updated and now includes three models, in a range of colours.

All models now include at least 64 megs of RAM along with better sound and video, quieter fanless operation and faster processors than the previous version, along with support for Apple's AirPort wireless networking.

The base model comes with a 350 MHz G3 processor and a newly lowered price of $1,499. Other models, priced at $1,999 and $2,299, add faster processors, larger hard drives, more RAM and replace the CD-ROM with DVD

While Apple continues to market these for home users, business Mac users primarily running office suite software and Internet connections will find them fast and affordable and, who knows, the range of fruit colours might prove popular among many office workers. And really, who needs floppy drives these days, anyway?

* iBooks are also not being aimed at the business market. And their release in orange and blue (excuse me, Tangerine
and Blueberry) led to an Internet controversy over whether a "real man" would be seen carrying one. The results of one online poll showed a slim majority of voters agreeing with computer columnist John Dvorak that the iBook was a "girly" computer.

Nevertheless, the $2,500
iBook seems to be ruggedly and even cleverly designed, if a bit on the large and heavy side for a portable computer. It offers screen and hard drive size that are in keeping with PC notebooks in its price range -- and its 300 MHz G3 processor is arguably more powerful than comparably priced PCs.

Like the new iMacs, it includes built in support for wireless networking (though a $149 card and $449 base station are needed to make use of this feature). Wireless networking could prove a killer feature for homes and small offices needing to connect groups of computers without stringing cable.

The iBooks lack a video-out port, so don't even think of one if you need a notebook for making presentations. And, like older iMacs, they come with an unacceptable (though upgradeable) 32 megs of RAM. Also like the iMac, however, they could offer real value for business users -- if you like the colour schemes.

* Powerbooks are Apple's answer to notebook customers who want
a notebook in a business-like colour choice or who need options like a video-out port or need to use PC cards or connect to older Mac SCSI devices -- or in general need more notebook than the iBook

Now the oldest of Apple's product line, these six-month-old models are available in a range of prices from about $3,500 and $5,500. Like the Model T Ford, they're available in any colour you want, as long as it's black. The newest models can be recognized by the translucent bronze keyboards.

* Apple is advertising its new G4 desktops as "super-computers," which is a bit of an exaggeration. But they are plenty powerful and their new two-toned grey appearance strikes me as classier than the blue and white look of the G3s they replace. Apple, however, has had problems meeting demand and re-
cently announced that it was re-
leasing a revised, less-powerful product lineup that replaces promised 400, 450 and 500 MHz models with 350, 400, and 450 MHz ones, without dropping prices, which range from $2,399 to $5,299. Still, users who can get hold of one will find it plenty of computer. *

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan