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Living Under the Snow Dome

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I discovered to my shock recently that during my short career as a Mac user (since 1995), I have already owned something like 10 different Macintoshes. Although each one was different, I have loved them all. So when Steve Jobs says that the flat panel iMac is perhaps the best Mac Apple has made yet, do I agree? In a nutshell, yes - but not simply because of its catchy design or impressive hardware specifications.

Do you know how you sometimes get an emotional sort of vision that is hard to describe? Well, I got one of those in the late 1990s when Apple described the upcoming next-generation Mac OS. Looking ahead to a much slicker and more stable operating system, coupled with the (then) future developments of the PowerPC chip, gave me a wonderful feeling. I imagined a computer which never got in the way, never delayed me, and which multitasked at least as well as I did. I may be a long-time Mac user, but I am not a geek. I've never programmed, and I haven't even launched Terminal in Mac OS X.

This ideal of a Mac has been a bit slow in the coming, for a number of reasons. Apple clearly bit off an awfully big chunk in developing an all-new operating system, based on Unix, no less. Motorola and IBM have failed at fulfilling the promise of the PowerPC chip: it's barely keeping up with the Pentium (remember Apple's snail ads?). Of course, the tech slowdown around the millennium, along with a loss of focus on the part of the PC industry in general, has hampered everyone's development schedules. But there's also the simple fact that I am getting better with practice. A computer which is as fast as I am and multitasks as well wouldn't have had as high a bar to clear three years ago.

Now, Apple offers the flat-panel iMac. A couple of weeks after purchasing my new iMac, sitting there using it, I suddenly realized how close the machine really is to my vision of the ideal Mac.

A Professional Consumer -- I think first I should explain why I have the iMac at all. After all, I work with photos and art, design for the Web, and so on. I have a nice dual-processor Power Mac G4 tower with a Cinema display. So why would I want a consumer computer? Well, apart from the fact that I just like the iMac, it boils down to the fact that I am one of those hyper-sensitive "ahhhtistic" types for whom pleasing industrial design actually makes a significant difference. So, I kept the Power Mac G4 for my creative work, and switched to the more discreet iMac for the communications work (Web, email, and writing) which occupies the bulk of my time.

I've liked just about everything about the iMac. The half-basketball design with the flat-panel screen supported by a gleaming chrome arm is eye-candy, but it's also highly functional. The screen moves smoothly and I find I adjust it small amounts throughout the day to match my posture. The performance of the 700 MHz G4 processor has been more than sufficient for Mac OS X and my email and Web use. Even the speakers sound wonderful, much better and even much louder than those in my Power Mac G4. Speaking of sound, I hate the noise of the Power Mac G4 tower - it grates on my nerves. If I were to be granted one favor from Apple, it would be a quiet professional Mac (and one with more power and expansion possibilities than Apple's first experiment in this category, the Power Mac G4 Cube).

It's important to note that the iMac was the first machine on which I use Mac OS X full time, so my impression of the iMac is tied into my impression of Mac OS X. I've tried all the versions back to the public beta, but they just weren't up to snuff, since my important applications ran poorly under Classic. However, since I primarily use email and the Web on the iMac, it runs just fine with Mac OS X; I've never booted into Mac OS 9 at all.

Well, I do have one half-hearted reservation: it's clear that Mac OS X is designed with future developments in screens and screen size in mind. It looks good on the iMac's 15-inch screen, but it's even better on the 22-inch Cinema display. (After Photoshop 7.0 went native, I switched to Mac OS X on my Power Mac G4 as well.) But setting aside overall dimensions, the iMac screen is, in a word, fantastic. It's much brighter than the 22-inch Cinema display.

If we take economics into consideration, it will be a while before you see 22-inch screens on consumer computers, and the dual processors in my Power Mac G4 are great for intensive image processing work. So in all practicality, even if I'll keep using the Power Mac G4 for my design work, the iMac is as close to my idea of the perfect consumer computer I can imagine. It's fast, it's quiet, it's compact, and it looks great.

In short, the iMac is so good that it almost makes me wish I was in its target audience, just to have the pleasure of getting such a fantastic computer for the first time. For the student or family member, messing around at an amateur level with email, Web browsing, digital photos, and maybe a bit of video editing in iMovie, this is... well, like I said, as perfect a machine as I can imagine.

 

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