In his keynote at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Apple Interim CEO Steve Jobs introduced new Power Macintosh G3 computers aimed at business and high-end users, plus revved-up versions of the iMac in five new colors, all available immediately.
Tutti Frutti — Now that the iMac is the best selling computer in Apple’s history, Apple has introduced a slightly enhanced iMac, available in five new colors – grape, strawberry, lime, blueberry, and tangerine – with matching USB mice and keyboards. The new iMacs retail for $1,200 and feature 266 MHz PowerPC G3 processors and 6 GB internal hard drives, but are otherwise almost functionally identical to the initial iMacs, sporting 32 MB of RAM, two USB ports, 10/100Base-T Ethernet, an internal 56 Kbps modem, and built-in monitors that support 24-bit color at resolutions out to 1024 by 768 pixels. Missing in the new configuration, however, are the predecessor’s built-in infrared port and the undocumented expansion slot. The original Bondi blue iMacs with 233 MHz processors and 4 GB drives are still available for $1,049, which puts Apple closer to the sub-$1,000 computer market.
Reaction from Macworld attendees had little to do with new specifications and everything to do with new colors. Random opinion seemed to indicate grape is the most popular, although all the new hues certainly had adherents. I’m disappointed there’s no bright yellow "banana" flavor (recalling a banana-branded computer in a once-popular comic strip) but there’s little doubt Apple eschewed yellow to avoid having the word "lemon" associated with the iMac. However, since many iMac peripherals are blue and white, no doubt users will soon be criticized by fashion mavens: "I can’t believe you’re using that scanner and that trackball with a tangerine computer! Tsk!"
Yosemite — The iMac wasn’t the only item to become more colorful at Macworld Expo: Apple also introduced new minitower Power Macintosh G3 systems dressed up in iMac-like blue and white cases with four built-in (and fully functional) handles. Informally known by the codename Yosemite, these new Power Mac G3 systems feature PowerPC G3 processors running at speeds up to 400 MHz with 1 MB of backside cache, connected to the rest of the computer via a 100 MHz system bus. The Yosemite systems offer five bays for internal storage devices, two of which can be used for removable-media devices like CD-ROM and Zip drives. Getting inside is elegantly simple: just lift a lever and most of the computer swings down, allowing generous access to RAM, expansion slots, and drive bays. (The Yosemite cases can also be locked, for folks concerned that access is too easy.) Unlike previous Apple systems, the Yosemite machines will run with their cases fully open, although doing so isn’t recommended because it interferes with the air flow cooling the G3 processor.
Yosemite systems bear other similarities to the iMac. They use iMac-style PC100 SDRAM DIMMS, although they offer four sockets that can accommodate as much as 1 GB of RAM. They lack floppy drives, serial ports, and SCSI, instead offering two USB ports and two new high-speed FireWire ports. USB first appeared on the iMac, so it’s new to high-end Macintosh systems. However, Yosemite systems are the first Macs to feature FireWire. Originally developed by Apple years ago as an inexpensive, easy-to-use high speed serial bus for computers and digital consumer devices, FireWire supports transfer speeds of up to 400 megabits per second, making it suited to high bandwidth data like audio and video. By way of comparison, FireWire offers up to ten times the bandwidth of external SCSI buses on earlier Power Mac G3 systems, although it doesn’t match high-end SCSI systems.
Like USB, FireWire devices can be hot-swapped, so you don’t have to shut down the computer to connect or disconnect FireWire devices – and you can even connect a FireWire device to more than one computer at a time. Further, a single FireWire chain can handle up to 63 devices, and devices can draw power off the FireWire chain, so some FireWire peripherals won’t need a separate power supply. Although FireWire technology has been around for a while, the main items with FireWire ports at the moment are camcorders. According to Apple, other products like hard drives, scanners, and audio mixers are in the works and should available by March or April, although some vendors indicated June or July might be more realistic. Apple has Web pages highlighting selected USB and FireWire products; expect the FireWire section to grow in coming months.
Yosemite systems also feature built-in 10/100Base-T Ethernet, an optional internal 56 Kbps modem, and three standard PCI slots. Yosemite systems also have a fourth, proprietary double-speed PCI slot pre-equipped with a high-performance ATI RAGE 128 video card. Apple also offers several build-to-order options, including inexpensive SCSI PCI cards, gigabit Ethernet, and DVD-ROM and Zip drives. Yosemite systems ship with the same USB space-saving keyboard and round mouse that debuted with the iMac. If you don’t like the new mouse and keyboard, the Yosemite systems still sport a single ADB port for old-style input devices and compatibility with Apple displays – only the 21-inch Apple Studio Display has been updated to support USB. Power Macintosh G3 systems range from $1,600 to $3,500 without displays.
Apple’s new Power Mac G3 systems are intriguing, but audio and video production people are chagrined Apple isn’t offering a model with more PCI slots. Even though Apple is saying SCSI and serial are things of the past, many people still need these devices to get their work done. Installing a SCSI card and a USB-to-serial converter can leave only one expansion slot available; add a second monitor and you’ve hit Yosemite’s expansion limits. Something to think about.
What’s in a Name? One troubling aspect to Apple’s new systems is that they don’t have unique names. No one wants Apple to return to the days of randomly numbered Performas, but I’m concerned that Apple semi-officially refers to the new G3 minitowers as "blue and white" (or just "blue") Power Macintosh G3s. What happens if Apple introduces new colors, or a different machine in the same case? Similarly, Apple is correct to position the iMac as a singular, easily recognized entity, but we now have three iMacs – revision A, then revision B, and now a rainbow of new machines – which might lead to confusion among iMac customers and long-time Macintosh users.
Mac OS X Server — Apple also announced that Mac OS X Server will be available in the U.S. beginning in February for $1,000. Billed as Apple’s first modern server operating system, Mac OS X Server was until recently known as Rhapsody, and is built on the Mach microkernel, BSD Unix 4.4, the Yellow Box application layer derived from NeXTStep, plus the Blue Box, a separate application layer that can run existing Mac OS software. (See "Mac OS X: Rhapsody a Mac Developer Could Love" in TidBITS-430 for more information on Mac OS X.) Mac OS X Server will also ship with WebObjects 4, Apple’s Web and e-commerce development environment also acquired from NeXT, and the well-regarded Apache Web server.
For server administrators, Mac OS X Server’s most compelling capability might be NetBoot, which enables Mac OS client systems to start up over the network. NetBoot could eliminate hundreds of headaches configuring individual systems, restricting access, and defining user privileges; users can also access personal applications, documents, and desktop environments from any Mac on the network. Unfortunately, NetBoot won’t start up just any Mac: only machines utilizing the so-called "New World" ROM-in-RAM design can be booted this way, and right now only the iMac and Apple’s new blue and white Power Mac G3 systems qualify.
Mac OS X Server also offers extensive file and media serving capabilities using AppleTalk or TCP/IP, along with remote administration features. However, Apple’s been careful to mention that even though Mac OS X Server will be able to run current Mac OS applications using the Blue Box, Mac OS X Server isn’t recommended for use as a workstation – that will have to wait for Mac OS X itself, still slated for release in 1999.