EVEN THOUGH I never owned one or used one at work, I've had a longstanding curiosity and admiration for Macintosh computers since 1984. Back then a PC couldn't even draw a circle, but a Mac could draw loop-the-loops and show text like you might see in a magazine. Of course Macintosh computers were more expensive than PCs and couldn't run as many programs, it was said, so it was hard to justify buying one over a PC back then. And then over time the PC caught up in graphical skills. So why consider buying one now?
The new iMac computers from Apple (http://www.apple.com) are attractively designed and have helped revive interest in Apple computers. Though still not as cheap as some PCs, the price for the second generation of iMacs (ranging from $999 to $1499) is competitive enough to be in the running for someone in the market for a home computer. The basic iMac for $999 has a CD-ROM drive and comes in a translucent blueberry color. The iMac DV for $1,299 has a DVD-ROM drive, a faster processor, and comes in five fruit colors. Finally, the iMac DV Special Edition adds more memory (128 MB) and a larger hard drive, and comes in a graphite color with the rear of the all-in-one unit (monitor and computer) nearly transparent. For me it had enough cool factor to finally take the Macintosh plunge.
The "i" in iMac stands for Internet, as these computers were designed to make it easy to get on the Internet. The DV in the two high-end models stands for digital video. These models have FireWire inputs for hooking up a digital video camera and come with video-editing software called iMovie.
The iMacs come with a set of applications pre-installed or ready to install: the aforementioned iMovie (on the DV models); Quicken Deluxe 2000 personal finance software; the AppleWorks suite of word-processing, spreadsheet, database, drawing, painting, and presentation programs; a couple of game programs; and World Book encyclopedia. My iMac DV even came with the movie "A Bug's Life" on DVD-ROM.
So, are Macs as easy as their reputation implies? In many ways, yes, but not in every respect. The initial setup was very easy. The hardest part was finding an electrical outlet to plug the thing into. The iMac is compact enough that I was able to find a spot for it on my existing computer desk. After connecting the iMac's modem port to the phone jack on my wall and powering up the computer, I was just a few minutes away from surfing the Net. I just answered a few simple questions like my name and phone number. You can use an existing Internet provider, or sign up with Apple's preferred provider, EarthLink. By coincidence, I was already an EarthLink user, so I didn't even have to remember my local dial-up number.
The Mac OS
For a Microsoft Windows user, a few things take some getting used to. Instead of a Close button represented by an X icon in the upper-right corner of the window, the Close button is a square icon in the upper left. There is a Resize button (the first of two in the right corner) that is somewhat analogous to the Windows maximize button, except that it resizes the window to try to fully show the contents but not necessarily taking the full screen. The third button, which looks like a horizontal slot, hides the window except for the title bar, which remains visible.
There is a bar at the top of the Macintosh screen that serves both the function of the Windows task bar and an application's menu bar combined. The Apple logo in the upper-left corner of the screen is like the Windows Start menu, a pull-down menu for selecting programs you want to run. To the right of the Apple logo are the menu choices, which change depending on the application you're using, for example, File, Edit, Help, etc. In the rightmost position is the application menu that shows the application currently running in the foreground; when clicked, it shows a pull-down list of all the other applications running.
The icons on the desktop are pretty straightforward: an icon for the hard drive, which can be opened to get at all the files, a printer icon, the Trash icon, and icons labeled Browse the Internet, Mail, and Sherlock 2. Either Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator can be designated as your default browser. Sherlock 2 provides a way to search for things on the hard drive or on the Internet. Multiple sites can be searched at one time. In addition to the Mac's built-in search sites, some Internet sites provide Sherlock plug-ins that allow you to add their sites to the Mac's Sherlock function. I was able to ask a question like "What is the 48th state?" in the Reference channel of Sherlock and get an answer from the Encyclopedia.com site.
All in all, the Macintosh desktop is a pretty nice place to live. A brief word on stability. I experienced lock-ups on various occasions. I would compare Mac OS stability as being on a par with Windows 95/98. If you want solid stability, try Windows 2000 or Linux, or perhaps Mac OS X, when it comes out next year, since it's supposed to have the memory protection and preemptive multitasking required for a truly stable OS.
The iMac is a nicely designed self-contained computer package. Even the guts of the computer, partially visible on the fruit-colored models, and totally visible on the iMac DV Special Edition, are neatly arranged. Most PCs look boring next to the curvy, compact iMac. The iMac is quiet sitting on your desk because it uses no fan for cooling. It uses USB (universal serial bus) connections for the keyboard and mouse, and for any peripherals you'd like to add. Initially the lack of a built-in floppy drive was controversial when the iMac first came out, but I haven't missed it at all, since most software seems to come on CD-ROM these days. The built-in modem and Ethernet connections provide access to the Internet or a local network.
The one miss in the design that everyone seems to agree on is the inadequately small yo-yo shaped mouse. This ergonomic disaster is fortunately easily remedied. I first tried the iCatch mouse adapter from Macsense, which snaps on to create a more comfortable shape. Later, because I missed the scrolling wheel on my PC's mouse, I replaced the iMac mouse with a Logitech MouseMan Wheel mouse, which has drivers for Macs as well as PCs. The second button on the mouse is used to bring up context menus. With Apple's traditional one-button mouse, you press the control key while clicking the mouse to simulate a second button.
The built-in speakers are provided by Harman Kardon. They do a pretty good job of reproducing high and middle frequencies, but understandably there is a noticeable lack in the bottom range. If you plan to listen to audio CDs or watch DVD movies on your iMac, for full enjoyment you can add an iSub subwoofer (http://www.harman-multimedia.com). With its transparent curvy design it will certainly be the coolest audio or PC accessory you buy. This really helps improve the sound, but of course doesn't overcome the limited stereo image of the built-in speakers. The iSub plugs in to the USB port and is automatically recognized and integrated into the iMac sound system if you have upgraded to the latest Mac OS release (9.0.4). The iSub only works with the second-generation iMacs.
The iMac is a fun computer that makes it easy to get on the Internet. Now that I've experienced a Macintosh, I wouldn't mind a larger screen than the 15-inch iMac. (There is a VGA connector in the back for connecting an external monitor.) If you're planning to completely replace a PC with an iMac rather than add one to the household, I'd recommend going for one of the Power Mac G4 models with a separate monitor of your choosing. This will also give you greater expandability. If you don't need the expandability and just want a compact computer for getting on the Internet, then the iMac is a good choice.
|Richard Corzo is a computer programmer currently working for Apelon, Inc. in Ridgefield, CT. He has contributed past articles on PC operating systems and utilities.|