Lost in Cyberspace
iMac Sucks
© 1998 by H.B. Koplowitz

The iMac is the first new product to emerge from Apple Computer <www.apple.com> since visionary founder Steve Jobs regained control of the company. Buoyed by a $100-million ad campaign, apparently the bulbous blue and white computers are selling like hot cakes. Even some PC users have been lured into buying them, and there is optimistic talk that the new computer will save the business. But I'm sorry, the iMac sucks. Whether you are a beginning, intermediate or advanced computer user, the iMac basically sucks.

Imagine a computer that won't let you back up your work on a floppy disk or hook up with your old printer, monitor or Zip drive. That won't let you swap files with other computers without using the Internet or something called Ethernet, and won't let you get a bigger monitor without buying a whole new computer. Welcome to the Brave New World of Steve Jobs' iMac. With a second chance to make a difference in the computer age, Jobs looked into the future and saw, the past. If computers were entertainment centers, at the dawn of the new millennium he has rediscovered the console stereo. Talk about thinking different.

With its all-in-one configuration and lava lamp looks, the iMac may be the first retro computer. Like, far out, man. Trippy. And had Jobs been satisfied with making a simple and inexpensive starter computer for students, families and casual computer users, a MacPuter, the iMac might have made sense. But it comes with some "futuristic" features that make it anything but simple and inexpensive.

The most controversial futuristic feature to the iMac is the lack of a floppy disk drive. According to one computer salesman I spoke with, one day Jobs was walking around the Apple plant, one of the few places on Earth hooked up to an Ethernet network, and noticed that no one was using floppy disks. From this he extrapolated that out in the real world the floppy was going the way of the vinyl record, and soon no one would be using floppies. 

That may be then, but this is now, and how are people supposed to move files from their old computer to an iMac, or backup new files? The salesman said not to worry, Apple is coming out with a new and faster external disk drive that can be hooked up to the iMac. So much for Jobs' floppyless future, and for the iMac's all-in-one design. Maybe we are at a transition between disk technologies, but not including any kind of external disk drive on the iMac is kind of like creating a console stereo, turntable sold separately.

Ironically, the iMac is the first Apple computer to use the Universal Serial Bus (USB) port, a speedy new "plug and play" interface, where one universal cable connector lets you attach up to 127 printers, disk drives, digital cameras, joysticks, scanners, monitors and more, without ever restarting your computer. That's great. But why should a simple all-in-one computer need 127 peripherals, and why should casual computer users be expected to debug a new technology? The USB version of most of those printers, disk drives, joysticks and monitors don't exist yet, and adapter cables are just now coming out for some existing ones, which may or may not work with the new interface.

Floppy disks may be on the way out and USB ports may be on the way in. But then there's the guts of the iMac, Apple's advanced PowerPC G3 processor. Unfortunately, its the original 233 megahertz G3 chip, the oldest and slowest of the family. Yesterday's technology. Plus, there's only 32 megs of RAM, hardly a futuristic amount of memory, and barely enough to surf the net nowadays. Strap the box to a dinky 15-inch screen and take away the disk drive, and I don't care how aerodynamic it looks, the iMac hardly seems worth its $1,300 price tag, which positions it at the high end of the low-end computer market.

With its luminous appearance and glib ad campaign, the iMac may be getting all the attention. But if you're looking for a good deal on an Apple computer, prices are being slashed on closeout 266, 300 and 333 MHz boxes, as new and even faster G3 computers come to market. In fact, for just a few hundred dollars more than an iMac, I was able to pick up a 300 MHz G3 with twice the RAM and a built-in Zip drive, not to mention a floppy disk drive. And I couldn't be happier with my new G3. So even if the iMac sucks, I hope it does save the company. For cyberspace would be a poorer place without the Apple operating system.

copyright 1998 By H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.