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Nashville Scene Hello (Again)

Mac reinvents old philosophy.

By James Hanback Jr.

MAY 18, 1998:  No matter how much one grows and how much one learns, there always comes a time in life when one feels the strong desire to go back to the basics--to go back to the roots of one's soul. The story of Apple Computer Inc. reflects that truism. Thanks to cofounder and interim CEO Steve Jobs, the company seems to be returning to the principle that made the original Macintosh so popular in the early 1980s: ease of use.

Enter a brand-new line of Macintosh products, aimed specifically at a market of Internet users wanting low cost and high performance. The iMac, scheduled for release in August, debuted on Apple's Web site, http://www.apple.com., May 6. It features a "souped for the Internet" design and a 233mhz G3 processor. It also abandons some older Macintosh conventions, including the external SCSI (small computer system interface) ports that allowed users to attach external devices to their Macs.

Jobs reportedly unveiled the iMac in much the same way he unveiled the original Macintosh in January 1984. In the same hall, Jobs undraped the nearly-translucent computer and revealed a running copy of the Mac's paint program with the word "Hello" written in script on the screen. Underneath, in parentheses, was "again." The original Macintosh was unveiled with "Hello" printed in exactly the same font.

"Since 1984 there have basically been three kinds of computers," Apple officials say in a statement at apple.com. "Computers that are large and hard to use. Computers that are small and hard to use. And computers called Macintosh.

"Now the company that started the personal computer revolution is helping parents, kids, students, and teachers take advantage of the Internet revolution," the statement continues. "Designed around a simple premise--that the Internet should be as easy to use as a Macintosh--iMac is the Internet-age 'computer for the rest of us.' "

One look at the iMac, and a user could fall in love. The new machine is completely integrated with its monitor (an old Macintosh tradition). Rather than the small, boxy look of the original Macintosh computers, Apple has designed the iMac as a futuristic, rounded machine that looks like it's coated in chromeputer. It also features a 33.6 kbps modem (Apple had the foresight not to build it with a 56K modem, because not all Internet service providers support the same kind of 56K, although a new 56K standard is emerging) and full 10/100BASE-T Ethernet support.

Standard hard drive and random access memory (RAM) sizes are four gigabytes and 32 megabytes (SDRAM, expandable to 128), respectively.

But because the iMac is specifically designed to fulfill Internet needs, it probably won't find itself being implemented in traditional Macintosh roles, like desktop publishing. The iMac unit does not contain a floppy drive, nor does it have an SCSI port.

Instead of SCSI, Apple has adopted the new USB (universal serial bus) standard, which many other computer companies (including the IBM compatible world) are also planning to implement. USB is reportedly a fast and stable port, allowing users to connect several devices through one interface, in much the same way SCSI does. That means your printer, scanner, external floppy/hard drives could all be connected to your computer (and one another) in exactly the same way.

The iMac contains two USB ports, as well as an Apple USB keyboard and mouse. An additional feature is an infrared technology port, a technological idea ported from the television remote control and introduced to computers and the general public in 1996, when Microsoft CEO Bill Gates (before a television audience) updated his wristwatch's appointment calendar by pointing it at his computer screen.

Apple says the goal of the iMac is to help parents, children, students, and teachers deal with the "Internet revolution," and it appears the iMac, with its one-button Internet access, has been well-designed for that purpose. Mac fanatics should be warned, however, that this computer is not necessarily ideal for graphic artists, desktop publishers, or other traditional Macintosh users. For one thing, it does not appear to have expansion slots. And external devices like Iomega's Zip and Jaz drives are not currently compatible with the USB interface.

Retailing for $1,299, the system comes with MacOS 8.1 and is probably the least expensive first-release Macintosh ever.

Last week Apple also announced its new PowerBook G3 series, the first laptop computers to implement the company's new G3 processor technology. Company officials also announced plans to release a fourth line of computers, designed for mobility, late in the year.

Let's just hope this back-to-the-basics Apple philosophy does not include a return to the management problems that led to the corporation's financial woes not so long ago.


Bill Gates, Bill Clinton--separated at birth?

While political analysts on both sides of the fence sit in amazement at the public's support of President Clinton amidst the barrage of accusations of sexual impropriety and perjury, computer industry watchers were amazed recently by the tremendous public support Bill Gates and Microsoft are receiving in the face of the government's anti-trust litigation against the computer giant.

According to a poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research and Robert Teeter Research, Americans overwhelmingly support Microsoft, by a 5-to-1 margin, in its battle against the U.S. Justice Department.

Reports at C-NET.com indicate U.S. citizens believe the government should allow consumers to decide which products to buy, which is exactly the right the government says it's trying to protect.

That's fine, as long as other computer companies can compete with Microsoft's marketing edge. In order to compete, companies must be able to let consumers know they're out there and that they have a better product.

That's a much better way to compete with Microsoft than filing a lawsuit.

Windows '98 in trouble

One of the most touted features of Windows '98, its integration with Internet Explorer 4.0, could be in trouble if Microsoft can't convince an appellate court to lift the government's injunction preventing the company from bundling the two products.

IE 4.0 seamlessly integrates itself into the Windows '95/'98 operating system interface, allowing users to browse their own hard drives the same way they browse the Internet. Aside from bug fixes, support for USB, new device drivers, and support for multiple displays, IE 4.0 is the defining difference between Windows '98 and Windows '95. In other words, if the government doesn't lift the injunction, Windows '98 isn't much more than Windows '95.

So why upgrade?

That's a question many users could ask anyway, since IE 4.0 also works with Windows '95 and is freely downloadable from the Microsoft Web site http://www.microsoft.com.

James Hanback Jr. is systems administrator for the Scene. E-mail him at james@nashscene.com.

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