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iMac, uMac, we-all-Mac
the Revolution has begun (again)

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

How I spent my weekend vacation.

My wife and I traveled up to Oregon to visit some long time friends, see their children, and so on. We were up there on Friday, when iMac was being rolled out. Since my friend works as a service tech. at the largest Mac computer store in the area, we decided to go help with the rollout and do some RAM upgrades, while we were there.

The store had received about 150 iMacs, with 90 of them presold. We watched the press "introduction" for the camera's, the demo's and the usual dog and pony show. It was nice seeing the press enthusiastic and interested. The reports that ran later were fair, positive, and most things weren't taken out of context -- which was a pleasant surprise (I've had experiences in the past that were not so nice). Everything seemed to go smoothly, with honest curiosity and enthusiasm for a great product.

The doors opened, and a line of people flooded in, ate food, spilled drinks, and bought computers (mostly iMacs, but a few PowerBooks and PowerMacs went out as well). The store quickly sold out the remaining 60 machines (and then some), and I imagine they sold an additional 90 iMacs that they were expecting for the next day.

I was volunteered to do RAM upgrades, along with 1/2 dozen or so store employees, and so got pretty familiar with parts of the iMac. My first upgrade was done under the lights of a News Camera, so I imagine there is newsreel footage of me somewhere -- and there was a small sigh of relief when the machine actually worked. It is a fairly easy to upgrade machine -- one screw and pop off a cover, that exposes some hidden connectors. One of those connectors is a standard video connector (for its monitor), which you can remove, and plug into an external monitor if you want-- very nice. The other is "not a serial port", or so the label says. Just remove the connectors and a few more screws and the iMacs innards slide out on a tray -- which contains the processor, CD-ROM, and RAM socket. Putting in RAM is a snap, literally, and then you just have to put it all together again. The iMac is only in the 40 lb. range, but that adds up after a couple hours of upgrades -- as my body attested to the next day. But it was a very productive and fun night, spent helping many people get a new and cool computer -- with 64, 96, or 128 Meg of RAM.

While doing the upgrades (they weren't rocket science), I was able to reflect on a few things -- and what could be learned from the most popular and exciting machine rollout I've ever seen (and yes I was there for the 1984 Mac128K rollout).

What can we learn?

One trick to learning from history is to remember it when you live through it. Remember a few months ago, when the iMac was announced? The usual pundits, and some new ones, all ran off at the mouth. Half informed they started whining about lack of a floppy disk, that USB was too limiting (not enough I/O), and whining about a plethora of various things. Many went so far as to claim that "because it was missing 'x', it will be a flop". They were wrong.

After this spectacularly successful launch, let's remember those that declared doom and gloom. Let's remember who's judgment was too tinged with negativity, and close mindedness -- not as anything punitive, just more as a learning experience (observation). This way we can put a noise filter (a verbal muzzle) on those that blather negativity in the future.

The people that made those claims will either be mature about it and chuckle while admitting, "OK, egg on face, mea-culpa, I overreacted". The rest will be annoyed that we remember what they said. They will whine, "out of context", or that they "didn't have all the facts" -- which is exactly the point.

As long as we are reflecting on history, let's remember that it was only a year ago that Apple killed cloning. I seem to remember that many (most) were claiming that Apple wouldn't survive a year or was doomed. It is a year later, and Apple has turned three consecutive quarterly profits, is outperforming Compaq, and has some of the hottest performing and most desirable computers on the planet. Not all innovation is just cheaper/faster like the PC world seems to think.

There are many looking for the dark clouds in every silver lining, and finding some. The point is that Apple is doing far far better today than it was a year ago -- with a market capitalization over double. The iMac is a success probably BECAUSE of those things that people were complaining about.

A visit to Fry's (Computer Store)

What we really need to do is look at why the iMac is successful and gets peoples attention. On Sunday (after the rollout) I went to Fry's in San Diego to see how things were going there (the News was reporting that everywhere was sold out). Fry's had machines (probably gotten some in that day), and there was a crowd around the demo machines.

I went up there and started answering questions and helping people out, and dealt with a few PC hecklers. The hecklers perfectly epitomized what the negative-press was saying before the release.

"It has a built-in monitor that can break"

"When was the last time you had a monitor go bad? What is the realistic life-span of your computer, and the cost of repairs? Putting the monitor in makes it more compact, easier to connect, more reliable, and if you really want I can show you how to remove the connector from the back and drive another monitor -- but most people will never want to."

"It's not expandable enough!"

"Yeah, I know", I said, "I can only put 127 peripherals on the USB bus, and it's got 100 Base-T Ethernet to access every other machine in the world. I can connect to portables with infrared controllers. I feel constrained."

"That's not what I meant... I meant internally"

"Oh yea, I can only put in 384 Meg of RAM (though Apple only authorizes 196 at this point), probably a 12 Gig Drive, CD-ROM (probably soon to support DVD), and it comes with stereo sound in and out, great video, Ethernet, USB, and a processor that is over twice as fast as Pentiums at the same clock rate... ummm... I forgot, what am missing again?"

"You don't have card slots and can't change things"

"You don't understand. This is revolutionary BECAUSE it does't have them. I can plug this machine in and it works. I don't have to worry about those add-ons, and I can still plug in all the devices I need. It can not solve all those weird custom things that 10% of the market needs -- but it is perfect for what the other 90% wants. Expandability through cards should be a last resort -- and there are few reasons to believe that the average person will ever need to add a card to an iMac."

"It doesn't have a floppy"

"Yes it does -- just as an option. But honestly, when was the last time you used one? I almost never use it -- I prefer ZIP or eMail. Removing the floppy, which 90% of the people don't use, allowed for more elegance, reliability, smaller size, lower cost, and for those 10% that want/need it they can add it. Furthermore by NOT having one, it gets the attention of everyone, which is free press, and shows how anachronistic some people think when they talk about out-of date techbologies and when they keep bringing these out-of-date issues up. Many schools and businesses don't want them, because people can add-in or remove whatever they want. So not having it, increases reliability in that way as well."

"The iMac doesn't do everything. But it does many jobs well -- better than other machines. Yet it doesn't waste space on things it doesn't need -- that is the revolution, knowing what to take out, instead of leaving all that old garbage and complexity in. "

After that little exchange a bunch of people got it -- they picked up boxes and went to the counter to check out, and I thanked that PC person for helping me like that, and he walked away fuming. Then the next crowd gathered.

The point of the iMac

The iMac success is directly in contradictions to what many were claiming would destroy the company -- but to grow, we need to understand why. I really meant what I said. The iMac does not do everything, it only does what most people want -- but it does that really well. It is cheap, easy, versatile, and disposable. The life span of many computers is like 3 years -- but the iMac will be a useful little information appliance in 5 or 10 years. We don't think about motor-upgradability or "adding I/O cards" in our cars, refrigerators, TV's, stereo's and so on. We want a device that just works and doesn't need that type of upgradability. That was the appeal of the Mac in 1984 and the iMac in 1998.

Everything Apple (Jobs) took out is what made it a revolution (or refreshed the old one). All the things the geeks hate most about the iMac, is what makes it the best machine in its category. Removing the floppy dropped the cost, got the attention of the press and made it "different" and made people question old thinking. Only using USB made people question the sanity of stuffing 20 year old parallel and serial ports in a computer, when USB alone is faster, easier, more reliable, more versatile and less expensive. Slots? Most people don't use them, and they suffer when they try to add something -- so why not put what they need in the machine in the first place?

Sure there are some drawbacks, but most are just half-informed old-thinkers, whining about things like "USB is too slow". Well, it is only 12 Mb/Second, or a bit faster than a parallel port. PC's still use parallel ports, and most people that add external devices to a PC (like ZIP drives, printers, scanners, and so on) use a parallel port as their fastest connector-- so while this connector may not be the fastest thing in the Mac world (like SCSI), they are as fast as what most people are using in the PC. The whiners complaints ring hollow. And this is only one example. Again, the trick is that the iMac is not all things to all people -- it is a specialized tool for the low-end of the market and the average user.


The iMac is a great machine. It fits a certain need perfectly -- but it is not the machine for all needs.

For first time buyers of a computer or for small businesses -- those that want to do email and Internet basic information access, faxing and so on -- the iMac is perfect. For those that want to give a computer to college bound kid (or a younger child) for education -- the iMac is perfect. For those who want to give a basic machine to a secretary or administrative person, or have lots of people connected to common information access point (like Intranets) -- the iMac is the perfect computer. Everything about iMac LOWERS cost, increases ease of use and ease of setup, and increases the reliability.

There are many niches that it does not yet fill, and many features it does not have.

  1. If you want to run Mac legacy hardware, and so on, there are better options.
  2. If you want to run a larger monitor, multiple monitor support, more expandability, there are better options.
  3. If you want to customize your machine with special video, sound, I/O and so on, it is not the perfect option.
  4. It is not the ultimate game machine, and could have VooDoo2 (or expandability options) to allow some cool stuff, and a complete domination of the low end.
  5. iMac does not have FireWire or fast peripheral connectivity.

So your choice should be elegance (simplicity and focus) for the iMac, versus utilitarian diversity and breadth (or potential specialization) for desktop Macs. I myself will not choose the iMac for my primary machine -- but only because I'm a geek -- I would certainly choose iMac for a secondary machines. I would recommend iMac to almost everyone I know -- with few exceptions. iMac solves the needs of 80-90% of the users out there, and does so in a far better way than traditional PC's. And the iMac will grow.

iMac II -- the future

We all want tomorrow's technology yesterday. But that technology has to be affordable and there has to be enough momentum to justify those features. So in some ways it doesn't make sense to be too cutting edge with the iMac. We can guess where the iMac will go in the future based on its limitations of its present -- but we need to realize that most people don't want to pay for those things -- yet. (Despite what they think or say). When they do, there will be a new iMac+ or iMacII, or ways to upgrade your current iMac.

I expect that in the future there will be headless iMacs for those who want them. Portable ones of course (eBook or iBook). The legacy hardware issue will cure itself -- already you can buy adapters (or will soon be able to) for serial, parallel and SCSI -- legacy issues will be cured when everything else adapts to the iMac (and USB). I expect that DVD and TV-Tuners will be options in the future -- and a standard not long after that. Faster 3D graphics are going to happen, as are faster processors -- and I even expect Apple to add Firewire (someday). So while the iMac is a great machine today, it will get even better.

No one should delay buying an iMac because "next year there might be something better" -- in fact part of the appeal of the iMac is that it is so cheap and useful, that you can buy them for so little -- then hand them down to others, and keep passing them around without the nightmares of PC upgrades and maintainability and all that crap. They are useful for so many things.

The whole revolution is that the iMac is not designed for the 10% or 20% of users (those that need more than what the iMac can do) -- it is a computer for the rest of us. Even those that need more, can use a second or third machine that is an iMac -- one for the kids, one for the living room as a better way to browse while watching TV, 10 for the school room, one for the kitchen, garage and den. It is the smart terminal of the 90's, and is truly a nifty information appliance. The iMac is everything the Mac128 was supposed to be -- but this time I think the world (market) is ready for it.

Created: 08/18/98
Updated: 11/09/02

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