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Mr. John Breeden
Correcting some deficiencies

By: Neil Thorne


Mr. John Breeden of Washington Post,

Wanted to clarify a few points I felt were misrepresented in your article on iMac's suitability for business users (

There's a distinction to be made between flavors of "business use." If you're writing to the home office worker, _some_ of your criticisms have validity, but if you're addressing the feasibility of an iMac on an office network, few of them do.

Don't worry - I'm no Mac evangelista out to slash your throat. Rather, I just assume any professional writer would want to know when he's erred or missed an important interpretation on an issue.

If you review my points following with an open mind, I'm sure you'll agree with many of them.


The iMac CAN be attached to a larger monitor, just not through obvious means. But the "how-to's" are all over the web (particularly at the iMac specific sites), and any competent Information Systems person could perform the "operation." (The built-in monitor can be disconnected internally, leaving a suitable connection for a larger external monitor.)

Obviously, if you're _planning_ on using a larger monitor, you don't want to buy an iMac, but if it's merely a possibility somewhere down the road, the option _is_ there, so long as you don't mind a "dead" bondi-blue fishbowl staring at you from beside your active workspace.


You seem to imply that the RAM cannot be physically upgraded beyond 32MB. That's not true - the iMac can certainly accommodate RAM upgrades. Your paragraph about the downsides of virtual memory is misleading, since it implies that virtual memory is the only option.


You criticize the quality of the stereo speakers, and yet it would seem to me in a professional context this would be _less_ applicable a criticism - how many of us are listening to our favorite Sting and U2 discs while working and making business calls? And though the iMac is (somewhat) incompatible with most legacy equipment, external speakers certainly _would_ hook up appropriately to the sound outputs if you needed them.


Criticizing a 24x CD-ROM drive for being too slow seems dubious to me. Most people (and most applications) really can't tell the difference between the higher range of speeds for CD-ROM's, game-players perhaps being the primary exception. But again, we're not talking about game-players; we're talking about working professionals. Similarly, how many professionals need DVD drives this year? It would seem to me at least a year or two off before anyone, particularly a professional, will be "missing" one of those.

Furthermore, in light of an iMac being used exclusively by working adults, the "flimsy tray" argument doesn't hold water either. I don't think anyone would want to employ an adult that _couldn't_ suitably operate the existing CD-ROM tray that ships with the iMac. I've been using the exact same model tray on a PowerBook for years, and have never felt any inadequacy on its part whatsoever. Though it may prefer two hands to use rather than one, it has _never_ felt fragile or risky to me in day to day use.


I have _no_ argument with you about the hockey puck of the mouse (though there are quite a few that actually like the thing). However, you fail to mention that compatible (and even two-button!) alternatives _are_ available. Furthermore, the Mac OS provides the perfect dual solution for right mouse button needs - you can _either_ buy a compatible two button mouse _or_ use the control key to bring up a contextual menu. This is a case where the Mac OS offers choice that the "other" OS does not.


There are SCSI-USB adapters available. Parallel port devices would, obviously, still be a problem, but in an office network I would expect more printers to be available on the ethernet than hooked up locally via a parallel port.


The lack of a floppy drive is the _least_ problematic in a networked office environment. Assuming an office is sophisticated enough to have a network (and most certainly are), having _one_ machine _with_ a floppy is probably plenty. (The MacOS allows the creation of "disk images," files that represent floppies and removables exactly. If software needed to be installed on an iMac off a floppy, all one would have to do is make the image file on a floppy-endowed machine and pass it across the network any iMacs that needed it.)


Calling an iMac virtually a "dumb terminal" is a misuse of that latter term - a dumb terminal refers basically to a minimally empowered CPU that puts all the processor workload on a central server and merely "reads" the results over the network for local display at the terminal. An iMac, as you've noted, is an amply powered workstation unto itself, capable of substantial processing and display speed. It is smarter than the smartest smart terminals that were sold during the time that the dumb terminal term was coined -- and is competitive with other desktops -- some "dumb terminal".


You fail to mention the superior quality of the auto-switching 10baseT/100baseT ethernet connection. In the same paragraph in which you mistakenly refer to only the 10baseT connection, you imply that upgrades are limited. And yet, by shipping with both 100baseT _and_ IrDA, further expandability in a networking sense won't be needed for years.


You fail to mention one of the iMac's greatest selling points to the workplace. The size and shape of the iMac is perfect for "cubicle land" and small home offices both because it's a smaller overall use of space, and because it fits exceptionally well in corners. That in can be moved casually (as you _do_ mention) in only _one_ advantage of the casing design.


So, with all this in mind, I think your assessment of the iMac does not line up correctly with the target audience you're addressing in this article. It's true that the iMac has some limitations and shortcomings, but most of them are more evident in a single-computer environment than an office network, where the presence of a couple of full-fledged workstations or servers would make up easily for most of the iMac's weaknesses (i.e., you could hook up those peripherals and printers to a shared machine for everyone's common use.)

And, of course, since Macs network so easily, even a home office with an early generation Power Mac stuck on a hub would get around most of the criticisms you've made. (I've already set up a couple of these mini-networks, and their owners are quite happy with them generally and their new iMacs specifically.)

I would love some reply or rebuttal if you cared to offer it, either via email or online, but more importantly, I just wanted you to know for future reference that the iMac might be substantially better for your audience in mind than you might have gathered on your first pass.


Neil Thorne

Created: 12/19/98
Updated: 11/09/02

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