Opinion: Is iMac just another Mac?

You have to give Apple--well, Steve Jobs, actually--credit. A year ago, the company was teetering on the edge of oblivion, with a software strategy based around an unpopular server OS no one wanted to develop for. Today, Apple Computer is basking in the glow of three consecutive money-making quarters, and on Saturday they will launch the latest bid in its comeback strategy, the iMac. The iMac has pushed Apple back into the limelight, with frontpage stories in major newspapers, coverage on all the major TV news networks, and glowing reviews from happy journalists that were seeded with free units.

Is it really that good?

I'll be heading out the CompUSA this weekend to find out, but frankly, I don't see what all the hubbub is about. The iMac, which was had preorders in the 150,000 range, will be bought primarily by existing Macintosh customers, just like other Macs. There will be some gains in the education market, I suspect, though I've seen advertisements for Compaq, IBM, and other computers will similar specs--but not the cool iMac chassis--selling for less than $1000. What you really get when you buy an iMac is a slow Macintosh that costs more than similarly-equipped PCs. The 233 MHz CPU used in the iMac is slower than the CPU you can get in any other Macintosh, which feature 266, 300, and 333 MHz processors. I don't have a problem with the lack of a floppy drive, but I suspect some people will.

And that integrated monitor. Yee gods, that might have been a nice feature in 1984, but today, I want to be able to swap monitors should the poor thing die. When your iMac monitor dies, the whole system goes with it. And there is no way to upgrade it: On my PC, I've upgraded over time from a 15" to a 17" and, finally, to a 21" monitor. On the iMac, you're stuck with a tiny 15" monitor.

No matter.

The iMac doesn't change the very basic problems with the Macintosh: A user interface that refuses to let you do more than one thing at a time, the lack of software in actual retail stores where people actually shop, and the steadily declining marketshare that Apple suffers. Apple could sell a million of these things by the end of the year and it really won't do much to reverse the trend. Apple advocates will point out that sub-5% market share is also enjoyed by such companies as Mercedes Benz and BMW but these markets don't rely on aftermarket software as the computer industry does. This isn't an oranges-to-oranges comparison, though it makes for fun copy.

The real "morning after" experience for iMac will come when Dell Computer, Gateway, Compaq, and the slew of other PC manufacturers simply copy and exceed the iMac design in their own, higher-volume machines. Yes, Apple pundits will (rightfully) scream cries of the PC copying the Mac yet again, but in the end, it just won't matter. If you're interested in ordering all your software mail-order, and not being compatible with the rest of the world, the iMac *is* a beautiful looking computer. But when it comes to computers, beauty is only skin-deep: It's not about beauty, it's about availability

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