The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?

First Impressions of the G5 iMac

by Robert Velarde (Posted: 9/3/04)


In 1967, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, starring Clint Eastwood, was released in the United States (it came out the year before in Spain as "El Bueno, el feo y el malo"). In the film, three gunmen are out to seek a hidden treasure and are none too pleased about having to deal with one another. Of course, there's more to them than simply being good, bad, and ugly, but the options can apply to a lot of things—even computers. So where does Apple's latest computer fall in the spectrum of good, bad, and ugly? Read on to find out my first impressions.

Apple has finally announced the new G5 iMac, which is expected to ship by mid-September. Let me begin by mentioning my first two reactions to seeing images of the iMac. First, I'm amazed that Apple was able to fit that much technology into such a small area. I mean, they have a G5, an optical drive, a main board, and a bunch of other components inside what is basically a screen; that's pretty impressive from a technological standpoint. I'd still like to wait a bit, though, and find out about any potential heat issues.

Second, I find the design uninspiring. Yes, I know that Apple is known for its often-stunning designs (the G4 cube, the sunflower G4 iMac, and the iPod come to mind). But the new G5 iMac seems, well ... boring. After all, it's basically just a screen (which is difficult to make exciting), a keyboard, and a mouse (which are even more difficult to make exciting). Some have said that the system even looks like the eMac from the front. It sort of does actually, but the iMac is naturally much thinner than the chunky CRT-based e-Mac and, since the iMac sports a G5, it is really in another league. [Note that I will not dwell on the specifications of the new system here, as this information is readily available here.] It's not that the new iMac is ugly. In fact, it's a clean, functional design. But it just doesn't capture my attention too much. Maybe it will grow on me, though, after seeing it in person.

What market does Apple appear to be targeting with the new system? It seems to me from reading their promotional material and watching their video that Apple is primarily targeting younger users, as in college age. Why do I think this? First, they are making a point of associating the iMac with the coolness that is iPod. Second, they are highlighting the ability of the iMac to play games (Halo and Unreal Tournament 2004 are listed in their "Widescreen Graphics" section of their web site) and DVD movies. Third, the nature of the design lends itself to dorm rooms or otherwise cramped living situations--a common experience for many in college.

I'm a pessimist and skeptic by nature. That's why although my optimistic side observes that the new iMac will be easy to transport, it will also be easy to steal (hey, I grew up in Los Angeles so I'm always trying to anticipate how my stuff might get stolen and how I might discourage such theft!). My advice? If you get a G5 iMac, by all means get a good security cable and lock the system down.

Another aspect of the G5 iMac that brings out the pessimist in me is the whole concept of the all-in-one system. My concern is that if the screen goes on the fritz, you're out of luck until you have your system serviced. Of course, the same concerns apply to previous iMacs and the current eMac line. I know Apple systems are a cut above, to say the least, when compared to those beige boxes of garbage running that other OS. But still, as a working professional I don't think I could take the risk of owning a G5 iMac and relying on it alone for my day to day work. For that matter, neither could students. Most people in a pinch could probably manage for a time, but it would likely be an inconvenience. If I only had a G5 iMac I'd have to have a backup of some sort. Now, for instance, my main system is a TiBook, but if something were to go horribly wrong with it, I could easily switch to our eMac for an indefinite period of time.

Finally, I have to voice another concern people often make about all-in-one systems: limited expandability. As a former DOS and Windows user (see my "Switcher" article), I can testify to the fact that die-hard PC users are obsessed with expandability. For some reason, they tend to think more drive bays, expansion ports, and a good sized enclosure are definitely advantageous. But I don't think Apple is expecting to win over dedicated PC users with the G5 iMac, so the limited expandability factor is not that much of a concern for their target market. Besides, all those ports on the back of the iMac will allow the addition of a number of devices. It's too bad the iMac only has FireWire 400, though, but I guess the USB 2.0 makes up for that shortcoming.

I do have another complaint that fits well here, though. Apple is still not including enough RAM with the base systems. I'm sorry, but in my experience 256MB is not really enough for a smooth Panther experience, but not even the higher end iMac comes with more memory. People who are shopping for an all-in-one solution don't generally want to mess with upgrades, so why not give them at least 512MB of RAM out of the box?

What about the cost of the G5 iMac? Apple has three primary options: $1,299 for a 1.6 GHz 17" combo-drive model, $1,499 for a 1.8 GHz 17" SuperDrive system and $1,899 for a 1.8 GHz 20" SuperDrive system (educational pricing is $1,199, $1,399, and $1,799 respectively). If one of my kids were getting ready for college and, after somehow covering tuition costs, I had some bucks left over for a Mac, I'd get him an iBook: $1,099 for the basic 12" screen model ($949 education price) or $1,299 for the basic 14" system ($1,199 education price). Sure, it's not a G5, but it's portable and more than adequate. After all, I used an old Atari computer and a dot matrix printer for part of my college experience (plus I had to walk three miles in the snow uphill both ways to get to classes). A laptop is more versatile for a college student. I wouldn't want to lug an 18 or 25 pound G5 iMac to class. Still, $1,299 does not seem all that much for a G5 with a nice screen. But how about an Apple tablet?

Now that Apple has seemingly proven that they are able to cram that much technology into such a small area, why don't they release a G4 tablet? I haven't heard much about their Inkwell handwriting recognition software in a while or about Windows-based tablets, but I think the technology has advanced enough that Apple could pull it off. Whether it would sell in sufficient numbers to make it worthwhile is another question.

The iMac has come a long way from its CRT-based beginnings. The new iMac has added some important features such as a G5 processor. Still, from an aesthetic perspective, I have to say that the sunflower G4 iMac is more pleasing to behold. But time will tell how the new iMac will be received. As always, opinions will vary and will no doubt include responses that are good, bad, and ugly. So take this article for what it is, namely my first impressions of the G5 iMac.

Robert Velarde is a writer, editor, and switcher.

The Christian Macintosh Users Group (CMUG) is an international internet-based fellowship of Christians who use Macintosh computers in their personal, professional, and ministerial lives.

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