More Apples

Spring may or may not be the Apple season but they certainly seem to be cropping up in my life with some regularity.

First, there was last week’s column on their merits and demerits as computers and, then, from Microsoft, a copy of Office 2001 for the Macintosh.
I could clearly see fate at work nudging me in the direction of another Apple column and so I popped down to EduMac and borrowed the entry-level Apple computer, an iMac G3 350Mhz.
There is no getting away from the fact that iMacs are very sexy computers with their bright colours and modern finishes. They have a definite air of joie de vivre unlike their dull beige PC cousins.
PCs traditionally require festoons of wire before they’ll work but the iMac will look incredibly neat on you desk because its screen and CPU are built into one unit and all you’ll see is a thin cable leading to the keyboard and, from there, one to the mouse.
iMacs’re easy to set up and it is the work of no more than a minute to plug in the power, keyboard and mouse cables and switch on. They also have built-in modems and network cards so you can connect them to whatever it is you want to connect them to.
I hadn’t fiddled with an Apple for quite a number of years but I had no trouble picking up where I left off. The machine is easy to use and, although I maintain that the current Apple operating system is a bit dated when compared to Windows, that isn’t too much of a drawback.
The Windows features I missed most when working with the Apple were the Taskbar and Start button which make it easy to access your programs and, once they’re running, switch between them. To start an application on the Apple, for example, you have dig around a bit on the hard drive for it.
I also felt that the Apple wasn’t quite as good at doing two things at once as a Windows PC. I was listening to Camelot on the Apple’s built-in CD player and I found that the sound quality did suffer when I saved a file or loaded clip art.
I did some experiments with a large image and found that Bluetoo, my new PC, got things done roughly twice as fast as the Apple. I don’t read too much into that, however, because the iMac only came with 64Mb of RAM unlike Bluetoo who has 192Mb to call on.
I was really very favourably impressed with the iMac but I HATED its mouse and keyboard. The otherwise level-headed Apple designers let function take a backseat to form when they produced those particular peripherals.
The keyboard was hard to use because the keys are not only cramped together but are also black and hard to see. The mouse is a laughable small round thing with no easy way of telling which is the back or the front.
Part Two
Last time I talked about Apple’s iMac computer saying that I had found it very stylish and easy to setup and use.
There are certain Windows features, like the Start Button and Taskbar, which I definitely miss while working on the Apple. There are also issues with the current version of the operating system which doesn’t do multi-tasking very well and is not as crash-resistant as it might be.
A new operating system, OS X, is on the way and will hopefully bring Apples up to complete parity with Windows Systems. The other major problem with Apples, I feel, is that they are too pricey.
The entry-level Apple iMac will set you back about R9000 and, granted, it comes with built-in everything, including network card and modem, but that is the price of an extremely potent PC with a 17-inch screen.
The costs aside, however, you won’t being doing yourself a disservice by going the iMac route for your home or small office computer providing that all the software you need is available on the Macintosh platform.
The other thing I did while I had the iMac was to take a look at Microsoft Office 2001 for Macintosh. I managed to get the thing installed after a bit of fiddling and after I managed to find the serial number which swine Microsoft had carefully hidden.
The office suite includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Entourage, an integrated e-mail and personal information manager similar to MS Outlook on the PC. The office suite has a slightly different look to Office 2000 for the PC but it appears to have roughly the same features.
One that I hope will be included in the next PC version of office is the Formatting Palette which makes it easy to change the formatting of the text or object you’ve got currently selected.
Another feature I like is that the suite keeps all its settings in its installation folder so that, even if your operating system folder is toasted, you don’t have to reinstall Office. All settings are restored to the system folder the first time you run Office after a disaster.
Office 2001 for the Mac will set you back close to R4000 but it looks pretty good to me. I can’t really comment on how much of an improvement it is because it’s the first version I’ve seen; watch this space next year.
I’ve got a bit of a love hate relationship with Apple because my first computer was an Apple II+ and I would have still been using one if the company hadn’t got greedy and priced their computers higher than PCs.
They had a viable computer long before there was such a thing as a PC and it’s a crime that they squandered their lead. One of the prime reasons for this was the higher price and the fact that, except for a limited period, they never allowed other companies to make Apple clones.
I’d have bought a Macintosh when they came out, and so would many others, but they were too expensive and so we went the PC route. If they had let others build the hardware and stuck to the software, I’m convinced that Apple could have been the dominant computing platform today.
I still have very fond memories of my Apple II+ which had what I believe is best the hardware and software manual ever. I followed it step by step from how to switch on the machine to knowing enough programming to be able to write a small shoot-em-up game.
One of these days I’m going to be taking a look at the Apple iBook portable which is a super machine and, unusually enough for Apple, is extremely price-competitive with PC Notebooks.
My Columns in the Sunday Tribune on 5 & 12 November 2000 formed the basis for this article.
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