iMac's innovation streaks ahead

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who use Macs, and those who are forced to use PCs. I used to belong to the former group. These days, I belong to the latter. And while I'll readily admit the PC's advantage when it comes to software availability, I miss the elegance and ease of the Apple Macintosh computer.

Which is why I was excited when I was invited to a demonstration of the new iMacs, the latest version of the machine that brought Apple back to life. What I saw impressed me. But you'll need to be patient (now there's a line Mac users know by heart). While the new iMacs are dazzling and innovative, you won't be able to get your hands on one for a few weeks yet.

But first, what you really want to know: The new iMacs start at $999, come with 64 megabytes of memory (up from 32), and include an expansion hole to add 512 megabytes more. The machine also offers a 6 gigabyte hard drive and a built-in 56K modem, as well as a high-speed Ethernet port, if you want to connect to a DSL line or an in-office local area network.

There are also two new higher-end models. The iMac DVD, which has some added features for digital video, two Firewire ports for digital cameras, and a very cool program called iMovie - and sells for $1,299. And the iMac DV Special Edition, with 13-gigabyte hard drive and 128-megabyte memory.

Now what makes the new machines worth all that cash?

First, they are incredibly quiet. The internal fan has been replaced by a ring of holes around the new handle in the back of the machine. You hardly know a computer is in the room. Only problem - it will be a cat magnet.

Second, Apple has installed a sound system that has to be heard to be believed. The new hi-fi speakers from Harman Kardon produce the best sound I've ever heard on a computer. But it gets better. You can purchase a $99 subwoofer that makes the sound as good as some external speakers.

Third, no more slide-out CD tray. Now, there is a CD slot similar to the one used in cars.

Fourth, and one of the best features, is the optional Airport card. Using the Airport card, you can share files and resources with other Airport equipped iMacs at a range of up to 150 feet, or half the length of a football field.

But wait .... there's more.

If you purchase the Airport base station ($299), you can access the Internet from anywhere within that 150-foot radius. You can be on the third floor and the base station on the first floor and you can happily surf, unconnected to any phone, cable, or DSL line.

I've saved the best for last - iMovie. It's a video editing program that will do for video what the word-processing programs did for text. Unlike other video-editing programs, you're four-year-old could work this one, and create a short film. Once she had finished, she could save it on the hard drive, send it back to the digital camera, burn it on a CD, or upload it to your Web site to be viewed by the world - or at least anyone using Apple's free Quicktime viewer.

What doesn't work? Well, the screen is still too small, and so is the keyboard.

And there seems to be a slight problem with the frequency used for Airport, which media reports have said is also a frequency used by the French military. I would say, forget the French, but then again, this is the nation that admitted to computer espionage against American companies. So why give them an advantage? Apple should use another frequency.

Yet, despite these flaws, pound for pound, this is the best computer on the market. Other machines may do more, but for the price, the iMac can't be beat.

Apple may not own the computer world, but it still is the most innovative and interesting computermaker in the world. And the new iMac only reconfirms that title.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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