You will not find a tastier looking computer than Apple's new iMac. It is a sight that I'll wager will turn many heads and tempt many Windows users. Apple is wagering that, too, hoping to win over those who want to see what digital music, photos and video have to offer. And, with this looking like it will fit nicely into a modern home or classroom, the bet is a good one.
A thin panel screen rises from a dome base containing the processor and connections. The screen is not only bright, it articulates on a strong metal arm over the keyboard to offer a comfortable position. Like a good desk lamp, or make-up mirror, this works well on the heavy base. A transparent mouse, keyboard and speakers finish off the design and help make parting with money so much easier. The one-button mouse is the only hint that it's not a PC.
Pretty much everything you'd need to write documents, file a song collection, edit movies and photos is here. The new iMac handled my PC files, including a heap of precious Word files, pictures and QuickTime movies without a moan. AppleWorks 6 is the bundled suite of office tools and capable though it is, there will be folk who have grown up with Word and don't want anything else. As ever, if you want pupils to use, say, professional software, like Adobe or Macromedia, then this is something to add in.
Most enticing is that, on the top-end Superdrive model, you can make a DVD that works in a domestic player. It's a two-stage process. First, you use iMovie to copy the film from a digital camcorder, find the good bits and save them as high quality QuickTime movies. Next, you drag the movies into iDVD to make a DVD menu like one on a commercial release. You can also drag in digital photos instead of movies, and then add a music file (MP3) to make a very upbeat slideshow. The result is impressive enough to have anyone bragging that they've made a DVD. Take note that playing with video (on a Mac or PC) requires time of hobby proportions. It took a day to plan and get everything into place, while burning it to a disc is an overnight task. Like much IT stuff - colour printers or cameras - if it's not used the cost of the hardware overshadows all else. But with blank DVD-R discs costing pound;4 and falling, casual use of this seems entirely tenable.
The new iMac features a high performance G4 chip and comes with OSX 10.1, a very stable operating system that offers performance gains over last year's version 10.0. Here we have a new operating system taking its toll on a well-specified machine. Some will hanker for more thrust, but many will go for the ease and style of OSX. In short, it's sweet and confidence building.
Still, what's easy for beginners invariably proves to be difficult for experts. OSX is less for those individuals who like to have control over their machines. It's like the choice between a manual and automatic gearbox: one's easy to control, the other's easy to use.
Apple's new iMac will allow a tier of people to do a good deal straight out of the box. Consider the prospect of a classroom full of these and the temptation becomes fascinating.
800 MHz G4 processor
60 Gb hard disc
256 Mb memory
15-inch TFT flat screen
modem and speakers
Education pound;1,250 + VAT
Retail pound;1,538 incl. VAT
Fitness for purpose
Ease of use