The ground-breaking G3 computer is just one reason to buy Mac, says Hugh John
Lies, damned lies, statistics and, I'm tempted to add, promotional speeches at computer shows. But Steve Jobs' triumphant peroration at the recent MacWorld Expo in San Francisco was received with the kind of relieved rapture one might expect for the man credited with saving Apple from the Silicon Valley Funeral Directors' Parlour.
For once, the hype seems justified. With the company posting profits for a fifth successive quarter, astonishing sales of the iMac, (800,000 world-wide and an estimated 50,000 in the United Kingdom), Apple is clearly on the mend.
Jobs apart, the star of the show was the restyled, second generation G3 computer, in the same translucent livery that has proved so popular for the iMac.
Now available in Britain, the G3 manages to be both retro and futuristic. The machine has four beefy handles - one at each corner - and the casing is made from tough polycarbonate, allegedly the same material used in bullet-proof vests. A side panel hinges down to provide access to memory slots and other components. Technophobes take heart: if you can open a door and change a light bulb, you're half-way to installing more memory without the need for assistance.
But it is more than just a pretty case. Available in three speed configurations - fast, blistering and whoosh - it can easily handle multimedia applications and memory-intensive graphics programs such as Adobe Photoshop. On first impressions, the mid-range model with CDDVD-Rom drive could prove to be the most popular.
With its iMac, Apple abandoned the Mac's proprietary serial connections for peripherals such as printers and modems (known as ADB) in favour of the new industry standard (USB), along with the floppy disk drive. Now it has gone one step further and also replaced its high-speed connections (SCSI) with a new standard called FireWire. Just plug in a digital camcorder to the G3 across the FireWire connections and it plays the video on the computer monitor. It's that simple - state-of-the art connectivity. With Ethernet networking connections as standard, and a superb graphics card, this machine is likely to be popular for both networking and digital editing.
Accompanying the G3 tower is a range of competitively priced, high-quality monitors in the same blue and white colour scheme. My only minor quibble is the new cut-down and - certainly by Apple standards - flimsy-feeling keyboard and circular mouse.
Apple has kept one of the older serial connectors (ADB) for use with older peripherals. Equally, floppy disk users can use third-party SuperDisk hardware.
And the iMac? Well, it is now available in five near-luminous colours, with a faster processor and larger hard drive. It's also cheaper. The original Bondi Blue machine has been further reduced in price and is available for under pound;800. And if the recent BETT technology show is anything to go by, these new machines are certainly a hit with the education community. According to a demonstrator on the Xemplar stand, "the only thing teachers argue about is the colour".
Amid the razzmatazz came an announcement that may yet have the greatest significance for education: Apple has made a serious commitment to server technology. The Mac OS X Server, set for a spring launch in Britain, has a number of exciting features including NetBoot, which allows networked Macs to load up their operating system direct from the server rather than their own hard drives - in the same way as a network computer. Additionally - and useful for schools - the server will record and store each user's files, preferences and applications. At MacWorld, Jobs demonstrated 50 diskless iMacs running videos from one server.
Mac OS X also includes powerful Internet software. As Web usage is expected to double in the next two years, Apple is positioning its servers as a serious alternative to Windows NT.
With the hugely successful iMac, the restyled G3, an intuitive and powerful operating system, new server technology with great potential for schools and Sherlock, a search facility that can browse both hard drive and Internet, Apple has never before offered education such compelling reasons to not only Think Different but also Buy Different.
And if you still feel you need Windows? These machines run it under software like Connectix Virtual PC as quickly as a high-speed PC, giving Apple owners the best of both worlds.
G3 prices range from PowerMac G3 300MHz (64 Mb RAM, 6Gb hard disk, CD-Rom drive), pound;1,069 ex VAT, to PowerMac G3 400MHz (with 128Mb RAM, 9 Gb hard disk and CD drive) at pound;2,029.
Xemplar Education 01203 724200 www.xemplar.co.uk