Hands on

7th January 2000 at 00:00
A new millennium, and Les Watson has a new love, and he can't resist showing her off to other train passengers. Here he describes his less than brief encounter with Apple's iBook

I had seen the adverts and watched the slushy iBook online commercials at www.apple.comibooktheater.html but both failed to prepare me for the arrival of my iBook.

iBook has huge aesthetic appeal, and in my excitement at taking delivery of it, I made the mistake of taking it on a train. I didn't get much done - except for discussing what a stylish machine it was with fellow passengers. Taking a computer on a train is not something I would usually do due to the battery lifeweight ratio. But the iBook weighs about half a kilo less than my old G3, enough to make a noticeable difference, and has twice the battery life - six hours, claims Apple.

Attention to design details is obvious, largely in what has been left out. The ubiquitous laptop shoulder bag is made redundant by a robust handle. Apple has thought about portability, probably learning from its eMate project, and the iBook's casing seems tough enough to withstand the inevitable knocks.

Other design related omissions include those flaps over modem and Ethernet sockets - did we ever need them? In fact the machine has no catches and fasteners apart from the clamshell lid so you can guarantee they won't break.

The minimalist theme also extends to documentation - Getting Started consists of two pages and four illustrations. There are also a handful of CD-Roms and a user guide mostly about fitting memory and other cards. The CD-Roms provide Mac OS 8.6, AppleWorks, The World Book Encyclopedia, both Navigator and Explorer browsers, plus a couple of games and a rangeof utilities, one of which is the Palm Desktop Organizer. Setting up facilities such as Internet access is straightforward.

Aside from its look and feel, the iBook has all you would expect from a laptop. A high-quality screen provides sharp, bright colour. A fast 300-MHz PowerPC G3 processor provides plenty of power, boosted by the delightfully-named "backside cache" (512K memory). My machine came with the standard 32Mb memory which, using virtual memory, was fine to run office applications software but can be expanded to 160Mb. The no-floppy regime started with the iMac continues in the iBook. Connectivity is via a built-in Ethernet card and 56K modem to allow file transfer.

The machine has a 3.2Gb hard drive and 24x-speed CD-Rom drive, which can read data and audio CDs, although the mono speaker is not brilliant (a stereo-out jack takes headphones). Like the iMac the iBook uses the Universal Serial Bus (USB) port for devices like printers, external hard disks and floppy drives.

A milestone innovation is the wireless AirPort local area networking (below). This is an optional extra providing 11-Mbps, wireless networking within a 150ft base radius. The networking antenna is built into the plastic case so it can't be lost or broken.

A nice keyboard has short travel keys, and a responsive trackpad can be tapped if you don't like button clicking. Is there nothing wrong with this machine? Well there's no microphone, but the iBook really is a must-have product, a design triumph with outstanding style, performance and connectivity. I Mac therefore iBook, but the real question is, if I'm PC, will I change?

Les Watson is director of information resources at Glasgow Caledonian University.

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