Wednesday, December 30, 2020 [Tweets] [Favorites]

20 Macs for 2020: #1 – iMac G3

Jason Snell (Hacker News):

But Mac OS X wouldn’t ship for another two years, and it would be a painful years-long transition away from the classic Mac OS. In the meantime Apple needed to start making money again, needed that infusion of cash that would allow Jobs to turn over the Mac product line and let Mac OS X come to fruition. Sure, what it really needed was stability, but a hit wouldn’t hurt.

And a hit is exactly what Apple got.

[…]

People who didn’t live through it might not believe it, but the iMac took the product-design world by storm. Over the next few years, there would be very few consumer electronic products that had not offered a special, iMac-inspired translucent plastic edition. It started with USB accessories for the iMac, as printer and floppy-disk vendors quickly placed orders for translucent colored plastic pieces to replace their opaque beige ones. But it just kept going and going. Telephones. Toys. And my personal favorite, the George Foreman iGrill.

[…]

The iMac wasn’t made to impress the Mac’s installed base. Hard-core Mac users criticized the lack of a floppy drive and familiar ports, but also the 233MHz PowerPC G3 processor, which was slower than other G3s. But it was $1299—it was aggressively priced for a general consumer audience.

My recollection is that the processor was considered very fast compared with the Power Mac 5400 and Performas of the day. But I/O via USB 1 was really slow.

12 Comments

Yeah, the iMac G3 was very fast for what was technically an entry-level Mac. It had a 233 MHz G3 and a 2MB ATI Rage IIc, which made it comparable to the entry-level Power Macintosh G3. The 5500 and 6500 both had a PowerPC 603e, so it was a pretty huge step up for people buying an entry-level Mac.

(I might be wrong about this, but I think that previously, there had typically been a processor difference between entry-level Macs and pro-level Macs, e.g. 68030 in the Performas, 68040 in the Quadras, so it was pretty substantial to see the G3 in an entry-level Mac).

When we bought an iMac in 98, that was the first time I truly felt like I was using a fast computer. That thing ran Connectix Virtual Game Station at full speed, which was something people previously thought wouldn't be possible for another few years.

I bought one of the rev. B Bondi Blue iMacs right before the version with colors was announced. I had the very first USB CD burner, and the β€œice” colored Zip drive, and a clear plastic Epson Stylus 888. I used that thing practically non-stop for 5 years, churning out CDs for my friends bands, doing photoshop and graphic design, and reading Ars Technica articles from Jon Stokes. The latter inspired me to go back to school and pursue Computer Engineering so I bought myself a 12” PowerBook G4 to replace it and finally started using OS X.

I don't remember the iMac G3 ever being considered particularly fast -- and (or because) I never heard anyone compare it to a Performa. They compared it to its contemporary across the aisle: the Pentium III. The iMac was a cute and practical machine, as long as you lived in a Mac-only or Mac-compatible industry, and didn't need any peripherals (the early USB situation was miserable). It was fast *enough*, but it didn't have "teh snappy", especially compared to a cheaper Windows or Linux box.

The mouse made it the laughingstock of everyone, including other Mac users. For a couple years, there were companies doing good business selling mouse-shaped pieces of plastic...

The hit was partly a matter of timing. The Internet was something that everyman was becoming aware of, and an iMac was a particularly easy way to get access if you didn't have a computer already. You plugged it into power and a 'phone socket, powered it up, and it walked you through everything you needed to start browsing.

I always felt like the iMac exemplified the worst of late β€˜90s PC trends. It looked and felt cheap and gaudy and it aged poorly. The combination of being an AIO with a CRT display and having a neutered set of ports (USB 1.1 for backup?) gave it a particularly short useful life.

" but it didn't have "teh snappy", especially compared to a cheaper Windows or Linux box"

Linux desktops of the time were too snappy; the way mouse inputs were handled was naive and so the mouse was twitchy and hard to control. Menu handling was similarly brain-dead and they'd snap shut at the slightest deviation from the golden path because they didn't have the affordances that MacOS had since the beginning.

The situation has improved, but linux desktop environments still feel 'off' to me.

As for the timing: Yes, of course it was. It was the right product at the right price at the right time with the right marketing. Buying up all the trans-pacific air cargo capacity at the iMac debut probably didn't hurt either.

"It was fast *enough*, but it didn't have "teh snappy", especially compared to a cheaper Windows or Linux box."

That doesn't match what I remember. It's important to keep in mind that the iMac shipped with System 8, which was designed for old 68K machines, and ran incredibly well on G3 Macs. It definitely ran way better than your average contemporary Pentium running Windows 98.

Remember that the Pentium III only came out in 99, so it's a bit odd to compare an entry-level Mac to the top-of-the-line Pentium that would come out a year later, and declare it "not particularly fast" based on that comparison.

"I never heard anyone compare it to a Performa"

The Performa line was the entry-level Mac line, same as the iMac. But unlike the Performas, the iMacs actually compared well to pro-level Macs released at the same time.

"The mouse made it the laughingstock of everyone"

The mouse was funny, but the reality was that it worked just fine for 99% of people.

I think those middle-era consumer G3's (iMacs and iBooks) were usually considered plenty fast regarding the CPU. The problem was they were shipping with an absurd amount of RAM (32MB) and a comical VM system in classic Mac OS. Fortunately, the RAM was consumer upgradeable even in an AIO machine with a dangerous high-voltage CRT. The drives, RAM, and CPU were mounted outside and underneath the CRT enclosure so you weren't at risk like many earlier AIO's (or later like eMac). Though, the slot-loading G3 iMacs made it even easier.

"Remember that the Pentium III only came out in 99, so it's a bit odd to compare an entry-level Mac to the top-of-the-line Pentium that would come out a year later, and declare it "not particularly fast" based on that comparison."

The iMac was sold from late 1998 to early 2003. The P3 was launched in early 1999. I don't think it's unfair to compare to an Intel CPU that was sold for 90% of the iMac G3's lifespan. It may have been the brand name of Intel's "top-of-the-line" chip, but you could build a complete P3 system for a price comparable to the iMac G3.

True, you could compare the iMac G3 to entry-level all-in-one Windows PCs of the day, and declare that it was twice as good as those (it was!), but it was also twice as expensive.

You're comparing brand positioning. I'm comparing price points. Both can be valid. Nothing odd here.

"The mouse was funny, but the reality was that it worked just fine for 99% of people."

I must have only met 1%ers, because all the iMac owners I knew hated it.

If you're comparing price point, remember that the iMac launched at 1300$, while the cheapest Pentium III PCs launched at 1600$ - without a screen.

Also, the iMac launched in mid August, the Pentium IIIs came out at the very end of February the next year. So that's more than six months difference.

Anyways, the fact that we're even comparing the iMac to the very top of the line Intel CPU that was released six months later kinda shows that it was no slouch. That's all I'm really saying.

Also:

>I must have only met 1%ers, because all the iMac owners I knew hated it.

I guess this means that you now have to update your priors :-)

I had no issues at all actually using the mouse, and neither did anyone I know. Not a single person I know bothered to replace the mouse on their iMac.

I think it might depend on mouse grip. If you're using palm grip, then the iMac mouse is weird, because it won't touch your palm. But palm grip anyways requires a mouse that fits your hand size perfectly, so for most people, the default mouse won't cut it.

I use fingertip grip, I only touch my mouse with my fingertips, and move it with my fingers, rather than by moving the whole hand. This means that the body of the mouse only gets in the way. So I still use a mouse that doesn't have a palm rest, and feels very similar to an old iMac mouse in use.

> I use fingertip grip, I only touch my mouse with my fingertips, and move it with my fingers, rather than by moving the whole hand.

Yep. I did tech support 1999-2000, and had to work with a LOT of iMacs (and other Macs/PCs). If you slapped your whole hand down on that iMac mouse, it didn't feel right. So, if you shifted your grip to squeeze it between your ring finger and thumb, it felt right. AND, you weren't resting your wrist down on the desk surface and giving yourself tendinitis. Instead, you were using the muscles in your forearm to hold your arm up, had a very easy-to-move mouse, and it worked.

The biggest problem with that mouse was the early versions where you couldn't tell which way was up. Once they added that groove at the top, it was a decent mouse.

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