In Praise of the Refreshingly Different Clamshell iBook
- 2008.04.29 - Tip Jar
The recent columns on clamshell iBooks here on Low End Mac (Mother of the MacBook Air, Graphite Clamshell iMac Still a Real Eye Catcher and Useful Tool, Clamshell iBooks Reconsidered) hit a real soft spot for me.
Back in the Fall of 2001, I was living in Knoxville and roadtripping to Atlanta twice a month with my roommate, dragging our big Wintel boxes for weekend-long LAN parties. I thought it would be neat to have a portable DVD player to amuse myself during the ride down and during the occasional long breaks when the network was being updated with patches or whatnot.
At the time, portable DVD players from any company you'd trust to make anything more complex than a hat were running about a thousand dollars a pop. My roommate saw me paging through screens of Sonys one evening and suggested that, since the "Ice Books" had just debuted, I wander over to Mac Of All Trades and see what they had in the way of clamshell iBooks. The last ones did have DVD players, after all....
Sure enough, they were running a deal on refurbished iBook SE FireWire machines in the "Key Lime" color scheme for right at a grand. Neat! Not only could I watch movies on the thing, but maybe I could use it to . . . surf the 'net or something. I mean, sure, it was obsolete....
Seven years down the road, that "obsolete" machine is sitting on my lap as I type this, relaxing on the front porch on a cool springtime evening. For seven years that obsolete iBook has been my trusty road warrior, letting me moderate web forums from WiFi hotspots thanks to its AirPort card. It's let me update my blog from a friend's house in Nashville, surf the 'net from my neighbor's hot tub, and check my email in out-of-state hotel rooms. This little 466 MHz G3, with its 192 megs of RAM that are so meager by today's standards, runs OS X 10.3.9 "Panther" without a hiccup and has uncomplainingly done whatever I needed it to do for the better part of a decade.
So, yes, it is safe to say I have a soft spot for the clamshell iBooks. The styling remains refreshingly different. If anything, it looks more modern now than it did when it was released. The keyboard, while not garnering the euphoric praise of a WallStreet or PowerBook 1400, is roomy and sports a full suite of function keys. It was the first Mac laptop to dispense with flimsy port doors, yet all its ports are protected from damage by being recessed at the end of tunnels in the housing. There's no fragile lid latch to break, either.
Sure, it has its faults. It's pretty limited in its expandability, and even what little can be done needs doing by someone who is a dab hand with tools and not panicked by complex instructions. It only has the one built-in speaker, and the sounds emanating from it are tinny and flat when compared to even the old '040 Blackbirds. But these are all quibbles. The original iBook wasn't meant to be a massively upgradeable power user's machine. It was a reasonably priced entry-level laptop, and it does what it was meant to do - and does it well.
The little touches it has - those little touches that are taken for granted now - were so science-fiction when they debuted on the iBook. Touches like the gently snoring sleep light under the skin that replaced the harshly blinking surface-mounted LED on earlier 'Books. Or the glow around the power port, changing from the amber of charging to the green of a full charge. And, of course, there is the piece de resistance, the gimmick that makes you wonder why Apple didn't make it a permanent feature of every laptop ever after: A built-in folding carry handle. Genius.
So is the clamshell iBook the machine for you? That depends. For starters, it's about as cheap a modern Mac laptop as you can buy. (By "modern", I mean a machine that supports USB, can run OS X without beating your head against a wall, and has provision for an internal wireless card.) With its good keyboard, rugged build, and that nifty built-in carry handle, it's still a fantastic utility infielder of a laptop.
If you need the ultimate in compactness, or the ability to edit video or play World of Warcraft at the local WiFi hotspot, then you probably need to look elsewhere. For me, though? For me I just hope that the next seven years of uncomplaining service are as drama-free and lacking in hiccups as the first seven years have been.
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