The iMac Channel

The iMac: Truly Revolutionary

24 June 1998 - Dan Knight

How quickly we forget how revolutionary personal computers are.

The first PCs were kits for electronic hobbyists. The Apple I came as a kit; users had to add keyboard, case, and power supply.

The real revolution came with the TRS-80, the Commodore PET, and the Apple II - computers you could buy and use immediately. The Apple even had color video.

Back then, programs were stored on cassette tapes. The next revolution was adding floppy drives. These were much faster than tape, much more reliable, and offered random access to data.

Then came hard drives, some as large as 5 or 10 megabytes. And Osborne invented portable computing with a 40 pound, suitcase-sized, Z80-based computer that even had bundled software.

Revolutionary!

IBM legitimized the personal computer revolution with the IBM PC in 1981. In most respects a natural outgrowth of the PC movement, the letters IBM meant computers belonged in the workplace, not just the home.

The next revolution came in 1984 when Apple took the Lisa concept ($10,000 5 MHz 68000-based computer with 12" b&w screen, mouse, and graphical user interface), increased speed to 8 MHz, reduced the screen size, adopted to a 400KB 3.5" disk drive, and made it relatively affordable.

The Macintosh immediately stood apart from the crowd of IBM clones (each one more alike than the last) and the hobbyist machines (Commodore, Atari, Radio Shack, and others).

Revolutionary.

Yes, but not received with open arms. Despite Steve Jobs's claims that this insanely great computer would never need more than 128KB of memory and that the serial bus architecture offered all necessary expansion, the masses saw it as a toy.

Before the year was out, Apple shipped the Fat Mac, the same computer but with 512 KB of memory. It was a step in the right direction.

Evolutionary, not revolutionary.

In 1986 Apple introduced the Mac Plus, the first Macintosh with a fast expansion bus. In this case, it was the new SCSI standard - something we consider old hat today. And RAM could be boosted from an incredible 1 MB to a truly amazing 4 MB.

Then came PageMaker and the LaserWriter. Desktop publishing became a buzzword.

Evolution led to revolution, to a whole new computer market in the publishing industry.

More evolution:

  • 1987 - expansion slots, color, internal hard drives, ADB
  • 1988 - SuperDrive could read PC disks, System 6, first 68030 Mac
  • 1990 - inexpensive Macs, the Classic and LC
  • 1991 - System 7, first PowerBooks, first Quadras, QuickTime
  • 1992 - first PowerBook Duos
  • 1994 - first Power Macs, first Maclones
  • 1996 - Apple adopts PCI bus
  • 1997 - System 8, G3 microprocessor

Which raises the question, where's the brash, revolutionary Apple of old?

Well, Steve Jobs is back, and the iMac project started the day after he did. While moving to RISC technology was a risk, it didn't change the nature of the Macintosh. The G3 made it fast and sassy, but it looked and acted like the Mac II on steroids.

Years of change had retained LocalTalk (the world's slowest network), ADB, SCSI (although some models used SCSI-2), and a barely changed user interface. The adoption of industry standard protocols like PCI, EDI, and ATAPI.

But the iMac changes things in a revolutionary way. The OS hasn't changed, but the look and feel of the computer certainly has. A white translucent computer with blue accents? A carrying handle? USB ports with no other industry standard expansion bus - no ADB, PCI, RS-232C, parallel, RS-422, or SCSI?

The iMac looks to the future, not just the past and present.

With the bunny-torching G3 processor, 100Base-T networking, and outlandish looks, the iMac is as revolutionary as the original Lisa and Macintosh with one big difference: there's software available for this one.

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