The Once and Future iMac

Ever since the iMac helped reverse Apple’s slipping fortunes back in 1998, it has been viewed as a symbol of the company’s health. But I don’t think that’s the case anymore. For one thing, the iPod has usurped the iMac’s position as company star (the tag line of the new iMac ads is “From the creators of iPod”). And many former iMac users are now graduating to PowerBooks and Power Macs.

The G5 Difference

Still, the iMac G5—more powerful than the previous iMac but only slightly larger than the average flat-panel display—is an impressive bit of engineering. Consider the challenge Apple’s hardware designers faced in trying to fit a G5 processor into such a small space. The G5 chip runs extremely hot, but it and all the other components had to be crammed inside a tiny, two-inch-deep enclosure. The solution: a half-dozen independently controlled fans keeping three separate cooling zones at safe temperatures. Even the iMac’s L-shaped aluminum foot benefits from some typically clever Apple design touches. (For more on the new iMac, inside and out, see our cover story.)

But the iMac G5 has taken some lumps for being a bit too predictable. After all, attaching a computer to a flat-panel screen isn’t exactly original. People were suggesting that design even before the iMac G4 was introduced. But I think those criticisms are unfair: With this new iMac, Apple has managed to get the computer completely out of a user’s face. Unlike all-in-one computers from PC makers, the iMac doesn’t have a Quasimodo-like hump bulging from its back.

Also, given the growth of wireless technologies and the continuing miniaturization of computer technology, it’s only a matter of time before that physical box we’ve called “the desktop computer” disappears from our lives, stashed away in a closet or embedded in a device like a flat-panel monitor. So I think the new iMac is a glimpse into the future. As someone who likes computers because of what I can do with them, not because I like to keep big metal boxes near my desk, I can’t wait for that tomorrow to arrive.

Bargains and Gems

I think the most interesting part of the Mac world right now is the software being generated by hundreds of brilliant, independent programmers who have embraced OS X. Few of these programs will appear in stores or advertisements. But they’re often excellent, professional-quality apps.

Since these programs tend to rely on word of mouth for publicity, a lot of them fall through the cracks. That’s why we’ve been championing them in the pages of Macworld for the past couple of years. In this issue, you’ll find our third “Software Bargains” roundup, featuring 60 very cool, low-cost (or free) Mac applications you’ll want to check out for yourself. And every month, we present Mac Gems, a column in which Senior Writer Dan Frakes shines a spotlight on some excellent Mac products that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Now Mac Gems will also appear online, in the form of a new Weblog at Macworld.com. Several times a week, Dan will review great new Mac software at Macworld.com. Even if you consider yourself a savvy Mac user, I think Dan will surprise you with a lot of excellent apps you’ve never heard about.

Sidebar: About This Macworld

Every month, we produce a companion CD-ROM full of extra stuff, including video tutorials from Christopher Breen, supplemental magazine material, and the latest Mac software. The problem: that CD-ROM is included only with selected copies of the magazine. The solution: every reader of Macworld can view the contents of that CD-ROM, in Web form. If you don’t have the CD-ROM (and, preferably, if you have a broadband Internet connection), you can see the contents of this month’s “virtual CD” here. You can always find the Web address of your issue’s CD-ROM content by looking at the magazine’s table of contents.

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