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When computer stuff had personality

2011 July 22

Remember the iMac?

Not the near-invisible rectangle on a stand like I have, or the desk-lamp-looking thing. I mean the iMac. The computer that marked Apple’s return to relevance, the revolutionary little bondi-blue egg, and certainly at least a rival for the title of cutest computer ever.

Yeah, the iMac.

Looking through the old issue of Macworld magazine which I retrieved some months ago, I’m reminded of the fun, playful element of computer design which burst onto the scene following the original iMac. Say what one likes about what may be the iMac’s more important legacies, or about the relative superficiality of most of the translucent colored-plastic devices which followed the iMac. Computers and computer stuff, certainly looking back now and in my opinion at the time as well, were fun in a way that’s missing from contemporary equivalent products.

The funny/sad thing is that in spite of being there throughout that era… I missed the whole thing.

Basically, I was just six to twelve months too early (and/or a little too thrifty, but come on, I was a college student). I bought my first Mac, a lovable (since, hey, it was still a Mac) but unremarkable desktop-version G3, in August of 1998. The bondi-blue bomb of the iMac exploded in May of the following year.

I saw the iMac pop up here and there around dear auld ISU when I returned for fall of my Senior year, and it looked fun, but I already had a computer. And, for what it’s worth, the iMac offered little advantage over my G3 aside from looks and (debatable) “portability.” My G3 still had a floppy disk drive, which I think I still used now and then, plus the monitor was separate, allowing me the luxury of a seventeen-inch display compared with the iMac’s mere fifteen-inch.

Still, the iMac looked great. I remember in particular this sense of odd but wonderful synchronicity every time I saw a (then) New Beetle; it seemed like Volkswagon had unintentionally produced the first of many complementary-designed products, and it always made me smile.

But I completely missed out. I stuck it out with my G3 for just over four years, and by the time I finally upgraded, Apple had begun moving to the polished-monochrome aesthetic which it has essentially adhered to ever since. (Aside from the iPod nano.) The “mirrored door” G4 tower which I purchased had the same “El Capitan” case as the blue and white G3 of a few years before, but visually it was a much different creature. The fun and playfulness was basically gone, replaced by a cool, metallic professionalism.

Of course, as I noted above, the iMac inspired a flood-tide of translucent-plastic peripherals… and I managed to miss out on all of those, too. Again, I was probably just too early. I think I acquired my beige Epson inkjet around the same time as my G3. A scanner came along later, but probably just too early all the same; for all I know it was one of the last beige consumer-market scanners shipped for two or three years. I even acquired a third-party mouse, having decided early on that the one-button mouse was a rare area where The Steve was wrong and the “Wintel” (remember when that meant something?) community was right. But even that mouse, while sporting a two-tone appearance, was still gray.

Bummer, no?

The closest I came to any piece of the “fun, colorful computer stuff” era was probably my long-serving iomega zip drive. It was purple, at least, and I’ve still got a soft spot for its sturdy just-slightly-rounded appearance, that satisfying “ka-CHUNK” sound, and the fun graphic system which iomega used in those days. (I wonder if I still have any of those stickers which came with the drive?) A far cry from the smooth black metal iomega drive I use for backups, nowadays. Still, it really wasn’t the same, let’s be honest.

Oh, I guess when I worked at D.U., there were iMacs around; designers had towers, but I did have one iMac-era Apple product… the infamous hockey-puck mouse. With, fortunately, the also-translucent-plastic clip-on extension. Yep, all that cool stuff, and the closest I came to any of it was the very worst aspect of the whole experiment. Sigh.

Oh well. How much are secondhand iMacs going for…

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