Apple Computer Inc. Cupertino, Calif.

Macintosh iMac Computer

Forget linear thinking. Apple Computer's new iMac is all graceful curves. Forget corporate beige, too: the iMac's translucent dome suggests a blue lollipop rather than a high-powered computer. And forget the mystery of what's going on inside: iMac users can peer through the translucence to see their computer's whistles and bells at work. All this for the sake of cool. "We think that computing in the past got boring, and people were just turning out cookie-cutter products," says Apple product manager Tom Bogen. "We wanted to connect with the purchaser again. We wanted the iMac to have a personality." Apple launched the iMac to restake its claim in the home-computer market, and sales in the first six weeks after its August introduction were a brisk 278,000 units, with more than 40% going to new computer buyers. Not all of these units stayed home, though, as Apple has discovered strong interest among businesses for the iMac. Even companies, Bogen asserts, have been won over by the iMac's coolness. "Companies that want to project a high-tech, cutting-edge image like to have customers walk in and see their administrative staff using iMacs," he says. "Style can be good for business, too." But the appeal of the iMac goes beyond cool. It has a 233-MHz PowerPC G3 processor, which Apple says has twice the performance of comparable Pentium II or Celeron-based systems and offers maximum computing power at the lowest price around. And it has one of the industry's best 15-inch displays. It's very compact, so that offices where space is at a premium can more easily tuck in a cluster of iMacs. It's tough, too: The blue translucent exterior is made from polycarbonate composite, the same material used in bulletproof glass. More important, the iMac was built with networking in mind--in fact, the "i" stands for Internet. The iMac has a built-in 56k modem and incorporates a 10/100-Mbps Ethernet, which is the fastest Ethernet networking technology available. With full TCP/IP support completely built in, users can connect to their network or the Internet within minutes. In fact, Bogen tells a story of one company where the office staff got tired of waiting for the network administrator to connect their new iMacs, so they did it by themselves in about ten minutes. The iMac has other distinctions, as well. It has no 1.4 MB floppy drive, an omission mourned by some long-time computer users. But Apple argues that more and more information is being transferred via networking, and that these files are often too big for the 1.4 MB disks. People are using other, more powerful storage devices, such as Iomega's zip drive and Imation's Superdisk, and Apple decided not to continue to make the old floppy drive a standard by building it in. Instead, the iMac has Universal Serial Bus ports that allow users to connect 127 devices at one time, including removable mass storage, scanners, cameras, printers, and more. Some observers even believe that the lack of a built-in floppy drive is a business advantage, allowing companies to control their IT resources more closely. "Say I have a team of telesales people, and all I want them to do is that function," says James Staten, a Dataquest analyst who believes the iMac will appeal to big companies as well as home users. "With a standard PC or Mac, they could possibly bring in a floppy and take home information about clients, or they could bring in Quake and play games all day. The iMac keeps them focused on their work, which reduces costs for the business overall." Bogen points out that one of the most significant parts of the iMac story is the one users will never see. Unlike many "new" computers that are only a slight modification of the previous model, the iMac is a complete redesign. Yet, Apple conceived, designed, manufactured, and shipped it in about 11 months--record time for the computer industry. This effort required unprecedented teamwork between Apple and its worldwide suppliers, in which Apple personnel worked side by side with supplier engineers, around the clock, during the last six months of the project. Apple also succeeded in manufacturing tens of thousands of iMacs within days of its introduction, the steepest ramp in the company's history.

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