iBook Talk

Mike Wallinga of “Wall Writings” fame here at My Mac sent an email out to the entire staff shortly after Macworld NY, asking what the staff thought about the iBook. The exchange was so interesting that someone suggested we turn it into an article for the website. Hey, what a great idea! So here it is, albeit edited just a bit.

From Mike Wallinga:
Now that it’s seen the light of day, what does everyone think? How about any of the other Macworld announcements (which did get overshadowed, but I know there were a few important ones-MIE and OE 5.0, new versions of Norton AntiVirus and Utilities, Virtual PC 3.0, etc.).

I remember a very good discussion among the staff when the iMac was introduced; that’s one of the reasons I’m eager to hear your opinions. Of course, reply at your leisure-just wondering what my fellow My Mac’ers think about it all!

Adam Karneboge (webmaster here at My Mac) was up next!

Being a laptop user myself, I was also very interested in the iBook, and I’m a bit disappointed, to tell you the truth.
1.) The lack of a built in microphone is inexcusable
2.) I don’t think 3.2 GB or 32 MB RAM cuts it;
3.) The screen is extremely small for the size and weight of the machine.

I’m a graphic designer, and I know that the graphics subsystems in the iBook would not meet my needs, nor would the screen. (Not to mention the RAM expandability or the HD space) However, I’m afraid that some consumers might find the specs inadequate also. Now I’m seriously considering buying one just to have it sit on my desk to look at it every day, but as far as using it, no. $1599 is a little bit too much to ask for email and word processing capabilities. And, while the wireless networking is cool, its functionality in real world environments is not very applicable at the time, from the way I see it. Anyone disagree?

Tim Robertson, the publisher, wrote back

Why, yes, Adam, in fact I do.

1. No built in microphone? Are you kidding me? Let’s have a show of hands: who uses the microphone anyway? I have four of the things, never use any of them.

2. 3.2GB is not enough? Since when? This is a consumer portable, not a professional machine. And with the cheap price of RAM, most users will upgrade anyway. Why not keep the unit price down with less RAM.

3. The screen size is fine for a portable. Again, it’s a price vs. performance deal here.

As a student of graphic design, you should know this is NOT a machine for you. It was never intended to be. Actually, to be truthful, no PB is the right “main” computer for a graphic designer. No way. In the company I start working for in a week, ALL the graphic designers have 256MB RAM minimum, a 21 inch monitor, and a HUGE HD. No PB can complete with that on a price/performance level.

What I find informative is that you’re a bit disappointed, yet you want to buy one. Sounds like Apple must be doing something right! 🙂 Also, as a consumer machine, I think the price is perfect for a portable with these features. Good luck finding a PC laptop with this speed and specs for even $2,500.

The wireless technology, though, is the biggest news. This will change the whole computer industry. Apple did it with FireWire and USB; they will do it with this as well.

Bill Perry kept his thoughts on it very light, he wrote:

Well said.

And Lonnie Houghton wrote:

Here here, Capn’!

Adam decided to take me to task, and responded with this letter:

On the contrary, as a graphic designer, I DO know that this is not a machine for me, as I stated in my original letter. (I disagree that no PB can compete, but I will say that they can’t compete price/performance wise) What I was trying to say is that to the naked eye, it looks like an awesome machine. But the more I get into it, the more disappointed I become. I’m afraid that cost-conscious consumers might become disappointed as well.

I use the microphone, in fact! I use the microphone for the new voiceprint logins in Mac OS 9.0. I use the microphone with Apple’s new PlainTalk 2.0 (Also in OS 9). And I will use my wonderful microphone in my WallStreet when IBM’s via voice software comes out. So Apple’s investing all this in new voice recognition software/technology, but they don’t put a microphone in the one machine that would target the most of this new technology?! Doesn’t make sense to me.

Mike Wallinga joined back in with:

Hi again! Just thought since I started this discussion, I could contribute my two cents, too! 🙂

Going by just what the specs say, I would have to agree with Tim and Bill more so than Adam. The iBook is an iMac-level model, not a pro-class machine. I have some of the same feelings as Adam (especially the 32 megs a RAM-the first thing I would do is upgrade it, and I don’t have incredibly large RAM needs), but I think Apple had to make some of the compromises it did in order to differentiate the iBook from the Lombards.

From what I’ve read, it seems that even Jobs was a bit disappointed with the $1600 price tag, blaming it on the high cost of LCDs. I’m hoping that once the LCD supply catches up with demand, and unit prices for the screens start dropping, we’ll see a drop in price of both iBooks and Lombards. Maybe wishful thinking, but I hope so!

I’m just amazed that the iBook costs the same price that I paid for my 1400c/133 only nineteen months ago. Over time, as my budget allowed, I spent close to $1500 more upgrading RAM, hard drive, processor, installing an Ethernet card, and buying a PC Card modem. But just the unit itself cost me $1550, and it had a 133MHz 603e, 128 K of cache, an 11.3 inch active matrix screen, 16 megs RAM, 1.2 gig hard drive, and NO Ethernet or modem.

Now that same initial investment would get me a faster processor, more RAM, more hard drive, a slightly bigger screen, longer battery life, a faster CD-ROM drive, Ethernet and modem, USB, more durability (admittedly, at the expense of a lot of size!), virtually no change in weight, and a cool exterior. Isn’t progress great? 🙂

A little-talked about feature that I find VERY cool is the yo-yo style power cord. Man, getting rid of that huge power brick of mine sure would be nice! The loss of the microphone is a minor disappointment, especially since there are new speech-recognition projects announced by companies that have just recently committed to the Mac. I won’t miss it personally, though. The loss of media bays and PC Card slots is too bad, too, but both expected and forgivable. I doubt the intended audience will miss either very much…

The wireless stuff is “gee-whiz” gadgetry to me right now-I couldn’t justify spending an additional $400 for it-but I agree it has potential to revolutionize home, educational, and even business networking. For what it does, it seems very affordable.

My biggest disappointment was when I checked the Apple Store for an educational discount-the price is $1549 for students. For a model aimed at students and schools, I was hoping for a bigger discount. But that was definitely wishful thinking, I guess-the iMac is only $50 cheaper for students, too. Shucks! 🙂 (I’m not in a position to purchase a new computer, anyway, but if it would have been cheap enough that I could have sold my 1400/G3 for an amount reasonably close to the cost of the iBook and a USB printer, it would have been awfully tempting… 🙂

This is a pretty long post by me, so maybe this is more than two cents’ worth. (Can’t be more than three or four, though! 🙂

What would ANY discussion on the latest and greatest from Apple be without Mick O’Neil giving us his opinion? As an expert in education, I always find it interesting to hear Mick’s take on the computer world and Apple in particular. He is an expert in the field, and I always take his opinions and thoughts serious.

While the exact specifications of the first iBooks may be important to its immediate success, I think it would be realistic to predict that the price eventually will drop, Ram and Hard Drive increase, and processor speed be bumped up. From my perspective as a home user and as an educational computing specialist, the major attraction is the wireless networking.

I suppose it’s easy to see how attractive wireless networking might be in the home-particularly a home with children and thus more than one system. There’s the convenience of accessing the net from every room, but there’s also the convenience of sharing files and print jobs between systems.

To understand the attraction for education, you need to appreciate how many school systems presently approach networking. Our system, for example, features a centralized server (actually several) along with fiber and Ethernet bringing network access to the classrooms. The connections in the classrooms are, of course, static and despite enormous effort, never seem to be where the teacher wants them. The services the kids get from this centralized network are basically email and print services-with most applications software on the local hard drive. We have avoided Windows NT peer sharing at all costs, because it’s just so darn easy to inadvertently or intentionally destroy a work station setup. One approach we’ve used to shore up the integrity of the system is to create a common ‘image’ of a workstation somewhere up on the server. Thus, if a workstation goes down, it’s a simple matter (or so we thought) to restore the system from a server. Unfortunately, we have so many configurations (media center, business lab, science lab, teacher station, keyboarding lab, and so on) with so many different hardware setups, that it’s a full time job just to maintain these images.

My point here is that the vulnerability of Windows precludes most work group types of activities where students actually share files or use workgroup type of software. Therefore, we’re using only a small portion of our network’s potential. Remote, wireless access on the Mac with its relatively solid system software makes it both economically (no static wiring) and practically feasible to use computers in a cooperative learning environment. The mobility of wireless connectivity is important as students can bring their processing power to the learning experience instead of trying artificially to process information after the fact. (I can envision lots of group work where the recorder in each group has an iBook and then information is shared between the groups).

Educational networks finally have a chance to evolve from an expensive public relations exercise (access the Internet at all costs) to a meaningful educational tool and the iBook will lead the way. All of this, of course, IMHO.

Adam Karneboge responded:

The scenarios that you talk about are very well thought out, and do make wireless networking accessible. However, we will have to wait to see what schools invest in these systems before we know if wireless networking will be a success or not.

Derek K. Miller finally chimed in!

As others pointed out, graphic designers probably won’t use this as a workhorse machine-but with more RAM, it would certainly be adequate for taking smaller projects home at night. If not, the pro PowerBook’s would fit the bill better. The iBook is more powerful than my G3/266, which was touted as a graphics powerhouse back in 1998 when I bought it.

The wireless networking is, I think, a brilliant stroke, and like USB, Apple has taken an existing standard and made it its own, bringing it into the limelight and no doubt spurring accelerated development for other machines, including Wintel PCs.

Provided that it actually works as advertised, I think the AirPort system is amazingly applicable. 150 feet is a long way in a home environment, or even in a small office. Right now, for instance, I’m holed away in the basement working on my email while my wife sits upstairs watching a movie and my toddler daughter sleeps. With the iBook, I could plug in an AirPort base station to my ADSL modem via my Ethernet hub and be working on my email-live, not offline-either on the couch with my wife or in my daughter’s room watching her sleep. Or even in bed.

That’s worth money to me.

So, too, would it be worth it for me, who works only two days a week in the office of my employer (telecommuting the rest of the time), to be able to go to work with my iBook and plunk it down anywhere, needing only a power outlet (or not even that!) to do my work, instead of being tethered to my desk all day. I could bring it to meetings too.

I suspect there are a lot of people like me.

Mike, you wrote “The loss of media bays and PC Card slots is too bad, too, but both expected and forgivable. I doubt the intended audience will miss either very much…”

Nor would I, because once the iBook is networked (either wirelessly or with 10/100BaseT cables), it has access to all the other devices on my Macs: Zip drive, scanner, floppy, printer, hard drives-and even the NT Server, printer, CD-R, and other devices connected to my dad’s Wintel/Novell/Mac office network in the other half of the duplex we live in.

I expect Apple is betting that most iBook purchasers will already have another, desktop machine to which they can network it.

Still, there are a number of down points:

– Lack of video out or card slots sucks big time for those needing to give presentations, wanting to play a game on a big screen TV, or those who like to use a second screen.

– No built-in mic is a bit lame, but USB mics are fine if you need them.

– Given the size and weight of the machine, the screen is surprisingly small at 12.1″, but that was probably a cost-saving measure, and it wouldn’t surprise me if later generation iBooks have bigger displays.

– Here’s the big one: this machine does NOT replace the Newton. Originally, when Steve Jobs outlined his four-product-line strategy (pro and consumer, desktops and portables), he implied that the just-cancelled Newton would see a fine, Mac OS-running replacement in the “P1” consumer portable. This is not it: it’s bigger than other PowerBook’s, it’s not “instant on,” it can’t easily be used while standing, it still has fragile moving parts like a hard drive, and it offers no handwriting recognition.

If the rumors of an Apple-branded Palm Computing device (or a special one from 3Com designed with Apple) come to pass, that will do something, but there was a market for a full-powered PDA that neither the Palm OS (good, but basic) nor Windows CE (deeply flawed) has been able to fill. The only thing I can think of that does do well in this space is the European Psion and its EPOC operating system, but that’s not much of a player in North America.

Mick O’Neil wrote back:

Just happened to be looking over a July 97 issue of MacUser for a column I’m writing about ‘the great software ripoff’ (or how some software prices remain way too high in the light of hardware price drops) and I looked in the back at PowerBook prices. This was the year when the PowerBook 3400/240/32/2GB/CD was relatively new and was selling for $5795.

Now, I realize that the iBook is no PowerBook in terms of ports and expansion options (It would be like comparing say Apples to Tangerines!), but the iBook clearly offers an enormous amount of power compared to a top of the line PowerBook just a few years ago and delivers this power for almost 25% of the price of the 3400. I suspect that there’s still little software around-including graphics software-that would seriously tax the iBook’s capabilities. (Remember Adam, graphic artists worked quite merrily on the Mac Plus some year’s ago.). I know… I know… you need 3D rendering and your Photoshop filters take forever and so on, but I think the target audience for this machine will be as happy as fat little pigs in the sunshine.


Jay Timmer was the last to join in:

The one thing that caught my attention was the AGP port (I’ve not seen that confirmed, but it showed up in several reports). That’s expected to be the video standard of the future, so it’s important if Apple can show that they have it working.

What impressed me was the wireless networking. There have been all sorts of options for this in the past, but nothing’s really fallen out as a standard, and most of them were Windows oriented, with the expected levels of chunkiness. I expect that Apple will now drive this version to standard-dom, and show everybody how to do it right-easy switching of configurations, plug and play functionality, etc.

There are a few things I think need to be clarified or added, though:
From my reading, the port will act as a router, but not as a firewall. That option really needs to be added, and easy software tools for configuring both aspects need to be put together.

As things now stand, there isn’t any roaming capability-you connect to a specific port, and you’re either on that port or lose your connection. What I’d like to see is something where, as soon as the iBook recognizes that it’s lost its connection, it throws up a dialog informing you of that, and offers the choice of available ports in your new location.

Apple needs to make this backward compatible to everything-every laptop that can support the latest system software should be made to support the wireless networking. They need large-scale adoption if they’re going to make this a standard.

Apple needs to publish information about exactly how the situation works out when there are multiple ports and a saturating volume of users present. Any group considering adopting this as a standard will want to know, and the sooner they can make a decision based on facts, the better. This information may be buried in documentation of the standard, but it needs to be posted in an up-front manner.

Just my ever-so-humble opinions…

And that, folks, about sums it all up! Hope you enjoyed reading this edited collection of emails-turned-into-an-article, but we enjoyed out discussion so much we just wanted to share it with all of you! And be assured that more articles and thoughts on the iBook will be forthcoming next month. (Bob McCormick’s letter to this whole thing, in fact, will appear next month in his monthly MacAmalgamation column!) Editor’s note: Maybe by then Jim Moravec and I will be sufficiently rested from editing the issue that we can finally join in on the discussions!

Leave a Reply