Looking back at the My Mac archives, I see that my lone column from the first half of this year, in March, related my desire for a more powerful computer than my PowerBook 1400c/133. A bigger hard drive, more RAM, bigger screen, more powerful graphics card, USB, FireWire, all the trimmings. And I also decided that I wanted an iMac, because Apple’s desktop offerings clearly (and understandably) offer more punch than their portable counterparts ‹ at least twice the video memory, larger hard drive sizes, etc. Sure, the PowerBook line offers tremendously impressive bang for a notebook computer, but you pay for that portable power, and I really can’t justify that much cost. Unfortunately, the same applies to the dual-G4 minitowers and the new Cube ‹ they have looks and power to drool over, but a price tag that the average college student can’t afford. However, the July Macworld announcement of the new iMacs (fresh with beefed-up specs, new colors, and lower price tags) had me eyeing those $799 and $999 stickers pretty closely. No sticker shock here! It was sure tempting.
In hindsight, I don’t know what I was thinking!
As I mentioned last month, I’ve been interning in the IT department of a local electrical engineering company this summer, and I’ve also been living at home, mooching off my parents for one more summer before I graduate and make a go of it on my own. This situation has given me two computers that I must use on a regular basis: the 350 MHz Pentium, Gateway desktop in my cubicle, and my family’s 233 MHz G3, Bondi-blue iMac. (I suppose I could have kept my 1400 up and running instead of using my parents’ computer, but the speed difference was too great to turn down, so my 1400 is getting a nice 3-month vacation.) Overall, it has worked well; I need to run the Wintel box at work, because a lot of my work involves programming in Microsoft Access, for which there is no Mac version. But on the other hand, it sure is nice to get back to the Mac OS when I get home.
However, this has created some problems, or least has required some planning and thought on my part. I now have two email databases, one on each desktop. There are some documents that I leave on my work computer that I wish I could access from home, and sometimes there are notes that I leave on the iMac that I wish I could access at work. And although some of the problems, such as the two email databases, could be solved with tricks like checking the “Leave mail on server” preference on one of the machines, and only collecting the mail locally on the other, it’s rarely that simply. For example, the company I work for uses Lotus Notes, and doesn’t allow outside POP3-based access, so I can’t collect my work related email at home. Emailing documents back and forth, or using a web-based hard drive, isn’t always feasible, either; I have a dial-up modem connection at home and some of the files I work with are a couple dozen megabytes in size. And although there is an internal Zip drive in the Gateway computer at work, I don’t have a USB Zip drive for my family’s iMac, or any other removable media drive, for that matter. So transferring email and files between the two computers is a little inconvenient.
Inconvenient, yes. Impossible, no. All it would take would be a reasonable investment on my part (for a removable storage drive), or a long time tying up my phone line using the iMac’s modem to download files. However, this summer I have been reminded of other inconveniences with desktop computers. I’ve had to be out of town for the weekend on a couple of different occasions this summer friends weddings, family trips, etc. And every time, I’ve ended up having some spare time with nothing to do, and wished that I had access to my email (so I could catch up on reading some of the mailing lists I’m subscribed to) or a program file (so I could get some work done). Or, at the very least, had the ability to play a game or watch a movie on a Video-CD (or, if I was really lucky, a DVD!).
The last straw for me ended up coming from my sister. She graduated from high school this past spring, and wanted to get a computer before going to college in the fall. So, as a combined “belated graduation/going away to college” present, my family all chipped in and got her a blueberry iBook. Being the computer geek of the family, I had the privilege of installing the software, setting up the preferences and control panels properly, and all of that general stuff (which is of course quite easy to do on a Mac, but my sister remains a little techno-phobic when it comes to anything but general application use). Anyway, I fell in love with that iBook. I didn’t think that an entry-level, underpowered, relatively bulky computer would capture my fancy like it did, but I really like the way the iBook is constructed and designed.
The end result? You can forget my “I want an iMac” column of sixth months ago. I’ve remembered (and discovered) how indispensable having a portable computer can be. I would love a portable computer that I could use every day for email, web, word processing, and computer programming, and also be powerful enough to run Virtual PC well enough to replace my work machine. I would be enamored with a PowerBook, but it is still a little too pricey for my bank account and has too many professional features that would be overkill for me. And the current crop of iBooks, while very nice, do have the lowest bus speed, processor speed, and VRAM totals in the entire Apple lineup, so I might outgrow one of those quicker than I would like.
So, I guess that once I move back to college (which I will have done by the time you read this), I’m going to go on a little longer with my trusty 1400c. However, if Steve unveils that rumored revision to the iBook, with faster processors and double the VRAM, the temptation to go from poor college student with a 1400 to (absolutely broke college student with a brand new iBook) may be too strong to resist.