Price: £1,099 plus VAT
For the past couple of weeks, I've been using the Flower Power iMac, an all-in-one Macintosh that comes in a case printed with psychedelic, multicolored flowers. It looks fit for Barbie's townhouse, but there's a real, working computer inside. If you don't want flowers on your computer case, you also can have the iMac Special Edition in Blue Dalmatian (equally as trippy, but with polka dots) or the somber Graphite. All contain a 600MHz PowerPC G3, 128MB of RAM, 256KB of Level 2 cache, a 40GB hard drive, and an 8X/4X/24X CD-RW drive. And all deliver the Mac's signature out-of-box experience. Upon powering up, you're guided, with lots of encouragement and attractive graphics, through registering the machine and setting up Internet access. However, if you don't want to register or go online right away, it's rather tough to bail out – the option to postpone these setup chores is offered only when you're almost finished. This latest line of iMacs (released in late February), which includes two other lower-end models with less RAM, slower processors, and smaller hard drives, comes with video-editing and audio software preinstalled and prominently featured on the desktop. I checked out the iMovie tutorial and painlessly learned the fundamentals of editing digital video. Apple's software let me start clicking around without shame or fear, and I was convinced that I could create a presentable short movie. Apple'siTunes digital music utility, which lets you listen to online streaming audio (online radio), rip music CD-ROMs, manage your MP3 library, and burn CD-Recordables or CD-Rewritables, has a similarly simple interface. I didn't need to make sure the CD-RW drive was mounted, set the speed for encoding the files, or do anything other than choose which songs I wanted to put on my disc. But it wasn't easy to figure out how to change the default settings. When I installed FileMaker Pro and Microsoft Office and ran through some typical office tasks, I found that the CPU and RAM were more than adequate for text-oriented tasks such as most Web browsing, reading and writing email, or using a word processor or spreadsheet. The computer also handled image editing admirably in Adobe Photoshop. Working for a living Overall this iMac feels like a solid machine – it didn't crash in the applications I use most, and the operating system behaved predictably. But the Mac OS doesn't feel nearly as adept at task-switching as Windows does. I managed to hang the system several times while moving among open windows in the Finder, although I had only three of the aforementioned applications open. Most of the time I waited several seconds for cursor control to return when I changed tasks. I guess I've become cranky in the five years since I last regularly used a Mac, but Sherlock 2, the Mac's combined File Find and Web searching utility, bugs me. If I want to get at something on my hard drive, I don't appreciate the distraction of illustrated buttons, and I already have favourite reference sites, thank you. It may be monopolistic, but the integration of Internet Explorer and Windows is much smoother and – well, grown-up. I also have come to take for granted the file management tools available within Windows' Find utility, such as the ability to open, print, delete, or rename files from within the Find dialog box, which Sherlock doesn't match. The built-in display is also inadequate for design work; the 15-inch monitor has only 13.8 inches of viewable screen area, which I found too small for working comfortably with more than one open window. Text was preset to be antialiased at all fonts above 12 points, which made them appear blurry at all resolutions. After I turned off the antialiasing, the text quality was better but not outstanding by any means. In addition, you can't adjust the angle of the monitor/case, and raising the monitor height would require perching the entire system on a stable, nonyielding platform that wouldn't obstruct the ventilation holes on the case bottom. Apple's emphasis on design is legendary, but I'd like to see the company pay more attention to ergonomics. The mediocre text quality and the case's lack of height and angle adjustability promise eyestrain and neck pain if you don't make a conscious effort to set up your workspace correctly. At £1,099, this model is the top of the iMac line, but it has the feel of a student computer (for families with lots of money). It may be ideal for those Mac fans who want a compact system but don't want to compromise on components – although most would probably do better by spending a little more on a Power Mac or a G4 Cube.