New iMac has stylistic changes

by Erik Tanouye | 11/19/98 6:00am

The green plastic is probably the first thing you notice.

Apple's new iMac computer looks strikingly different from the others -- neither an off-white plastic shell nor a sleek black casing surrounds it.

The iMac does for the personal computer what Swatches did for watches in the mid-1980s by opening a window to the inside, showing the user what it is they are using.

Which is comforting, to a large extent. When you pay that much money for something, it is nice to see where the money went.

It may seem odd to focus on what the computer looks like, but that's the primary difference of the iMac on the Dartmouth campus.

A big change in the iMac is the absence of a floppy disk drive. Again, this does not really affect Dartmouth users who can make use of BlitzMail and numerous servers to transport data from one computer to another. The home user that bought an iMac for easy Internet access would probably miss it, however.

Which brings us back to the stylistic differences, which are more than just petty concerns. Considering the amount of use personal computers get, they are not designed in a particularly effective way. One model may feature a slight improvement over another model, but radical redesigns, such as the iMac, or the 20th anniversary Macintosh, are rare.

Instead of easy-to-break, separate legs, the keyboard features a suitcase-type handle. When folded one way, the keyboard sits flat. Folded the other way, the keyboard is elevated. It works well and is easier to change in height than conventional keyboards.

The monitor features a similar handle for optional elevation, which gives it little variation compared with most fully adjustable monitors. But the monitor is light enough that it can be moved to face any direction easily.

The layout of the keyboard suffers from the makeover. It is small and resembles the keyboard of a laptop unit. The absence of a forward-delete key is a punishing change for users who write a lot.

Also, the arrow keys are snuggled in under the 'return' key, to the right of the space bar. They are also smaller than the other keys, which makes them pretty impossible to use without a concerted effort.

This is a shame because owners would otherwise want to use the arrow keys while adjusting to the new circular mouse. The mouse is more aesthetically pleasing than usual, and a two-toned mouse ball makes movement fun, but the novelty of its circular shape soon wears off. The older, traditional mouse shape is more ergonomically effective, and the iMac mouse makes you feel as if you have gigantic, anesthetized hands.

Still, the positive changes make up for the minor drawbacks, since the iMac helps punctuate the dreariness of computer use.