The Intel iMac that I am proudly showing folks that happen to drop by for a visit (okay, I'm dragging them up to see it!) is certainly getting a lot of notice, of the "ooh" and "aah" type. It's clean, sleek lines make a statement - that here is a clean, sleek machine, with a clean, sleek operating system - and, of course, software that functions perfectly in all circumstances.
Apparently, there are lots of people in my neighborhood who want to incorporate more cleanliness and sleekness into their lives, because I've been getting a lot of questions asking how much I paid for it. The answer: The Apple US price for the 17 inch iMac is $1,299, and the 20 inch edition is $1,699.
The basic 40 GB Mac Mini is an amazingly low (I think) $599, while the 80 GB advanced version is $799. The Minis, as in their previous editions, do not include a keyboard, mouse or screen, but you can easily use PC-type commodity hardware for typing, scrolling and viewing.
But not everyone can hop a plane to New York and pick up a Mac across the pond. Apple's Israeli distributor, Yeda Computers, has all the latest up to date stuff as well. On the Yeda web site (http://store.yeda.co.il/), the 17 inch iMac is NIS 9,098, significantly more than $1,299, even with New York 8.25% sales tax added (the Mac Minis are out of stock). Of course, for the extra money, you get a keyboard with English and Hebrew characters, a Hebrew version of OS X 10.4 (Tiger), with system and on-board application menus in Hebrew, as well as local support and a guarantee that you will definitely be able to get your computer serviced in the event it becomes necessary. (Note: OS X supports Hebrew in documents even in its English version, and all Apple purchases carry a worldwide guarantee, meaning that, theoretically, you can get service for a Mac purchased anywhere in the world right here. Not to cast any aspersions upon Yeda, of whose service policies I have no direct knowledge, but worldwide service contracts for other products with which I have had experience have not fared too well).
Besides the hardware, the new Macs include the iLife suite of applications, in its 2006 edition, with its familiar components of iMovie, iDVD, iPhoto and GarageBand. New in this edition are two applications - iChat, for videoconferencing, and iWeb, Apple's software bid aimed doing for blogging and Web site construction what iTunes has done for digital music, by simplifying the building of classy looking sites with easy to use software.
The iMovie and iDVD components of iLife '05 and '06 work almost the same way, except that '06 has more features (templates, titles, effects etc.) There are now themes templates in iMovie, similar to the ones in iDVD, and you can now add special sound effects to your work, instead of just songs from iTunes.
More notable are the changes in GarageBand where, other than the brand new iWeb, most of iLife '06's changes lie. In the new edition, you can compose your own music using the program's synthesis and conversion tools, add your own voice, and send it out to the world via iTunes. You can also import QuickTime compatible movies and iMovie projects into GarageBand for adding sound effects and scoring, and add background sound effects. Once done, export it back to iMovie or iWeb, for inclusion on your site. It's like developing a music video!
But the centerpiece of iLife '06 has got to be iWeb, which I predict will be singularly responsible for the doubling, if not tripling, of Web sites in cyberspace - it's that easy to use. There are lots of programs out there for HTML authoring, with some allow automated construction of Web pages - but iWeb takes the prize for "easiest Web authoring program" hands down. Everything is point and click, drag and drop - there is nary a hint of HTML anywhere in the program, much less more advanced processes. The program currently comes with 12 templates, but they are very professionally done - and several sites have already created dozens of others that can be installed into iWeb. If you're a member of "Dot Mac" (.Mac, which costs a hefty $99 a year), you can also publish your site with a single click - otherwise you can export it to a folder and upload it via FTP to your own Web site.
The new edition of iLife is a lot faster than iLife '05, and it's a real compliment to Apple engineers. It's hard to imagine a PC being revamped in order to run Mac OS - they have enough trouble with Windows! But the Apple folks have managed to rewrite iLife in order to take full advantage of the Intel processor, and have significantly boosted the suite's speed. Ditto for the operating system; response on system tasks is almost instantaneous. In fact, if Guinness had a world record for "fastest startup for a computer," the iMac model I've been using would be certain to win. An out of the box OS X 10.4 machine takes, literally, less than half a minute to load and make itself ready to do your bidding - a far cry from most of the PCs I use, whose fastest startup is closer to the two minute mark, if not longer.
With the Intel Macs based on a different processor than previous PowerPC chip machines, one would have expected that many programs would not work at all. That's not the case, because Apple worked hard on developing a conversion system (called Rosetta) to allow backwards compatibility with previously written OS X software (anything before OS 9 is out, though).
New editions of third party software are being developed ("optimized") to take advantage of the Intel processor's speed but, meanwhile, some third-party non-optimized applications are slower on the Intel machines than on G4 Macs, not to mention G5s.
But does it do Windows? Can an Intel based Mac run Microsoft systems - which are, after all, designed to run on Intel processors? For that matter, can the Intel version of Mac OS X 10.4 be run on non-Mac Intel machines - like PCs that normally run Windows? The answer - next time.