David Pogue talks about the iBook
Friday, August 27, 1999, at 1 p.m.
A year after releasing the hugely-successful iMac, Apple Computer introduced the iBook, its first foray into the lower-priced laptop market. The Mac faithful called for an "iMac to go," and Apple answered, but is this clamshell-shaped laptop all it's cracked up to be? Just how powerful is it, and how do its specs really compare with Wintel-based laptops? Can you survive in the '90s without a floppy drive? Is the wireless Internet connection AirPort provides worth $400 to you? Are you a blueberry or tangerine iBook person?
Pogue joined us to talk about Apple's new consumer portable. He also entertained questions about the Palm and the Macintosh in general.
Good afternoon, everybody. Rob here. Our distinguished guest is en route, virtually, but that's no reason to keep y'all waiting. I don't have David's familiarity with the iBook, but we've got a few questions about Apple in general that, being a professionally trained pundit wanna-be, I will take a stab at.
So: On with the show...
Our guest is still en route, but we're not sure where or when his arrival will be. So we're going to reschedule this chat for a later date (heck, everybody's at the beach this week, not in front of their computers, right? :)
See you all soon... take care.
Hello -- again! We tracked David down and he's ready to take your questions on iBooks, iMacs, PalmPilots, the fate of Apple and other things computer-related. So welcome, or welcome back; fasten your seat belts, brush the breadcrumbs off your mousepad and adjust your monitor.
Washington, DC: Is there going to be an easy way to do infrared synching between the iBook and my IR port-equipped iMac??
David Pogue: Nope. The iBook has no IR jack. Your best bet will be to connect the iMac and iBook with an Ethernet crossover cable (about $8).
Washington DC: If you took the "new look" of the Ibook away and were left with the rest, how much of a "good thing to get" would the ibook be for the average consumer.
Rob Pegoraro: I suspect that the question may not be simple... a lot of the exterior design is there for function, not just style. For instance, the shell is apparently designed to take enough punishment to be toted around in a backpack instead of a padded laptop case. But still: Put somebody in front of an iBook in a darkened room, so they can only see the screen. What's the appeal then?
David Pogue: The iBook scores on several fronts--first, it's absolutely competitive with Windows laptops. Dell's cheapest is $1700; Gateway's is $1500, but neither one has Ethernet and they both have REALLY slow processors. Second, the iBook has the wireless Internet feature, which isn't available at ALL on any other machines, except for thousands of dollars.
Rob Pegoraro: Let's start with a pop quiz. Which iBook flavor would you buy: tangerine or blueberry?
David Pogue: I'm told that, believe it or not, the orange is by far the bestseller among pre-orders...
Queens, N.Y.: You have several million bucks laying around in your bank account. Do you invest in Apple right now? The pretty new colors don't mean Apple is back, right?
Rob Pegoraro: Personally, I wouldn't invest anything in Apple at all. But that's because I'd be fired for investing in a company I report on :) Apple's stock price has gone up a heck of a lot in the past year. Has this increase reflected real changes in the company's prospect, or is this just momentum investing along the lines of what's inflated the price of every Internet stock out there? Some analysts say yes, others no. The Financial section ran a column on this question a couple of weeks ago that's probably worth reading.
David Pogue: You've missed most of the Apple stock run-up... if you'd invested any time in the last 2 years, you'd be sitting pretty (it's gone from $12 exactly 24 months ago to $62 now)! One analyst is predicting $75 by Christmas, which doesn't sound out of line to me. The iBook is going to be HUGE.
Hartsville, SC: I have never used an Apple based computer system. How difficult is the transition from Windows based systems to this system?
Rob Pegoraro: The biggest shift is probably the different emphasis Windows and the Mac OS place on applications versus individual documents. Windows is document-centric--when you close the window of whatever file you're working on, the application goes away. Do that on a Mac, and the application is still running. I find this often confuses Windows emigrants. In the last year or two, Apple has borrowed a number of interface conventions from Windows, though. The equivalent of Alt-Tab (Command-Tab) cycles through open programs, just like on Windows. Aliases, the Mac equivalent of shortcuts, have a little arrow icon over them. Fortunately, the Mac has not adopted that irritating Windows startup sound...
David Pogue: Funny thing--I just finished a book called Crossing Platforms, that's specifically about making the switch. There are some differences, as Rob mentioned, but overall, the same elements are present on both systems. "shortcut" = "alias" on the Mac; Start menu = "Apple menu" on the Mac, etc.
College Park, MD: Is the iBook going to be upgrade challenged, like the iMac?
Rob Pegoraro: Well, pretty much all laptops are upgrade challenged. You can't exactly stick a row of expansion slots inside a laptop case. But, yeah, the iBook is definitely pruned down to the essentials: two USB ports, Ethernet and wireless networking. (Frankly, I prefer this to the absurd assortment of ports and jacks surrounding most PC laptops. I mean, do we really still need to have specialized ports for a mouse and a joystick in 1999?)
David Pogue: You can't upgrade any iBook element except the RAM. People are funny about the iBook--"no PC cards!" "no video output!" "no washer/dryer!"
Washington, DC: Can you explain a little more about the Ethernet crossover cable? I once tried hooking two Macs up via an ethernet cable, but couldn't get it to work. Is there some extra hardware-software required? Do I actually have to set up a network?
Rob Pegoraro: There's an article on this in the Technical Info Library on Apple's site, but let's have the ungeeked version of this...
David Pogue: Ungeeked version coming up:
We think Todd Benjamin is the greatest guy and we are elated that he is working for Apple. Don't you agree?
Rob Pegoraro: Uh, I don't even know where to start on this one. David, you know these fun folks?
David Pogue: Todd is a TERRIFIC guy. He's the absolute BEST, and it's Apple's gain that he's working there. The world owes Todd a huge hurrah!
Rob Pegoraro: My colleague Mike Musgrove wants to quibble with the "Mac is stabler" statement in David's last response. (The very antique Power Mac 8100/80 on this desk has been having a bad-hair life.) I'm not sure that I could make that statement for every Mac I've used either. What I have found, though, is that when Windows does crash, the odds are higher that it will take major surgery to fix the resulting damage. In one kitchen, the plates break all the time; in the other, the plates are fine but the stove explodes every few months. Still kind of a pain. I want a computer that crashes as often as my VCR--never.
David Pogue: Well, let me put it another way. Things go wrong with the Macintosh, but you can fix everything yourself. I have 2 Windows machines as well, and every time something goes wrong--which is often--it's FOUR HOURS on the phone with the company. It's toll-free and free, which is nice, but FOUR HOURS, which isn't.
Arlington, VA: I know the FCC was having trouble approving the new ibook. What was the problem and has it been worked out?
Rob Pegoraro: The problem wasn't/isn't with the iBook, Arlington, but with the AirPort wireless networking, if I recall correctly. What's the status of this?
David Pogue: Right--the iBook will ship on schedule in 4 weeks. The wireless card may take longer.
A while back, PC Magazine columnist John Dvorak wrote that the iBook was a "girly" machine, earning him about 280,000 responses on the ZDNet message forums. (No, really.) What do you think of this contention that the bright colors and curves of the iBook make it look somehow "not serious"?
David Pogue: I think John Dvorak has some masculinity issues.
Vancouver, Canada: As a writer who increasingly has to edit online and on the web, is the IBOOK Internet friendly — flexible and easy to use -from Word say, to Outlook and back, et
Rob Pegoraro: I think we kinda lost the end of that statement. But actually--that reminds me. The iBook and the iMac ship with only 32 megabytes of RAM. ("Only." Once upon a time I thought myself power-mad to have equipped my PowerBook 165c with the legal maximum of 14 megs.) Can such a machine really flip back and forth from Word to Outlook Express without stuttering?
David Pogue: Yes, Vancouver: the iBook is MADE for Internet connections. If it takes you longer than 6 minutes to get online, I'll be shocked. The ruggedness of the thing (no external flaps, latches, or edges to catch on in your luggage) makes it ideal for traveling, too.
Fairfax, Va.: What's the deal with the computer game industry? It is pointing out the obvious to say that the number of Mac-native games are far, far fewer than what's available for the PC. I would think that for Apple's resurgence to be legit, this particular niche to embrace the Mac. Thoughts?
Rob Pegoraro: That's about right, Fairfax. Things are changing in this respect, though. Quake III will debut simultaneously on Windows, Mac and Linux. A lot of existing games are being ported over--SimCity 3000 (there goes my free time!), Half-Life, Unreal. This trend is kind of a surprise to me, since I'm used to hearing manufacturers say "we're considering a Mac version," which generally translates to "and if pigs had wings, they could fly." But Apple has tried to work with game developers to make their jobs either. And it's sold a few million computers in the past year, which means plenty of opportunity for game developers to sell their wares--without incurring huge tech-support bills after the fact.
David Pogue: P.S. to Vancouver--I meant to say "six minutes to get online THE FIRST TIME"--setting up a new account, etc.
Oh yeah, here's one thing I was wondering about: The iBook weighs something like seven pounds. How easy is to lug around? I mean, it's got that handle so you can carry it around, but what about the power brick? Is there any way to attach a carrying strap to the machine itself?
David Pogue: Because of the curves, its 6.6 pounds don't seem as bad. Everyone at the hands-on exhibit at the Macworld Expo was surprised to hear its actual weight. (P.S...the rubber coating makes it require less force to handle, too.)
Emory, Virginia: Which manufacturers are creating PalmPilot type products with writing space for taking serious notes, not just memory joggers? Something that would be suitable for college students and reporters to write notes that can be translated into electronic form.
Rob Pegoraro: You *can* take serious notes on a PalmPilot, although you have to be reasonably proficient in the graffiti script first. But it's not as convenient as a keyboard (this probably says more about me than necessary, but I can type faster than I can scribble out words with a pen and paper). There's a device called the CrossPad, which lets you write directly onto a sheet of paper while also storing your ink in digital form, to be imported into a PC later on, but it's pricey ($400 or so, I think) and not too portable. Speaking of PalmPilots, I keep hearing these rumors about some sort of Palm/Apple collaboration--maybe just a Pilot with an Apple logo on it and translucent plastic, maybe something more sophisticated. What do you think of those, David?
David Pogue: Emory, the best solution is a standard PalmPilot--with the addition of the delightful $80 GoType keyboard. It's a very compact, sturdy, folding keyboard with type-able keys; you set the PalmPilot into a connector in the center. Journalists love this arrangement--less than 1/4 the cost and weight of a laptop!
We're supposed to run from 1-2 p.m., but we're going to stick around a little longer, on account of the snafus at the start. Keep those cards and letters coming...
Dupont Circle, Washington, DC: I have a PC at home but want a laptop, too. If I'm using Word at home, will there be file compatibility issues if I want to work on some Word files on both machines?
Rob Pegoraro: Word is Word, Dupont. I've moved files back and forth from Word 2000 for Windows to Word 98 on a Mac without a real problem. (When you mentioned "laptop," this was a Mac laptop, yes?) The only real hitch in the equation is getting Mac files onto a PC--you need to install a special utility to let the PC grok Mac file formats, like the MacDrive 98 program I just reviewed. Or you could just e-mail files from one computer to the next... what I usually do, since I can't always remember which of five identical floppies I parked a file on.
David Pogue: Actually, Rob, you don't need ANY utility to move these kinds of files between PC and Macintosh:
Washington, DC: Speaking of virtual memory on the Mac, what does the future of it look like? Traditionally, I hate using VM, but Apple seems to insist on having it turned on. Are Macs just getting so fast that we won't be able to tell the difference -aside from the fact that the iBook battery will die sooner if it's on-?
Rob Pegoraro: I used to hate VM (for the uninitiated, this is when a computer uses hard-disk space to simulate regular memory, at the expense of slower performance) but now don't really mind. From what I hear, Apple is moving in the same direction as the rest of the industry--making VM and real memory a seamless continuum. Hard disk space is so much cheaper than RAM; when it's done right (which isn't the case with the Mac OS yet) you don't notice a difference, except that applications never run out of memory and you don't need to spend all your time worrying about running out of system resources.
David Pogue: Actually, your Macintosh should be FASTER with virtual memory on than off. The reasons are technical, but the speeds of launching and quitting are far faster with virtual memory on.
District: Hi. Thanks for being here to take questions. Here's mine. I've got a Windows desktop at home, and another of the same at work, but I do need a new laptop and the wireless internet thing sounds really really cool. I work a lot in MS office -including Access-. Would it be silly for me to buy an ibook? -I've used both MACs and Windows systems in the past without strong preference for either-
Rob Pegoraro: Access is going to be a sticking point, I suspect. Access is the database part of Microsoft Office, which Microsoft has never included in the Mac versions of Office. There are equivalent database programs for the Mac--I've used FileMaker Pro for a few projects--which can probably handle Access files without too much trouble, but there's always an extra level of hassle when you move from one program to the next. David, any advice for this D.C. denizen?
David Pogue: You have several options. First, you could run Access on the iBook in an emulation program like VirtualPC or SoftWindows, which let you run ALL Windows software at about 70% of normal speed.
Washington, DC: Until I visited your Web site, I thought you were a Californian. So do you film "Pogue's Playground" on the east coast and send it digitally to MacWorld?
Rob Pegoraro: I've been trying to imitate Californians for a while, but without much success. What's the secret?
David Pogue: You mean I've finally found someone who actually buys Macworld on the newsstand and watches my goofy little monthly movies on the CD!?!? :)
One of the more interesting things about the whole iBook package is this AirPort wireless networking. But what about adding this to older computers. Do you know if anybody's developing a PCI card version of AirPort for older Macs and PCs?
David Pogue: Farallon has announced a $300 SkyLine card that adds the same feature to PowerBooks. The same feature is available in other forms, but much more expensively. I'm sure this market hole will soon be filled!
Washington, DC: How does the screen of the Ibook compare to the screens of the new Powerbooks?
David Pogue: The screen is STUNNING. It maxes out at 600 x 800, however, which is smaller than the PowerBook series. It's a 12.1-inch instead of 14-inch.
Washington: Two questions - What does the i in iMac actually stand for-symbolize? And secondly, all the newer laptops are trying to be small and lightweight, but i hate the mini-keyboards, I feel like i need toothpicks to hit the keys! How is the iBook on this front?
Rob Pegoraro: That "i" is for Internet. As for keyboards, I haven't used the iBook's, but I know it's not a mini-notebook along the lines of the Sony Vaio or the short-lived PowerBook 2400, so it shouldn't be too cramped. (If, however, you thumb-wrestle for a living, this may still be an issue...)
David Pogue: The iBook keyboard is 100% full sized. The keys feel huge compared with subnotebooks. It even has separate clusters for arrow keys, etc., full function keys, and an embedded numeric keypad.
To turn to current events: Apple has now filed lawsuits against two PC manufacturers, Future Power and eMachines, for selling all-in-one computers that bear a remarkable resemblance to the iMac (both are rounded-looking, both have blue and white colored cases, etc.).
David Pogue: 1. Apple has a point, but will lose the lawsuit. As any lawyer will tell you, you can't copyright an idea. It's a shame--think of all the expense and research Apple had to do!
DC: OK, so how does this wireless internet connection thing work?
Rob Pegoraro: First office productivity drops by 50 percent after everybody gets Myth working over the wireless connection...
David Pogue: Scenario 1: Two iBooks can communicate, FAST, within 150 feet of each other, if each is equipped with the optional $100 AirPort card. Sharing files, playing games, etc. No additional purchases necessary.
Rob Pegoraro: Yikes! Does this Power Mac have a floppy drive? Does the SE have some kind of Internet connection on it?
David Pogue: If the Power Mac has a floppy drive, no sweat.
Springfield, VA: David, In one of your previous answers you had mentioned boosting the RAM from 32MB to 64MB using virtual memory. Does this slow the processing speed by using more resources. I remember buying my first PowerPC -6100-60- and having numerous problems with speed and Crashing. I believe that now, Mac's default with it on. Was this ever an issue or my imagination? Have they made significant improvements?
David Pogue: Yes--each version of the OS has featured HUGE overhauls of virtual memory, notably in System 7.5 and then Mac OS 8, and then Mac OS 8.5. It's been the focus of a lot of energy.
Alexandria, VA: I've been wanting to make the move from Windows to Mac for a LONG time now, but I have literally thousands of dollars tied up in Windows-based software. Do you know if software publishers ever allow cross-platform upgrades? I don't want to have to start from scratch at this point.
Rob Pegoraro: There's a word for that--"cross-grades." (Yet another case of the computer biz putting the English language on the torture rack...) Some companies do, some don't. In some cases, you might be better off getting a competitive upgrade, if a Mac port of a product isn't as good as a competing, comparable Mac program.
David Pogue: Good answer, Rob.
Washington: Re: iMac - Sony did a lot of the iMac stuff a year before - with the snazzy gray-purple system and color-coded cables to make it easy to hook up, etc.
Rob Pegoraro: Sony has done a great job of putting a sense of creativity into its computers--too many other people seem content to put a curved bezel on the front of a minitower case and call it style. But what it hasn't done is get rid of some of this obsolete technology cluttering up the insides and outsides of PCs. Printer ports are slow and buggy, and everything new comes in a USB version. So why not get rid of the printer port? We had to ditch 8-track eventually too. But, yeah, people do complain. It may take a particularly, ahem, self-confident corporate leadership to take the first step.
David Pogue: Good point. Sony actually took a couple of design dares, and made huge profits as a result.
Thanks to everybody for some great questions. I'll be back for our next get-together in two weeks; e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if there's any questions I missed. Take care, and keep reading...
Thanks, everyone! Details at www.davidpogue.com; email is email@example.com.
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