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iBook: Vision in Blueberry

© 1999 Washington Apple Pi Labs

Washington Apple Pi Journal, November/December 1999, pp. 67-71, reprint information

[iBook benchmarks also available]

In keeping with an ancient tradition, handed down from punch card to floppy to CD-ROM, Washington Apple Pi Labs wanted to get its hands on an iBook as soon as they were released. For evaluation purposes only, of course.

No, we were not lusting after the no-slip rubberized covering on several edges of the case, the built-in handle, the bright display, the six hour battery life, or the lightning-fast processor. The idea of carrying around something faster than the original Power Mac G3 desktop machines, at a fraction of the price, wasn't a consideration. We aren't cattle, forever following the herd as it seeks out the latest hot processor or new technology. Our motivations were pure: we wanted to write a review from a consumer's point of view.

"You've got two hours." Two hours?!?

iBook in box

The iBook box is quite small, even compared to a PowerBook G3 box. The iBook, complete with charged battery, is padded in a custom foam cocoon. Everything else is in the cardboard Accessory Kit box.

John Qwerty (something like that) had already written a review of the iBook from the Industry Standard point of view -- without ever even touching one. He pronounced the iBook "girly," something that a Real Man would never consider. What brawny bruiser of the electronic world -- strapped to a high-spirited office chair in an air-conditioned office -- what would such a Real Man want with something out of a Barbie makeup kit? Would a Real Man want something that looked like an oversized woman's compact, in blue or orange? Qwerty had thoroughly covered the Industry Standard point of view, so there was no need to even comment. We were going for the user's point of view.

iBook Getting Started

The bright red cover of the Getting Started brochure is printed in English, Japanese, Frehch, German, Italian, and eight other languages.

iBook Getting Started open

Inside the Getting Started brochure, you see four color pictures; there are no words.

What does the iBook offer? We took a sampling of iBooks (a small sample of one blueberry model) and discovered, fresh out of the box, it came with the following:

  • 32 megabytes of memory installed;
  • Mac OS ROM 2.3.1 (as a file on the hard drive, not as a standard ROM chip);
  • IBM 3 gigabyte hard drive;
  • Matsushita CR-175 CD-ROM drive;
  • 56K modem, built-in, with standard RJ-11 phone jack;
  • 10/100 Base-T Ethernet port, with standard RJ-45 jack;
  • USB port, for connecting USB hubs, printers, keyboards, joysticks, etc.;
  • Headphone jack;
  • Single speaker;
  • Active matrix LCD screen capable of showing 800x600 pixels or 640x480 pixels.

iBook User Guide

Like the Getting Started brochure, the User's Guide has a bright red cover printed in thirteen languages. Inside, however, the text and photo captions are all in English.

iBook User Guide Open

The User Guide is richly illustrated, with color pictures. Though fairly slim, it is one of the most attractive pieces of documentation from Apple in a long time.

Additionally, the following software was included:

  • Mac OS 8.6;
  • Bugdom 1.0.1, a game;
  • America Online 4.0f81, for dialing in to AOL;
  • AppleWorks 5.0.3, the ubiquitous word processor, spreadsheet, database, drawing, paint and telecommunications package;
  • Acrobat Reader 3.0.1, useful for reading PDF documentation;
  • A whole bunch of stuff for use with a Palm hand-held computer, including multimedia tours of the Palm III, V, and VII;
  • Software for using Earthlink as your ISP (Internet Service Provider);
  • FAXstf 5.0.9 fax software;
  • Graphing Calculator 1.1;
  • Internet Explorer 4.5;
  • Netscape Communicator 4.6.1 (International version);
  • Outlook Express 4.5;
  • Pocket Quicken (apparently for use with a Palm);
  • Nanosaur 1.1.6 (not installed, included on one of the CD-ROMs);
  • EdView Internet Safety Kit (not installed, included on one of the CD-ROMs);
  • World Book Encyclopedia, Macintosh Edition Version 1.0 (not installed; included on two CD-ROMs);
  • A whole bunch of new desktop pictures (some installed, most not) and beep sounds (not installed).

We decided to write the review in AppleWorks for two reasons: first, it was pre-installed on the iBook, and seemed a good way to test how most people would use the machine. Second, we were under severe time constraints. Severe. Time. Constraints.

Opening the box is even easier than opening an iMac box, since it is smaller. A penknife is handy for slicing sealing tape for both the outer box and an inner Accessory Kit box. The iBook comes with many pieces of paper (warranties, packing lists and such), two of which are useful: a fold-out sheet showing in four pictures -- no words -- how to set up the iBook, and a very attractive (complete with color pictures), very short User's Guide. At 32 pages, the User's Guide is brief enough and attractive enough that everyone should read it, right up to and including the five pages of material under "Where's the fine print?" The detailed instructions on how to dial telephone numbers with the modem in New Zealand are hilarious:

* Number to be dialed: 1; number to be entered into computer: 9
* Number to be dialed: 2; number to be entered into computer: 8
* Number to be dialed: 3; number to be entered into computer: 7

"You have one hour." One hour!?!?!

Following the step-by-step instructions (actually, we read them after the fact), we opened the box, took the plastic off the iBook, opened the top, and pressed the Power On key. Thanks to the fact that the iBook shipped with a charged battery, we were immediately off and running. Within seconds, we noticed two things we really wanted:

  • More memory. Mac OS 8.6 may be a joy to use, but it doesn't work well in 32 megabytes of RAM, particularly if you want to do something more than just run the operating system. The iBook ships pre-configured with virtual memory set at 64 megabytes. Until you buy more memory, you don't have a choice: you must run with virtual memory active in order to get anything done. Since virtual memory uses the hard drive more heavily than "normal," and since the hard drive uses more power than many other iBook components, running with virtual memory active decreases the amount of work you can get done between battery charges.
  • The keyboard is surprisingly good, but we want a forward delete key. The standard Delete key is nice, but there are times you'd like to delete things in front of the current cursor position. We didn't see any way to do this.

Other things we thought we'd mind, but didn't:

  • The trackpad is quite nice. We thought we'd need more time to adjust; we were wrong. This is a real shame, since we were looking forward to an excuse for evaluating the Kensington Orbit trackball;
  • The "inverted T" cursor control keys down at the bottom edge of the keyboard aren't that bad. We prefer full-sized keyboards but, quite frankly, admit they are kind of silly for a laptop computer;
  • The screen is outstanding. Steve Jobs is notorious for calling all Apple displays "wonderful" or "outstanding," so we were dubious. But it turns out Steve is right.

Because of severe time constraints, we didn't try out the built-in modem. Others claim it works, and we're willing to take their word for it. Instead, we plugged a 10BASE-T cable into the 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet jack (conveniently located on the left side; there are no jacks on the back of the computer). With a few deft entries into the TCP/IP Control Panel, we were configured for the Internet and off and running.

Continue to Part II

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Revised November 24, 1999 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
URL: http://www.wap.org/journal/