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Power Mac G4 Cube: What's In A Name?

© 2000 Lawrence I. Charters

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

Dimly seen worshipers gather at the Power Mac G4 Cube altar, where they exchange whispered comments or simply stand in silent awe. (Actually, because of the sound of the MacWorld crowd, the worshipers would have liked to whisper, but had to shout questions to the Apple's G4 Cube priest, such as "Can I stack things on top of it?" (no), "How do I get files from my Mac Plus on to the Cube?" (be serious) and "Is Apple giving any of these away today?" (no). (Photo by Lawrence I. Charters)

Names are important. Our favorite digital fruit company was once sued by underemployed lawyers who claimed the word "Apple" in Apple Computer Corporation would confuse potential buyers of Beatles records, owned by Apple Music. Why, just think of where the Beatles would be now if it weren't for Apple Computer!

If names are important, new names are possibly even more important. For years, computer hardware and software companies have struggled to come up with new and different ways of saying something was new and different. The first commercially successful spreadsheet, VisiCalc, was noted as much for the unusual capitalization of the name as anything else, creating an enduring market for odd capitalization: WordStar, WordPerfect, WebSTAR, eBay, iBook, NeXT, etc.

Version numbers are also big: Excel, Excel 2.0, Word 4.0, AppleWorks 5.0. Version numbers can also be classical: FileMaker II, dBASE III (note: version numbers and mixed capitalization), Apple II, Apple ///. Clipper, a long-defunct company, started naming versions after seasons, such as Clipper Summer 1987. Microsoft liked the idea, and introduced Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows 2000. (Windows 2001 will forcefully take over your home and send your car into orbit around Jupiter.)

Sometimes, it helps to explicitly separate the riff-raff from the elite, such as with MacWrite Pro or Microsoft Office Professional. Clearly, only amateurs use anything other than Pro software. (And apparently only stupid pros read "Microsoft Office for Dummies.")

Every now and then, a company makes an extraordinary effort, and manages to incorporate virtually every known means for demonstrating "newness." The current champion may well be FileMaker Pro 5.0v3: it has a mixed-case name, it is a "Pro" package, and it has two different kinds of version numbers. About the only thing it lacks are Roman numerals.

Harman Kardon, Apple and several other vendors found that the easiest way to draw a crowd at MacWorld was to set up a Power Mac G4 Cube with an Apple Cinema flat-panel display and the Harman Kardon SoundSticks, a combination of USB speaker towers and iSub woofer. In addition, this particular display also includes the striking crystal ball speakers included with the Cube, as well as the new 108 key keyboard and Apple Pro Mouse. The hand reaching into the picture is lifting a SoundStick; each speaker tower has a heavy metal base to keep it from vibrating. (Photo by Lawrence I. Charters)

Which brings us to Apple's Cube. For years, Apple insisted its line of computers, introduced in 1984, were "Macintosh" computers, not Macs. But the current lineup consists of the iBook, the iMac, the PowerBook G3, the Power Mac G4, and the Power Mac G4 Cube -- not a "Macintosh" in the lot. So the most famous misspelling of a type of apple in history is now history, truncated to the long-standing nickname of "Mac" (or banished entirely, in the case of iBook and PowerBook).

Apple has tried Roman numerals before, and car-style funny suffixes (IIx, IIci, IIsi, IIvi), and curiously misleading numbers (Power Macintosh 8500, LaserWriter Pro 8500), but never a geometric shape. It is also unusual in that the parent line, while it may be called "Mac" now, comes from McIntosh, the aforementioned misspelled apple, and apples are not normally cube shaped.

Is having a computer called Cube good or bad? It may not make a difference. Consider the Chevy truck.

While the G4 Cube might be a people magnet, that is both good and bad. One vendor put up this hand-written sign that reads, "$50 per touch. $60 to see upside down." This is funny for another reason: with all the high-quality printing and page layout software on display, a hand-written sign is a charming incongruity. (Photo by Lawrence I. Charters)

Trucks are designed to move, yet General Motors has a sales slogan that equates Chevrolet trucks with inanimate objects: "Chevy Trucks: Like a Rock." Is it fast? Is it comfortable? Is it sleek? Does it move? No, it is "like a rock," and apparently dirty, immobile, and painful if you fall on one.

But it works: General Motors sells lots of Chevy trucks. Could it work for other products?

Zale's diamonds: like a rock (hmmm)
Domino's pizza: like a rock (no)
Sealy mattresses: like a rock (no)
Boston Whaler: like a rock (no)
Nation's Bank: like a rock (maybe)
The Rolling Stones: like a rock (hmmm)
Jimmy Dean sausage: like a rock (no comment)
Caress body soap: like a rock (no)
The Whopper: like a rock (no)
Boeing 747: like a rock (no)
Nike shoes: like a rock (no)
Viagra: like a…

Power Mac G4 Cube: like a rock. Like a rocket, maybe? A white, toaster-sized rocket?

Power Mac G4 Cube: power cubed. (Not bad)

Power Mac G4 Cube: square, man, square (very 60s)

Power Mac G4 Cube: another roll of the dice. It is a gamble for Apple, but a worthy one. Come to think of it, they could create a special edition of the Cube, with patterns of black spots on the sides, and sell them in pairs as dice.

Power Mac G4 Cube: a 21st century toaster.

Upper left: The shell-less Cube reveals how you get a G4 motherboard into a box this small: very carefully. Here you see the radiator from the G4 CPU, with memory chips along the left edge of the photo. Note the plastic outer shell at the bottom of the photo. (Photo by Lawrence I. Charters)

Above: Another side of the Cube reveals what it looks like inside with the optional AirPort card installed. (Photo by Lawrence I. Charters)

Left: With the outer shell off, the Cube is almost as interesting as it is with the skin on. This side shows the hard drive, mounted on its side, and memory chips. One side of the Cube, shown on the left, is a featureless metal plate. Note the plastic outer shell at the bottom of the photo. (Photo by Lawrence I. Charters)

The top of the Power Mac G4 Cube is very plain: a slot for loading CD-ROMs (at the top in this picture), a central grill for radiation heat, and another air vent at the edge. Almost invisible between the two vents is the power switch. (Photo by Lawrence I. Charters)

Hidden on the bottom of the Cube are all the connectors. The security cable is connected to the handle used to pull the Cube from its case. Below that, from left to right is a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port, two FireWire ports, two USB ports, the telephone jack for the modem, and the jack for the power supply (an external device that looks like a half-foot long muffler). On the bottom row are two tiny Programmer/Reset buttons (new challenges in accessibility!), the all-in-one video, sound and power jack for Apple's new displays, and a standard VGA port. (Photo by Lawrence I. Charters)