Busman's Holiday
MWSF Rumors: Count Two Sales for the "Headless iMac"
by Steve Wood
January 10, 2005





With all the rumors pouring out of the various Mac rumor sites, I'm wondering if Steve Jobs' Macworld Expo keynote speech might run all day tomorrow! The sheer volume of fairly plausible new and improved products that may be introduced is amazing. Even before things heated up on the rumor mill and legal front, Ryan Meeder had written on MacOS Rumors, "There are simply far too many new Apple products on deck for all of them to come out at MWSF itself." While Ryan may be correct in his assessment, the possibilities are certainly tantalizing for Macintosh fans.

Nick dePlume's Think Secret site has released a number of articles on the possible Apple announcements tomorrow:

If you're trying to stay up, there have been reports of a long overdue replacement for AppleWorks, possibly called iWorks. Details on what the software suite will include get sketchy beyond the inclusion of a word processor. There are supposed to be upgrades to iLife and Keynote which may include some new related applications to one or both of the software products.

On the hardware front, new iPods using flash memory rather than hard drives and updates to either or both the G5 tower and PowerBook have been suggested. Reports of "a breakout box--a device for connecting musical instruments and other analog audio sources to a computer," produced a lawsuit against AppleInsider and O'Grady's PowerPage according to CNET. But the biggie that has caught everyone's attention is the possible introduction of what many writers are calling a "headless iMac."

This column really isn't about the rumors per se and Apple Legal's response to them, although I'll offer a few comments about that at the conclusion of the piece. It's about the appeal of a low-cost Mac, whether called a headless iMac or something else.

After teaching for 34 years, I took early retirement last spring and now work for a college K-12 outreach program. It's a PC shop, so when I suggested that hiring a Mac expert to work on the site and equipping him only with a Compaq laptop didn't make much sense, the pitch didn't get very far. I did, however, get permission to bring in my aging Blue & White to use in combination with the Compaq.

I did a slow burn for a few days when I saw a G5 tower in the office next to mine, but fortunately kept my mouth shut. It turned out that the G5 belonged to the movie club. They use it for editing and copying...and all the guys who work with it love it!

Blue & WhiteWhile the old Blue & White does give me the option of working on a Mac, the thing is old and very tired. I still do most of my work on the PC laptop, reverting to the Mac when things get dicey, or I have some serious graphics work to do. I think my boss was a bit uncomfortable a few weeks ago when she positively commented on some maps and transparency overlays I'd done for a report, and I told her I'd knocked them out on the G5 at home:-).

All of the above brings us to the rumored "headless iMac." While I may not be able to get the college to ever pop for a Mac, a $500 Mac is within my personal means, where a PowerBook or another G5 tower are simply out of reach right now. While the G4 is definitely not my favorite processor, a headless iMac with a G4 running somewhere in the area of 1.25 GHz or above would definitely be an improvement over the Blue & White that sports a Sonnet 1 GHz upgrade card, but still chugs along with a 66 MHz system bus. A $500 headless iMac with a 1.6 GHz G5 would make me absolutely delirious!

Since I work at an all PC shop, there hasn't been too much of an opportunity to discuss the possible new Mac with anyone at work. But last week, Mark Crosby, the former "Evil NT Techie" at my old school, called to confirm the headless iMac rumor. He was really excited about the possibility of an affordable Macintosh. He'd been a total PC freak for years until he got his hands on a dual 1 Ghz G4 tower that he used to administrate the Macs at our old school. He'd moved to to the college about eight months before I hung it up and was instrumental in getting word of the job posting to me.

When Mark began working with Mac OS X in earnest, he began to see the value of Macs. He'd already been interested in them for video editing, but couldn't make the jump over the going-in cost of a Mac compared to a PC video editing setup. So the dualie was his real introduction to the Mac platform. In fairness to Mark, he arrived at our old school and was saddled with maintaining a bunch of Power Mac 5200's, 5400's, and 5500's. Those machines are among Apple's worst embarrassments.

As all the arguments swirl around the Mac web about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of Apple producing a low-cost Mac, you have two, quite dissimilar computer users at my current job, who will both purchase the rumored new machine if it's offered. Mark will use his at home as his primary computer. I'll use mine at work, ostensibly as my Mac backup to the PC, but in reality, my primary machine, with the Compaq laptop serving only where the headless iMac can't go.

For years I've hammered on the theme that regardless of Apple's total cost of operations figures, school systems and the general public look primarily at the initial cost of potential new computer purchases. Over the last five years, Apple and Apple Education have given away the education market, due to overpricing their computers. Had Apple at the introduction of the current iBook form factor sucked it up and offered the model at a sub $1000 price, they would have far more than their current 5% of the education market. Remember that Apple once owned the education field.

I really don't think Mark and I are unique among potential computer buyers. If there isn't a "headless iMac" or something similar announced tomorrow, I'll go on using the old Blue & White at work occasionally. Mark will probably not make a Mac purchase, as he's still at that point in life with lots of bright kids at home with college expenses looming. Neither of us can spring for a regular iMac or G5 tower. I think there's a very large untapped market of potential Mac users that a low-cost Mac may bring to the platform that otherwise would stay with bargain PCs.

Let's hope we're all pleasantly surprised tomorrow!

The Furor!

This whole pre-Macworld period has been interesting. John Dvorak enraged the "Apple can do no wrong" crowd with his very reasonable, and in my opinion, right on column, Grim Macintosh Market Share Forebodes Crisis. The thrust of his argument was that Apple has the easy, entry-level operating system for people, but needs entry-level priced hardware to cash in on its strengths. Several Mac sites immediately launched online tirades at him.

Almost as if orchestrated by Dvorak, Think Secret broke the news of the potential sub-$500 headless iMac. The publication of that and other various rumors by several Mac web sites has produced several lawsuits from Apple Legal, igniting a whole round of columns flaming either at Apple or the rumor web sites. It's really interesting to me that Apple apparently was already headed in just the direction that Dvorak suggested.

Dan Gillmore added fuel to the flame in his blog entry, Arrogance at Apple, where he suggests Apple wouldn't try suing a major news source, but goes after small Mac web sites regularly. He implied that Apple Legal hopes to bully the sites into compliance with Apple's wishes, as the various rumor sites lack the wherewithal to fight Apple in court.

As a Mac fan, I find most of what is going on before Macworld rather entertaining, although some of the postings almost make me embarrassed to admit to being a Macintosh advocate. Here's a short recap of some of the pertinent columns of the last few weeks:

It's too bad Steve Jobs just doesn't take action at Apple, heal the wounds and say as much on his little-used blog, Just One More Thing.

Update (5/17/2008)

Yes, I did get a Mac Mini for work and really liked the machine. I wrote about it in Just Another Mac Mini Column.

Also, please note that this column has been edited and reformatted since its original publication.

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Encounter Devotionals

by Zach Wood



©2005 Steven L. Wood