This year, Christmas came a bit earlier. Richard — the same generous soul responsible for this amazing donation — surprised me again with this marvellous Christmas gift that arrived on my doorstep on 21 December. It’s a first-generation (2002-2003) 17-inch iMac G4, with an 800 MHz PowerPC G4 7450 v2.1 processor, 768 MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, tray-loading 2x SuperDrive capable of writing CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R and DVD-RW discs. It came with a fresh installation of Mac OS X 10.5.8, and even if technically Leopard isn’t supported on this machine (the minimum requirement being an 867 MHz G4 processor), the iMac handles it quite well. I’ve already started installing a minimum set of applications and, at least for now, I have no reason or interest to downgrade to Mac OS X Tiger.
As you can see in the photos, this iMac is in excellent condition, and thanks to Richard’s careful packaging it arrived safely to my house without unfortunate accidents during shipping. The display arm is tight and sustains the display in any position and at any angle I’ve tried it. The display is bright and flawless. The polycarbonate white is still uniformly white and, thankfully, there’s no trace of yellowing or other colour alteration I happened to see on other iMac G4 models in the past. It really looks like new.
(The blueberry Apple USB Keyboard and round USB mouse are, of course, a temporary solution. Only the main iMac unit was given to me. They were the original keyboard and mouse that came with my previous iMac G3.)
A tiny dream come true
Adding this iMac G4 to my collection means a lot to me. I’ve wanted this type of iMac since it was introduced back in early 2002. But with a starting price of €1,599 (for the 15-inch iMac G4/700 model), I just couldn’t afford it at the time. Or rather, I could have afforded it, but not after making a decision that felt right then, and foolishly sentimental in retrospect. In late 2001, my beloved iMac G3/350 blueberry broke down due to a nasty thunderstorm frying its motherboard and analogue board. I was finishing one of my first big assignments as technical translator, and that iMac G3, purchased in late 1999, had accumulated a lot of sentimental value to me. When it broke, I was really bummed and panicking because I had work to deliver on a close deadline, so my first gut reaction was to have it repaired at all costs. The technicians at the repairing centre where I took it, once they assessed the damage, told me that it would have been much more cost-effective to throw it away and buy another iMac G3 second-hand. I was too stubborn and too saddened by the loss of my iMac to listen to reason, so I ended up spending more than €1,000 to have it fixed.
When the first iMac G4 was introduced shortly after, in January 2002, I wanted to eat my hat. If I had known, I would have saved that money and used it to purchase the new iMac G4, instead of holding on to a machine that was getting old fast. And you know what happened just a few months later? The iMac G3 broke down again, thanks to another sudden, violent thunderstorm (and certainly to the poor electrical system of the old building I was living in at the time). Lesson truly learnt, I threw away the iMac G3 for good, but then I only had money for a second-hand iBook G3/466 SE FireWire. (I’m not complaining, that iBook is still working today, the only two things I’ve replaced are the battery and the DVD drive.)
But since then, two Macs always remained at the top of my wishlist: the Power Mac G4 Cube, and the iMac G4. I got my Cube itch scratched in 2006, and now, finally, unexpectedly, it’s the turn of the iMac G4. Both the Cube and the iMac G4 are, in my opinion, the coolest desktop Macs in relatively recent times — for the platinum era, I’d say the winner is the Macintosh Colour Classic, and the all-time winner remains of course the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh.
While the Cube has undoubtedly a few design quirks (the position of the ports is rather unfortunate and impractical), the iMac G4 is such a joy to use. Despite having an internal fan, it’s not much louder than the fanless Cube, and the display design is just amazing because it is such a perfect combination of wonderful æsthetics and sheer usefulness. You can have the display in front of you at just the right angle, you can easily move it to the side to show something to someone else, and when you’re sitting at the iMac, it’s like having the screen float before your eyes.
The iMac G4’s design was a staggering departure from the previous G3 model, but was also a true improvement inside and out. It was a lighter computer, with a smaller footprint, and thanks to that display design, it felt even lighter, airier. Only the short-lived 20-inch model was a little unbalanced and out of proportion — that 20-inch display was perhaps too big and heavy for the overall design of the iMac.
However, when the first iMac G5 was introduced in mid-2004, its design was a huge letdown for me. Sure, I appreciated the engineering feat of basically having a display with a whole computer inside, and having a faster G5 processor in a consumer-grade product was great, but at the time I felt that the design was a step back compared to the move from the iMac G3 to the iMac G4. Even today, when I look at the whole iMac line, the white G5 and later white Intel models are just ugly, thick desktop beasts, something rectified by the later aluminium models. And speaking of these later aluminium models, while they’ve got thinner, more beautiful and functional year after year, their design is fundamentally unchanged since 2007. They’re simply boring compared to the iMac G4, whose unique, iconic design has remained quite fresh and a reminder of that whimsical touch Apple seems to have forgotten.
Put to good use, as always
This new entry in my small collection, like other vintage Macs I own, is not going to just sit idly in my living-room as a museum exhibit. I haven’t yet decided a specific purpose for it, but its placement as the only desktop Mac outside of my studio makes it an excellent candidate for writing and collecting my thoughts in a less visually cluttered environment. It could also serve as a good media server, and it’s certainly a fantastic solution to listen to music — both my local iTunes library and streamed music via Spotify (the old PowerPC client still works and its interface is actually better than the current one).
Years ago I was given the Apple Pro Speakers you see in the photos above, by a friend who thought they were the Apple M7963 USB Speakers for the Power Mac G4 Cube. They look similar, but can’t be used with the Cube, so I kept them all this time just in case, in an unknown condition because I couldn’t attach them to any other Mac in my possession to test them. Well, it turns out they work fine and deliver a surprisingly rich sound and loudness for their size.
Having another Mac capable of writing DVDs doesn’t hurt, either. I still use optical discs as a backup solution for old files and archives. So I immediately installed the excellent Disco app to easily handle future disc burns.
As for other software, I added the usual set of essentials (for me): TenFourFox for browsing the Web, Sparrow for email, Transmit for FTP, The Unarchiver for unarchiving basically any compressed file, Hazel for a bit of automation in file handling, MenuMeters for keeping an eye on network speeds, TextWrangler and Notational Velocity for text editing and synchronised note-taking, the old Cloud.app version I’ve kept, which still works and syncs with the CloudApp service, and NetNewsWire 3.2.15 to check my feeds. Even if I don’t find a specific task for this iMac, it’s still a great general-purpose machine for doing a lot of light work — and a very cool-looking one at that.
Once again, my deepest, heartfelt thanks to Richard for his generosity.
And finally, thank you to all of you for reading and following this humble blog. My apologies for having updated it so intermittently over the course of 2015 — I’ll try to do better next year. Have a great 2016, everybody!