Life on the Desktop: It’s iMac time

iMac lineup

I have a backlog of posts and my lustrous new iMac is to blame. In a very good way.

For the past 3 years I have been using a 15″ PowerBook G4 whose 1Ghz processor had been feeling wheezy for the last year. But worse still, the hard disk was always full and I had filled every FireWire disk I could find too… If one thing OS X doesn't do well with, it's a full hard disk. Slooooow.

So I was very keen to get a MacBook Pro when they emerged from Cupertino, for the love of God they are up to five times faster! But wait, no FireWire 800 port? Just an Expresswhat slot? Not for me, at all. When the 17-incher slipped out with a FireWire 800 port I began to be tempted but I would wait for a second revision to iron out bugs before I fell for it. And I waited…

In the meantime my desktop consisted of:

  • PowerBook on Griffin iCurve stand balanced on top LaCie DVD burner and a Mac Mini. Plus an iSight camera perched on top of the PowerBook screen.
  • Apple 20″ Cinema Display on top a LacCie hard disk and a paperback book to ensure the screen lined up with the PowerBook's.
  • PowerBook charger, USB keyboard, USB mouse, FireWire cables sprouting from everywhere and a USB tangle to printer, dictaphone and scanner.

It was a nice setup but a bit, cluttered and cable infested. I was sitting there one day waiting for a call wondering when the MacBook Pros would be updated when I realised that I was never disconnecting the PowerBook from its umbilical cords. The laptop was never moving, I was happily using my BlackBerry to take notes in meetings. Hmmmm… did I need another laptop after all?

Steve Jobs must have been aware of this dilemma from a hardened laptop owner (2 PowerBooks, 1 tangerine iBook and some PC laptops best not mentioned). He knew what I wanted because he unleashed the beast I'm now typing on… the 24″ iMac.

FireWire 800 port – check, big fat 500GB hard disk – check, Core 2 Duo – check, dual layer DVD burning – check. American Express – warming up.

There were only 2 things I did actually use the PowerBook for off the desktop – presentations and emptying my camera of images when on holiday. The new 80GB iPod solved this by being able to display and store photos and movies. The iPod Camera Connector is just a USB dongle but it works and needs no extra batteries or removing of memory cards like the old Belkin iPod readers did – works a charm. (Note: The iPod's photos will only be recognised by iPhoto if you let the iPod be mounted as a disk – remember to click the new 'Apply' button in iTunes if you want this change to stick)

Anyway, one thing led to another, and needless to say Apple Developer Connection discount later I was checking my order status rather too often. Having souped the big fella up with extra everything I did wait a month to get it, in which time I swear my PowerBook actually did get still slower.

When UPS delivered I couldn't quite believe the size of the box. There's no two ways about this – it is HUGE. I didn't actually realise how big it would be – how much bigger than the 20 incher could it be? You can see the difference my friends. It's a bright, crisp monster of a display. A few days after I'd been using it I suddenly realised that it was bigger than the 'big' TV we have in the living room. Insane.

Truly it's a wonderful machine which has worked like a dream for me from the first instant. The out-of-the-box experience is, as everyone says, quite superb and welcoming. The 24W inbuilt speakers are punchy, much better than previous iMac speakers that I've heard.

I've been following Khoi Vinh's good then less good experiences with his 24-incher which arrived a bit before mine. I have to say it's all been good for me, really wonderful.

Performance has been impeccably fast. Transferring over from my PowerBook has been unbelievably hiccup-free, I'm astonished really. The only complete flop was that PGP 8 stopped working, breaking the built in support MailSmith has for PGP. I had a very bad feeling from reviews of PGP 9.5 which MailSmith doesn't support anyway so I switched to MacGPG very easily (though the preference pane doesn't work for me).

Everything else just worked, but still I spent a good couple of hours updating everything to make sure I had as many Universal versions as possible. Fireworks MX 2004 which has always been a performance dog turned out to be very snappy even under Rosetta. Khoi complained of Rosetta's performance but I've been absolutely astonished at how good it's been, I really have forgotten about it – it's an extraordinary technical triumph.

I chose to transfer files manually over FireWire 800 (wonderfully fast) and forgot a few at first but I'm happier doing this than letting Apple's tool do it, I had some UNIXy things that would have been left behind.

I only have one remaining fly in the ointment. I've setup a RAID array of two 1 Terabyte LaCie drives but scheduled backups crash the wonderful SuperDuper The nice SuperDuper people reckon it's an Apple bug so I'm on manual backups until an update emerges.

My desktop now has only the iMac, wireless keyboard and wireless mighty mouse. That's it. Truly wonderful and it has proven extremely productive. I was transferred in less than a day and have been doing lots and lots of work since. Money well spent then!