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Apple iMac Revision D
(333 MHz) User's Log


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This page last updated on or about 12-9-06

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Certain embedded web links and documented costs/prices for certain wares discussed may be out-of-date. This is real world usage rather than a syrupy evangelistic exercise, so you'll find both good and bad things about iMacs here.

Back to iMac user log contents...

12-9-06: A long overdue update on the iMac

Today the iMac sits on my personal desk, with a Windows laptop and Windows desktop sitting to its right.

The Windows desktop is my main computer. The laptop I mainly use to backup files to from the desktop, plus preview my web pages in Internet Explorer, since I use Mozilla on the desktop.

My worsening vision makes using the seemingly tiny 15 inch screen of the iMac downright painful. Plus, OS X doesn't work well at all on an old iMac like this with so little RAM. The laptop screen seems to be near identical in size to the iMac's-- but the laptop LCD is easier on my eyes than the flickering CRT of the iMac. I must use a 21 inch plus LCD display on the desktop PC.

I've tried repeatedly to get OS X on the iMac to share files directly with my PCs over our LAN, but with no luck. Everything gets corrupted, if anything happens at all.

It's even difficult to use internet email to transfer files via attachments between the iMac and other machines, since OS X and the available browsers-- including Safari-- seem unable to run well or long with what RAM the iMac possesses. And there seems little to justify boosting the RAM on it further-- even if the RAM itself were free of cost.

No, about the only reasons I keep the iMac around today are (1), no one else in the house can use it, as it doesn't function well as a web browser or hardly anything else (2), I possess several years worth of archives on Mac CDs that seem most reliably accessed from the iMac, compared to my other machines (3), Appleworks, although a pitiful shadow of the ClarisWorks which preceded it in terms of usefulness and functionality, remains one of the few low cost integrated paint and draw programs available in in the world today-- and pretty much justifies the iMac's place all on its own.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

5-31-05: An alternative to hard-to-use $500 graphics software

I badly miss today the integrated and easy to use drawing and paint software which used to be cheaply available everywhere on low end Macs and PCs it seemed. Nowadays many must make do with hard-as-hell-to-use graphics software with extremely limited integration of drawing and paint functions in things like Photoshop and others (all $500 or more software), or buy Canvas for something close to the original easy to use integrated packages (yet another $500 or more package).

But there is another alternative: an old cheap iMac with Appleworks.

You can use Appleworks to do a pretty easy mix of draw and paint images, then save them as a gif or jpeg as you prefer. Then attach the files to a web-based email like from yahoo.com and send it to yourself. Then pick it up on your PC.

Yes, you will encounter some glitches here and there dealing with Mac files on your PC. For instance the file transfer does best if I use my web browser-based Yahoo email account on the iMac to send it to my ISP-based email account-- but then don't retrieve the file from my ISP email. Rather, on my PC I access my Yahoo account again and save the files from the email message stored in my "Sent" box. For some reason I have extra trouble saving the files intact from my ISP account.

I suppose some might have to set their Yahoo email preferences to always keep a copy of sent mail in that section first. I seem to remember having done so long ago.

I was also disappointed to encounter a file backup glitch when I for the first time ever managed to successfully connect my OS X iMac to my PC LAN, and try copying the new image to a PC over it. As I routinely do among the PCs themselves, for backup purposes. Alas, the PC did not recognize the file correctly after copying, despite the iMac saying it was a standard jpeg file. So I guess LAN transfers between OS X and Windows XP are still a no-no as of 2005. Sheesh!

If you want to see a Mac graphic done this way, check out the 2D "outriggers" image in this page.

Yeah, experienced artists might note that for a black and white line drawing like that one I should have saved it in gif format rather than jpeg. For that would have resulted in less smearing. But this was the first image I've done on a Mac in Appleworks in maybe years, and I'd forgotten a few things. That initial image still turned out well enough to do its job though. In general gif format is best for simple line drawings or charts like that one, and jpeg for photos or grayscale images.

Besides my desire for cheap and easier to use integrated draw and paint software, I also felt able to move the iMac from its previous kid-centric location simply because the kids didn't want to use it. With OS X and the (now) astonishingly old Microsoft Internet Explorer installed, the iMac was simply way too slow for most kid purposes. I'd tried to improve its functionality with different browsers, but no luck. The iMac's limited RAM I suspect is the major culprit, along with OS X's huge appetite for same. Oh well. I don't consider it cost-effective to boost the iMac's memory at this late date. But for simple Appleworks use for my own occasional graphics tasks, it's plenty fast enough.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

10-3-04: The iMac moves again

The iMac has been re-located to a different room: basically a game and internet room for kids or general purpose access for grownups. It now resides alongside the G4 and a PlayStation II.

MY SISTER'S IBOOK REVISITED: My sister got her iBook back soon after my last post. The motherboard had to be replaced, according to techs. YIKES! END REVISIT.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

8-7-04: Old iMacs running OS X are at best light duty internet clients-- and for non-game playing adults, not kids

Although moving to OS X from OS 9 on this iMac helped some things, I'm still not sure I'd call it an upgrade, in many ways.

I'd be tempted to say adding more RAM might help OS X run better on this iMac-- but unfortunately OS X is pretty much as unreliable on our G4 with one GIGABYTE of RAM, as it is on this iMac with 160 MB of RAM.

When I say unreliable, I mean applications crash/freeze up, and you have to Force Quit them. Often. Especially web browsers.

Moving to Safari on the G4 seemed to help a little there. But not on the iMac. Safari ran AWFUL on the iMac. So I downloaded and tried the latest Mozilla recommended by some. Mozilla ran no better than Safari. So for now the iMac's still stuck with the ancient MS Explorer 5.2, which is very sluggish running kids' games on the web-- when it runs them at all. Crashes are frequent.

There's also web incompatibilities. LOTS of online kid games these days require a PC. And even where they claim to run on Macs too, they often still run better on PCs (i.e., faster, fewer crashes, fewer hassles). I say this after many, many months of seeing modern PCs and Macs side-by-side on the net, with kids at the helm.

For plain old research and news reading on the web (such as adults, rather than kids, are more likely to do), the iMac and MS Explorer seem to do OK-- but keep in mind the extra hassle of saving news items to your hard disk in MS Explorer on OS X, as compared to MS Explorer on a Windows PC.

To muddy the waters a bit, also recall that Macs aren't usually targeted by viruses and hackers as often as Windows PCs. So the same things which restrict your web browsing on Macs also protects you somewhat from various threats out there.

OS X apparently requires TONS of processing power to turn over at all. I tried to install Bugdom 2 on this iMac and it ran so slowly it could only be used as a torture device, literally. Bugdom 2 DOES run OK on the G4 though.

NEW IBOOK NOTE: At the moment I have nowhere else to post this, so I'll do it here. My sister bought a brand new Apple iBook maybe a month or two ago, and within weeks it was stone cold dead. The main cause seems to have been my sister leaving it on for a week straight without shutting it down. And no, it wasn't running on battery power: it was plugged into a wall outlet. Why no shut down for a week? My sister has a life. A full-time job and husband and dog. Plus that week she was visiting one of our little nephews who was in the hospital for a life-threatening illness. She took the iBook back to the dealer and they said they'd have to ship it all the way back to the Apple mothership, as they couldn't figure out what the heck was wrong with it. So far as I know today my sister has been without her iBook for weeks now. And no idea what the repair's going to cost her. Did I try to urge her to go PC instead prior to purchase? Yes. END NOTE.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

3-17-04: The iMac replaces our G4 PowerMac

The iMac has basically replaced the Power Mac G4 both in functionality and physical location at WebFLUX Central. So what happened to the G4 itself? It's now in my office, where I intend to put it to much tougher duties than it faced before. The G4's owner has moved to a new G4 PowerBook, and may not buy another desktop, preferring the mobile environment. They actually have had the new PowerBook for some months already, so the desktop G4 was just being used by kids for internet access and printing chores. Now the iMac is doing those.

One OS X annoyance noticed on the iMac: preferences for display geometry aren't remembered on the iMac. This means the only way we can use the full available display space on the iMac's monitor screen is to painstakingly re-do the geometry settings after every boot up. Bummer!

On the upside though, the iMac hasn't yet crashed a single time I know of since upgrading to OS X. Granted, it hasn't really had a significant workout yet, but in OS 8 and 9 we probably would have already had at least one crash by this point.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

3-11-04: The iMac gets its PRAM battery replaced

I installed a fresh PRAM battery in my Quadra 650 yesterday; today was the iMac's turn.

I've been inside this machine before, but gosh if I didn't have to refer to a PDF manual on Apple's web site to go in again. The URL at time of writing is "http://manuals.info.apple.com/Apple_Support_Area/Manuals/imac/0331208IMACII.PDF", to save you 30 minutes of randomly checking the entire spectrum of different iMac manuals there, as I had to.

Of course, if you still have the hard copy manuals that came with the iMac when new, I believe those too show this stuff (I don't know where ours are).

Some other sites relating to all this I checked out included:

Macintosh Family Batteries and Part Numbers, Part 2 ["http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=86181&sessionID=anonymous|11933027&kbhost=kbase.info.apple.com%3a80%2f"]
SAFT 3.65v Lithium Battery LS14250 LS 14250 BAT-2060 ["http://www.welovemacs.com/bat-2060.html"]
Apple Macintosh Desktop PRAM Batteries ["http://www.resource800.com/en-us/dept_27.html"]
Apple Desktop Systems ["http://www.resource800.com/appledesk.html"]
Need a battery Get one FAST from Epower2go! ["http://www.epower2go.biz/en-us/front.html"]
Other World Computing- Item Info ["http://eshop.macsales.com/Item_Specials.cfm?ID=2524&Item=OWCMAC36V"]
Resources For The Older Macintosh ["http://w3.trib.com/~dwood/oldmac.shtml"]
pidRus - Pram Batteries ["http://www.pidrus.com/batteries.html"]

APPLE SERVICE MANUALS ["http://home.wanadoo.nl/manual.man/manuals.html"], Apple Manuals ["http://w3.trib.com/~dwood/mirror.html"], and The Apple Macintosh Service Manual Center ["http://www.macmothership.com/maccontent/service.html"] didn't work due to broken links on Apple's end-- but the pages do offer an idea of the info once available in the world for older Apple computers, but possibly available no longer (from legal sources, anyway).

As discussed on my Q650 page I've had an epiphany about Mac PRAM batteries. It appears that despite all the confusing info on Apple's own site and elsewhere on the internet, there may truly only be two or three different batteries that fit virtually any Mac ever made. I've personally replaced PRAM batteries in a half-dozen wildly different generation Macs over the years (Performa 400 through PowerMac G4), and it seems they were all virtually the same lithium 3.6 volt 1/2 AA battery except for one weird black Frankenstein brick of a thing which went into a Performa 6400.

At least that's how the reality turned out despite getting instructions from all over the place that implied virtually every Mac model ever made required a different type of battery altogether. I guess this is yet another example of American corporations 'gaming' consumers in order to keep us as ignorant and confused as possible, and therefore prime for milking to the max, money-wise.

Anyway, I put a good-sized fairly flat bed pillow on a desk and laid the iMac face-down on it. Then unscrewed the single screw that holds on a curved section of the case's plastic bottom. Next I lifted the section up and away from the computer to expose the innards (there's a built-in handle just for this).

Hopefully after this point you have a grounding strap to wear to draw static electricity off your body, and protect the electronics from same. But whether you do or not, before proceeding further you need to touch exposed metal surfaces in the computer to equalize charges between yourself and it. And keep touching such surfaces all throughout the battery replacement process.

There's several different cables that must be disconnected and moved out of the way at this stage. Three, if memory serves. The reason is that the next step leads to pulling the whole core of the computer up and out of the case like a vertically moving drawer-- and these cables are in the way. You'll need a clear space like a table top close by on which to lay the drawer once it's out of the iMac case.

The cable attached at the highest point has a plastic clip you're supposed to depress for release at the same time you pull the connector loose. I personally used the tiny pair of vise grip pliers I maintain in my pocket tool kit for this (refer to this page to see more about my pocket tool kit, and tool recommendations in general)

Once the cables are dealt with, you remove two screws in the narrow finger handle you'll find at the top of the 'vertical drawer' apparatus. These screws basically hold the drawer in place during normal computer usage. I call it a finger handle because it only provides room for fingertips to pull on it.

CAVEAT: These two screws in the drawer fingertip handle can be pretty annoying. Their heads don't seem to be proper Phillips screwdriver heads, and so prone to damaging slipping. Plus, they're located in a narrow area which makes it difficult to procure them finger-wise after you've got them completely out of their holes. To get mine out I used a miniature mechanical claw on a couple foot long flexible stalk that I keep in my tool box. I've only used this claw to good effect maybe a half dozen times in 30 years, but retreiving these two particular iMac screws is definitely one of them. For there's lots of bad places for these screws to fall in the case if you can't get them out as needed. The narrow gap where these screws live also makes it hard to get them started into their holes again during replacement-- thereby adding to the potential for stripped threads or screws falling into the case. It may be that a pair of tweezers or needle-nose pliers might also do the job of retreiving these screws from their narrow channel as needed. END CAVEAT

SECOND CAVEAT: Before pulling the drawer out, closely examine how it fits into the case. How big the gaps are around the edges, and what parts are actually inside the case and which are not. This will come in handy later when you're replacing it. END SECOND CAVEAT

After you have the drawer out and on a table top, you can use a small flat screwdriver to work loose the tabs holding the top of the little box-like battery enclosure you'll see inside the drawer. Remember to keep touching the metal parts to equalize charge between yourself and the components as you work. And watch out that the screwdriver doesn't damage any of the circuitry.


The above is important since putting the new battery in the wrong way could cause an explosion(!)

Replace the battery, and then the top of its enclosure. Make sure it's snapped in all the way (for some reason one side of mine stubbornly refused to return to its original state for a moment or two, so I had to fiddle with it some).

Now you go through the reverse process in all this. You may have some trouble getting the drawer slid back in correctly. Just be gentle, and take your time figuring it out. When it's properly inserted, it'll feel that way-- plus, the two screw holes in the fingertip handle will be lined up with the case holes behind them. If you carefully looked all this over earlier as suggested, you'll be glad of it now.

Once you're positive the drawer is in the correct position inside the case, you may need to give it a slightly stronger final nudge to put it in place, and get the screw holes to line up. This may be related to the need for the CD drive shelf face to fit roughly flush with the front of the case. The shelf face is a part of the drawer, and so shows through the slot in the front of your Mac after all is said and done.

Re-connect and place all the cables took loose before. Replace the screws in the fingertip handle.

YIKES! At this point in my own stint I dropped one of those tough-to-deal-with drawer finger tip handle screws RIGHT BACK INTO THE CASE BELOW.

So I had to disassemble it all again (including pulling out the drawer) to fish it out. Darn it!

The curved outer shell of the case, held in place by a single screw, may also give you a bit of trouble to get fitting correctly again. Luckily the shell is somewhat flexible, so you can man-handle it a little to get it to go where it should. There's several little tabs that must correctly go into the rest of the case for reattachment. Take your time with it. Needing two or more tries to get it right would be absolutely normal, as you might not notice one or two tabs not being where they should be, right away.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

3-6-04: A long overdue update on the iMac; An OS overhaul back to the beginning OS 8.6, then upping to 9, then X

At the moment I begin writing this section, I'm installing Mac OS 9 on the iMac, and intending to go to OS X immediately after that. I discovered in an earlier try a year or two ago that you can't go straight from OS 8 to X, but have to pass through 9 first.

If I recall correctly I did have 9 on the iMac for some time, but out of sheer exasperation formatted the hard drive and put everything back the way it was when new. For the crashes and constant restarting just got to me. After the failed attempt to go straight from the factory 8.6 to X, I put the iMac in storage (it was utterly useless in its current state), and went on with my life for months afterwards. I simply didn't have the time to spend on salvaging the machine, plus I was now using a Windows PC for everything which mattered.

Fast forward to today. There's a substantial changing of the computer guard going on at WebFLUX Central, which could really use this iMac, if I could get it to run.

The major computer changes are coming partly due to me attempting to start up a whole new business for the first time in years.

This caused me to bring both the iMac and Compaq 5151 out of mothballs for the first time in months. I was trying to locate and retrieve an archive of my novel-related files which I'd done my best to burn to CD on the iMac DV in a form accessible to PCs years ago. Turned out somehow I hadn't moved copies of those files to the HP PC. Nor were there copies on the 5151. I located the CD that housed them, but neither of my PCs and their software could open the files. YIKES! As the CDs had been burned on a Mac, I brought out the 8.6 iMac, and opened the files in AppleWorks. After that I had to perform lots of trial and error to get the files saved in a format that I could put on a DOS formatted ZIP disk and open on my HP PC. MS Works and its many, many translators never could open any type of file I gave them. Plus, Appleworks for some reason couldn't save the files in HTML format. Fortunately however, saving them on the Mac first in the existing Appleworks format (the files were an older Appleworks/Clarisworks format originally), then saving them again in plain text format, using the DOS ZIP to transfer to the PC, and opening them with HTML-Kit, did the trick. After that I could throw them into MS Works too, via copy/paste, etc.

YIKES! I came close to losing access to my digital copies of my novel files!

And yes, these files were relevant to the new business startup.

Anyway, the 8.6 iMac was naked as the day it was born OS-wise, when I reawakened it from its long sleep for all this. That is, it no longer had ZIP drivers which would allow me to make DOS disks, so far as I could tell. I tried using an old disk of ZIP tools to fix the problem but the disk seemed corrupted or the software simply too old. So I plugged the LAN into the iMac. Thankfully, 8.6 saw the connection immediately, so no extra config was necessary. But the version of Internet Explorer on the iMac was 4.5, and crashed the whole machine upon loading the second web page in my quest.

I'm extremely rusty in dealing with Mac quirks. But I managed to recall that I needed to locate the true icon for the browser application on the Mac (BEFORE opening the program), click it once to select it, then do a Get Info on it, and change both allowed memory amounts to something several times bigger than the default. Keep in mind the Preferred should be several times bigger than the minimal setting next to it.

This did the trick. This time I managed to get to the Iomega site and download the drivers, and install them. But I still had problems formatting a DOS ZIP disk, as the option didn't appear as I was accustomed to it doing before, upon trying to erase a selected ZIP disk on the desktop. Turned out I had to dig down in the folders relating to the ZIP applications and explore before I finally found the option.

And that's how I finally made a DOS disk to transfer my files from the Mac to my PC.

As documented months before, this iMac has a dead PRAM battery, which means you have to reset the date and time everytime you crank it up. Later Mac operating systems like X also seem more fragile in relation to dead PRAM batteries than earlier systems (compare the G4 log to others).

I also had a brand new PRAM battery still in its blister pack from many years ago, when I thought it wise to buy an extra when both Scotty and I had to replace the batteries in our respective Macs. Now I know that there's practically a different type battery for every different Mac model ever made, and so it's foolish to ever buy an extra-- you might as well just strike a match to that money instead. Since buying that extra PRAM battery I believe I've attempted to use it to fix three different Mac models-- and it wasn't fit for any of them. The third strike out, turned out, was this iMac.

I dug out the pristine shrink wrapped battery to see its specs, looked up the battery info on the web, and viola! Missed again. I'd also intended to inspect the battery inside the iMac itself for comparison, but lord that's an involved mess getting in there. I'd actually forgotten how to open up the iMac case, despite having installed memory in this machine years ago. I couldn't find the iMac's docs here, so went to Apple's site, where it took me 30 minutes to find the proper manual pdf, as they don't differentiate between models in the titles. I got so far as taking off the outer plastic layer held by one screw, then looked ahead in the manual and decided it best not to do this unless I had a new battery ready to install. So I looked up the battery info, found that I didn't have one, and replaced the cover.

Oh well. Try upgrading the OS now, and buying a battery later. After all, if X won't run on this thing there's no need to buy a battery anyway. As it's simply too unstable in 8 or 9 to be worthwhile.

I cleaned the iMac's mouse ball before going any further, as the pointer refusing to cooperate with the mouse was driving me nuts.

The OS X 10.1 install went OK, until completion, at which time a software update mechanism prompted me to make a manual software update, redirecting me to the Apple site for more info. 'More info' confused the hell out of me, as I was redirected to yet another page of gibberish. But the basic message was by upgrading to 10.2 I could avoid this mess. So I pulled out the 10.2 CD and spun her up.

By the way, I made sure NOT to enter a password when X tried to make me do so. This iMac is intended for kids, at the moment. And even if it was for me, I'd prefer NOT having to enter a password every time I started up. Yeah, yeah, I know, office environments and certain others practically MUST have passwords. But WebFLUX Central is not an office complex. Rarely are anyone but family or close friends allowed in the door, and far fewer than that actually get to use the computers under the vast majority of circumstances. We also have a firewall between us and the internet, and the computers are usually shut down when not in use. So here passwords tend to be more of a nuisance than anything else.

My brief stint in 10.1 seemed to indicate the iMac would run at least a couple minutes in X without crashing. I did see evidence of a significant slow down in iMac performance though. So that's another possible Gotcha! here-- if the 333 MHz PPC chip is simply too slow to drive X in a reasonable fashion.

Apparently it takes Apple's installation program(s) around 30 minutes to install X 10.1 atop OS 9, and 2-3 hours to install 10.2 atop 10.1. Don't ask me why folks: I haven't a clue.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

1-1-03: The iMac goes to the kids, and makes the G4 look bad by comparison

There be kids at WebFLUX central. Sometimes lots of them. Due to lots of changes around here it ended up that the G4 PowerMac and a G3 Powerbook were the only machines available for the kids to play on-- and often the Powerbook was inaccessible for various reasons, leaving only the G4 for the kids to fight over (and yes, they often wanted to use my two PCs too, but I simply can't allow those two machines to develop weird problems due to extra folks being on them). I've now added the iMac to the kiddie roster. Basically these days a computer is only as good as its internet performance in general terms, and the iMac is a considerably better internet machine than the Performa 6400 I write about elsewhere, simply due to having a much faster CPU (333 MHz as compared to 200 MHz). So I guess this will be the iMac's fate for the next year or two at least.

The iMac is now set up right next to the G4. Both are on the Ethernet LAN. This proximity has brought forth some surprising realizations.

For one, there's very little functional difference playing web-games on the two machines, like those available at cartoonnetwork.com or the legos bionicle sites. Despite the vast differences in hardware specs. Except for two things: the old OS 9.x iMac crashes only about one half to one third as often as the much newer, much more expensive G4, running Mac OS X(!) And the iMac boots/restarts considerably faster too.

For a couple days I thought the iMac was crashing/freezing up just as often as the G4, but it really wasn't. Remember that weird aftermarket mouse this iMac uses? The USB Logitech MouseMan Wheel? Well, this thing has a 'thumb' button on it that causes the main mouse button to stop working if you accidentally click the thumb-pad (which is way too easy to do). Since I hadn't fooled with it in a while I'd forgotten about this annoyance, and so when the main button stopped working due to a kid accidentally pressing the thumb contraption, I thought the iMac was froze up and restarted it. I did notice though that the iMac seemed much easier to restart under those circumstances than it should have. I finally realized what was happening, and explained to the kids that clicking the thumb button a second time would re-activate the main button, and all would be well. After that is when I noticed the large crash frequency discrepancy between the two macs.

So how did I prep the iMac for its new role? I took all my desktop junk and hid it in a folder on the hard drive to give the kids fewer things to mess with on-screen (and protect my files). I downloaded and installed the latest Internet Explorer for Mac OS 9.x (5.1 I believe). Then I also downloaded and installed the latest Flash and Shockwave software, which both undergird most web games these days. That was it. I have NOT re-installed the OS or reset the PRAM or even rebuilt the desktop. Another thing I did NOT do was bring the USB hub, ZIP drive, and printer along with the iMac to the kiddie desk, as these items were unneeded and would only face risk of damage and add to the unreliability of the machine under the circumstances.

One weird thing is the time and date seem to be working on the iMac again. So is the PRAM battery dead or not? It's unclear. Just prior to being added to the kiddie roster the iMac spent maybe a week totally disconnected from all power and peripherals. So did that clear up some weird PRAM glitch or something? I don't know. Modern Macs are strange beasts indeed.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

11-12-02: A fork in the road coming for the iMac

It's been a long time since the last update. The PRAM battery has gone dead in the iMac, so I have to remember to set the time and date on the thing manually everytime I fire it up or risk screwing up dates on my saved files.

Fortunately this isn't a big hassle because I'm only booting up the iMac maybe once a month now. Why? To retrieve the last few files I find I need during web site editing. I've switched to the Compaq Presario 5151 running Windows98 for site editing now. I'll provide more info on this over time in the Compaq log.

So what's going to become of the iMac? Well, it has to stick around a while longer for me to make sure I've gotten everything I need off it. I also have lots of files in archives on CD that may sometimes require a Mac to check out. I've still got my Q650 that I mainly use for that (HyperCard stacks won't run exactly right in newer Mac OSes like that of the iMac), but the PRAM battery has gone dead in it too, and that entire system is getting pretty ancient and prone to hardware failure itself.

At the moment I'm considering two different ultimate fates for the iMac: One, trade it for the Performa 6400 (if allowed). That way I could hopefully replace both the iMac and the Q650 with a decent PowerPC Mac capable of running OS 7.5.3 and a decent old version of ClarisWorks (the old Mac stuff seems to work much better than the newer). Lately I've found myself especially pressed graphics-wise, since there seems no free or low cost, easy-to-use combo drawing and painting application for Windows to compare with something like an old ClarisWorks 4.0. YIKES!

The other option is to someday put OS X on the iMac and see what happens.

Neither of these options are wonderfully appealing, for lots of reasons. For one thing, I'd have to replace the PRAM battery before either. The continued aging of the Q650 is pressing me on this, as I'd need a working HyperCard platform to run the old Pathfinder if I decided to try porting it to the web. I also need a graphics program. But I'm really time-pressed right now and don't know when I could get to doing either a port or graphics work, even if all the hardware/software was in place. Tsk tsk.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

5-24-02: Turns out the network problem was in the router

CLICK HERE to see more info on how I tracked down and resolved the problem.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

5-20-02: My iMac loses still more capability for no apparent reason

Now it can no longer go online. No longer web surf with my broadband ISP, and no longer log onto AOL over that ISP. I tested the cable, router, etc. Though my ISP was having intermittant problems today, I was able to regularly check the net status with other still online machines to rule that out too. The problem's with the iMac.

Keep in mind I never install new software or hardware on this machine. Never change preferences. Pretty much never change anything on it. I never even try printing. I also do recommended Mac maintenance like resetting the PRAM and rebuilding the desktop pretty regularly.

Of course, I admit I did recently crank up PhotoDeluxe and a couple other graphics apps that had been on the disk for years, trying to find something that might let me make a picture with the computer. That's about the only thing different I've done since the last time I tried to go online with this iMac.

I took the new OS X G4 offline too, just in case, to rule it out as a trouble source. Seemed to have no effect on the iMac problem.

My Apple Profiler says my Ethernet port is operational. But neither Internet Explorer or AOL can seem to see it. I checked my TCP/IP control panel, could see nothing wrong there. Just to be sure I did try a different config there, but no go. I turned off AppleTalk in case that was a problem-- but it had no effect either.

I went into my Extensions Manager to check things out and got the message that the selected set of extensions did not match the contents of the system folder. This was interesting, as I've not personally changed anything in there via the EM (or manually) for ages. The Mac's changing stuff itself, it seems.

The EM asked me if I wanted to revert to the selected set of extensions or make a new set based on the configuration found at the moment. Since the present config sure wasn't working, I told it to revert to what it thought I'd selected months ago.

That didn't help either. I looked at the different sets of extensions. I've got a dozen or more in there. Can't recall diddly about them. I named them all differently when I made them, but I really should have named them by date created/modified. It'd be handy if the Mac OS offered some sort of 'by date' reference itself for these things, but of course the Mac OS hasn't done anything handy in years and years now.

I did my best to pick a couple different EM sets that might fix the problem (looked at what was different from my present set in terms of enabled/disabled), tried those-- also to no effect.

I stuck in the Apple Hardware Test disk that came with our G4, and the read me proudly told me Apple had worked long and hard to insure that the program would not work with any other computer ever made in history except the G4 it came bundled with.

When AOL fails to connect it says 'Connection Failure could not access network hardware or software'.

More on this later.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

4-27-02: I look forward to the day I can retire this iMac

It simply wastes too much of my time with crashes, freeze ups, and the agonizingly long reboots required afterwards. My time is increasingly precious, and I loathe losing even just an hour or two a week to such unworthy problems. I'm really getting to dislike this machine.

By contrast, my HP PC hums like a top. Even running Windows ME, which lots of PC geeks consider unstable itself (guess they have no experience with Macs).

For a long time I figured I'd eventually upgrade this iMac to OS X to solve its problems, but now that looks increasingly unlikely. Because we've now got perhaps the most expensive Mac G4 available at time of purchase running the latest factory-installed OS X, and nothing but the apps Apple itself provides for it (like iDVD etc.), and the thing freezes up about as regularly as this crappy old OS 9 iMac of mine(!)

So just imagine how it'll run when we actually install some third party software/hardware on it! The pain, boss! The pain!

How in the world is Apple staying in business?

OS X is also pretty slow, even on the top-of-the-line G4. So I guess it'd be like molasses on this puny 333 MHz G3 iMac. I've seen complaints on the web that Apple isn't optimizing the X graphics drivers for old iMacs like mine. So maybe even molasses speed would be an optimistic estimate. DOH!

So I guess there'll be no upgrade path for this iMac. Its replacement will either be a new or used Windows PC, or a Linux PC.

Normally we pass older phased out computers here to other family members, etc. But modern Macs run so badly I'm not sure you're doing folks a favor even giving them one for free. The substantial sums of money tied up in the things also make it a harder decision what to do with them. It's sort of like you've got this really expensive lemon luxury car that frequently breaks down on you, but there's no way you can get your money out of it, or even trade it in on a replacement. What do you do?

Another factor is the high maintenance required to keep it running. If I pass it to a family member living 30-90 minutes away one way, I'm guaranteeing myself a regular and annoying trip to fix the thing, or else it'll be relegated permanently to a closet somewhere when it quits two weeks after I drop it off.

Perhaps the best thing I can do with it is set it up like our iMac DV is now-- as primarily just a kid machine, for playing web and CD games, here at WebFLUX Central. It'll still crash and freeze up a lot (the DV does in that role), but I'll be around to fix it, and the kids won't (usually) be nearly as distressed by the interruptions as an adult would be. Maintenance and repair schedules will offer more slack than they do now. And there won't be as much valuable data/files at risk either-- or as much software to re-install after a disaster.

I'll likely replace this thing pretty soon-- the main hold ups will be researching the decision between going Windows or Linux in the replacement, shopping for the replacement, and getting the spare time to do both.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

2-24-02: Rebuild those desktops frequently if you create lots of new files or transfer lots of files to your Mac on a regular basis

Hey! It looks like maybe rebuilding your desktop fairly frequently reduces the frequency of those inexplicable boot up crashes that I was unable to reduce any other way.

This also makes me recall the trick of trashing Finder preferences to fix weird Mac problems in the Good Old Days. Unfortunately, it seems that trashing preferences doesn't fix things as often in newer Mac OS versions as it did previous ones. That's likely one reason it slipped my mind to try it during some of the worst trouble-shooting sessions of the past couple years.

The desktop rebuilding solution to start up crashes may be a particular problem on my iMac compared to others because of my usage pattern. Namely, I collect up maybe 500-2500 files at once on a PC, then transfer them via ZIP disk in a drag and drop to a research folder nested several deep on my iMac hard drive. Lately I've discovered I better not try this with more than 1200 or so files at once, or my iMac goes screwy on me.

I also create lots of new file versions during web site editing, as part of my manual backup process. Xnet.3html, xnet.4html, xnet.5html, etc., etc. It's most covenient to keep all these versions (and all the different files of my site) in the same folder under most instances, which results in that folder bulging with 1000-2000 different files (including various versions of same), much of the time.

So maybe these are the circumstances precipitating my bootup crashes. Frequent desktop rebuilding seems to help though.

Folks, it sure is getting to be a pain to perform all the maintenance tasks and lengthy restarts required in Mac OS. It's true that I can't compare it to equivalent PC experiences yet, but I'm getting closer all the time to that ability, as I move more and more of my workload to my PC and off the Mac. As Apple computers continue to not only remain more expensive than equivalent hardware PCs, but actually widen the gap in price too, I can't imagine what Apple could possibly do to get me to ever buy a new Mac again (and I do have some imagination to speak of). The nearest thing to that I can see is Apple maybe resurrecting HyperCard again. I truly loved that software, and that was why I bought my first Mac, period. I still use HyperCard to solve particular problems today, and maintain an old Mac Quadra 650 almost exclusively to run HyperCard wares.

But Jobs has pretty much run Apple into the ground, with a market share only a fraction that of Apple's glory days and apparently still shrinking every year, and major problems and limitations afflict both OS 9 and OS X, so that even if Apple revealed a perfect new update of HyperCard I'd have big qualms about heavily investing in the platform again. Hmmm. Now, maybe if Apple made the mainstream and regularly improved Linux source the underlying code for OS X too, that'd be enough to bring me back. That might also help greatly increase Mac OS X's native software library, and allow some real desktop competition against Microsoft in the marketplace too, for the first time in many years. Making OS X available on PC hardware, and thereby allowing for reasonably priced Macs would help tremendously too.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

2-17-02: iMac changes and status

I'm nowadays using the iMac to research my files via Sherlock (though the occasional overnight indexing task is a pain), and writing/editing my web site files. When they're ready I transfer them via ZIP disk to my PC for uploading. I rarely connect my iMac to the internet, since it's so unstable online, and simply cannot access many sites at all, as a PC can. Don't get me wrong-- I wish it did work well on the net, because it would also be almost virus-proof compared to a PC, and virii are becoming a big enough PC hassle to require annual paid subs to anti-virus companies for protection there. But the truth is that PCs run rings around Macs on the internet these days.

I do all my web surfing exclusively on my PC, collecting up research info. I then transfer these files via ZIP to the iMac for poring over at lesiure.

I regained my AOL access on my iMac, via a Bring Your Own Access account at AOL, whereby I don't dial in, but simply log into AOL over my broadband connection. I do NOT keep the iMac regularly connected to the net, but rather about twice a year move the PC's Ethernet cable over to the iMac for an hour or so to do some maintenance on my AOL-based web site. I regularly access my AOL email via the web on the PC.

NOTE: I make sure both the Mac and PC are shut down when I transfer the Ethernet cables. I don't know if I could fry the Ethernet connections if powered up during such changeovers, but I definitely don't want to confuse my router. And the instructions accompanying two new Sony VAIO PCs I bought specifically stated that accidentally plugging a modem connector into an Ethernet port could fry the port(!) This can be especially easy to do on certain models of iMac like mine-- both I and Scotty, both pretty tremendously experienced with computers in general, have come close to commiting this error on an iMac. Plus, Roger says he sees Ethernet cards go bad frequently for no clear reason. Why give them an unnecesssary extra reason, like changing Ethernet connections while powered up? And if your iMac's Ethernet port got fried, that's a motherboard component I reckon (unlike the usual case for a PC)-- YIKES! END NOTE.

Note that I could buy an Ethernet hub or take other measures to avoid the physical connection switching between the iMac and PC-- and may actually do this at some point. But I have little desire or need for the iMac to be continuously online, and I so rarely do the switch it's not that big of a hassle so far.

I may drop my AOL account soon, as AOL is raising the price too much for what little service they provide me. I've already created a new free email account at Yahoo.com to replace my AOL email's functionality on the road.

I seem to have discovered a new glitch in Mac OS 9.x regarding the numbers of files it can deal with at one time, especially when those files are being copied from a folder on a PC formatted disk. If you get up into the 1500-2500 file range the iMac will lock up, guaranteed, it seems. I'm working from memory here, since after the first several times I started trying to consciously avoid transferring so many files at once, although reducing the file number is a pretty big inconvenience for me. But I can't take the solid day or two of trying to fix the desktop corruption that follows such freeze ups.

Back in the Good Old Days, Macs got through large file number transfers with ease. Sigh.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

12-30-2000: (Somewhat) happy days are here again...

My personal iMac is running pretty damn good these days. I was forced to do what I could to revamp it after I was forced to move to it from my old Quadra 650. You see, the Q650's main hard drive seemed about to go out on me, so I hastily switched machines. This left me no choice but to get the iMac to run better than before.

It's now run literally for several months with no serious problems. My productivity is up (six times faster for some things), and my convenience level is up too, with Sherlock content searches of my research database. It's annoying to have to let Sherlock spend all night updating its index, and also a bit too difficult and inconvenient to set Sherlock to index only certain things on the drive-- but I can live with it I guess.

For the first time in years I'm allowing a computer's energy saver software to turn off the display after 10 minutes of inactivity or so. Previously this seemed to cause so many problems I'd never allow it.

Note that we've run a new phone line into my office which allows me to max out the iMac modem at around 50k now too-- so no longer is it restricted to 33.6k. (luckily I still had my notes from before for inputting the original high speed prefix). It looks like we're going to try to go broadband soon-- I'm working on installing an Ethernet LAN to share a cable modem.

Yeah, I still freeze up occasionally on the web. I lost my access to AOL on the iMac because it won't allow me to maintain two different net accounts (I mainly use Earthlink now)-- so I must use a PC for AOL. The iMac still freezes up randomly upon boot up maybe every 18th-30th time I turn it on (no, I have no idea why).

My main software specs are Mac OS 9.0.4, MSIE 5.0, MS Outlook Express 5.02, PageSpinner 2.1, and Earthlink ISP. I occasionally use AppleWorks 5, Simpletext, and Sherlock too. Java is enabled in MSIE prefs. This too is relatively new for me. In previous Mac OS and MSIE versions leaving Java enabled was just asking for frequent crashes and molasses-slow surfing. I know for a fact it still crashes me occasionally, but it's fairly rare, and also isn't nearly the speed hit it once was.

Note that I've also adjusted the memory settings on my apps as necessary, and enjoy 160 MB of physical RAM to play in. I have my virtual memory set to 512 MB. This leaves me roughly 2 GB free on my 6 GB hard disk (there's quite a bit of old software and files still left from the previous owner, that I'll wait as long as possible to erase, just in case they need it; I also have a considerable amount of text files on disk from my research efforts and web authoring duties, much of which was transferred from my Q650).

In the hardware department I regularly use an Iomega USB ZIP drive, Logitech mouse, and entrega USB hub4U. I almost never use anything else, in hardware or software. I also never ever play games, rarely view video clips or play streaming radio, and often go for years without installing new apps or peripherals onto my personal machines.

I use the Extensions Manager to disable absolutely every extra extension I can. For example, I have an Epson printer installed, but normally keep all its related extensions disabled, as I'll only rarely be using it.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

10-31-2000: One of my site visitors asks if I'm a happier Mac user these days than before, and how I feel towards Apple and Steve Jobs today

Michael C. emailed me wondering how I feel nowadays about Apple and Steve Jobs, in light of my past gripes about both. He points out the popular iMac design, now available for $800, and the dual processor G4s, as well as the integration of USB and Firewire into Macs today, which many view as an improvement over SCSI and ADB. He includes the addition of standard Ethernet ports and optional wireless Airport networking as further boosts to Apple's appeal. He recommends Mac OS 9.0.4, and ends up touting the coming OS X. He adds that he has one of the first and oldest iMac models, and has had no problems worth mentioning on it-- especially those problems I've encountered (he does mentioning moving to OS 9 to escape 'quirks' of 8 and 8.6 though). Bottomline, he wants to know if I remain "an unhappy mac user".

Below follows my (slightly edited) reply to him:

Hi Michael!

I've finally been having somewhat better luck the last couple weeks with my own iMac, though it required several months worth of research, tweaking, and experimentation to accomplish it.

Some other happy notes include me finally finding a few subtle new features in the newer OSs to like, plus my iMac being 5-6 times faster on many routine tasks than my OS 7.5.5 Q650.

I also finally got the chance (and time) to try out Sherlock for local disk content searches (I don't like it for net searches so far), and got yet another speed up in lots of my research jobs. Unfortunately, it can't do incremental updates of the database and so requires a full 6-7 hours to index my research folder every time. In one bizarre case it wanted 30 hours to do an update-- and this was after it had already been working on it for 2-3 hours! But so far that seems to have been an anomaly.

I've not yet had the chance to update my logs about all this-- plus, two weeks of happiness is a pretty short thing compared to years of misery-- so I hesitate to log such stuff until it manages to last a bit longer than that.

Upgrading to 9.0.4 from 8.6 and switching to Earthlink from AOL seemed to help my iMac most, though it still crashes online occasionally and hangs on boot up for no discernable reason about once every 24-36 boots or restarts (previously it was every 6!). Plus, I didn't like losing ALL access to AOL in the switchover-- I intended to phase out that account over time, but I can't get the iMac/Remote Access/Extensions Manager to allow me to switch between the ISPs at all (and there is NO Airport on this Mac to complicate such matters). So I continue to use AOL on a PC we have here instead.

Our iMac DV is heavily fraught with problems though. Admittedly, the DV's problems are strongly related to its owner being a Mac enthusiast with money to burn, and trying all sorts of installs on the DV-- plus kids between 2 and 12 use it frequently for their own programs. But heck, isn't that likely the profile of half of all the Macs in use today? It should run better than it does, in my opinion. I have to spend way too much time fixing stuff on it. I believe we've had to restore its hard disk and re-install a huge mass of after-market stuff twice already. Plus, the DV's display has at least once showed a worrisome wiggle problem that I'm afraid may be due to overheating (it has no fan).

And talk about SLOWWWW...OS 9 is super slow to boot. 8.6 was much faster. Add Firewire and DVD to OS 9 (like on an iMac DV), and you get one of the slowest booting machines I've seen in years.

And don't get me started on USB. That's been maybe the biggest source of problems we've had here with our newer Macs. Practically every USB peripheral you get demands that no hub be used-- which is CRAZY! You gotta have a hub! And the glitches....I never in my life had so many problems with SCSI peripherals, AppleTalk networks, etc., as I do with Mac USB today. Sure, you can hot plug/disconnect without frying your stuff-- but that's the only advantage. And your Mac usually crashes/freezes when you do it.

And yeah, in theory you can add lots more USB peripherals than SCSI-- but in practice I bet few people ever manage to get it to work (more than 7 or so USB peripherals permanently attached and functional (not counting hubs)). And remember that SCSI is a fast bus like FireWire, rather than slow-- much faster than USB.

But there is one good thing I can say about the iMac DV: its butt panel for adding RAM and Airport is pretty neat. I had to take my own older iMac completely apart to put RAM in it. Not so the DV.

But Airport (on the DV and a Powerbook) is enough to drive folks absolutely nuts. As of this moment it's not working, and we don't know why. One of the reasons we switched from AOL to Earthlink was because the Airport instructions said it couldn't work with the biggest ISP on the planet (AOL), but it would with others. And since Earthlink is Apple's annointed ISP, we went with them. But even the Earthlink install was a no-go due to an installer bug that demanded our phone number but wouldn't allow us to enter it in any humanly possible format (!). Being an Old Computer Geezer I finally got around that to get us online, but I didn't enjoy it (the glitch happened on BOTH the DV and Powerbook).

Plus, even when Airport does work, it requires so many steps switching between net configurations to use it (between an ISP and a plain computer to computer link for file copying) that the user has to have a NASA-style checklist, being unable to remember the process unless they do it every day. And the process often forces you to add in new passwords at spots you don't want and don't need, too. Maintaining zillions of passwords is a supreme hassle just to be able to get around having no floppy disk to transfer files....another fine Steve Jobs innovation.

Michael, I've been a network administrator for a decent sized company before, designing, building, and running internal computer networks incorporating over a hundred individual computer nodes inhouse, and remote links to others, plus wrote the manual/created the kit and gave tech support for 13 counties of Mac users in Tennessee back in the geeky days of internet connection, and all that never caused me as much trouble as running Airport on just two machines.

Could it be I'm just getting older and dumber and less patient? Maybe. But who isn't getting older?

****************** One of my biggest complaints about Steve Michael is that he doesn't use Macs for his own personal machines. At least this was true in the last mention I ever saw of what he used-- a PC laptop. If Steve used Macs as much as we do, I believe many of the present problems would get fixed. ******************

Don't get me wrong-- I hate Windows PCs. But Macs have caused me so many problems the last several years that I'm almost as close to a platform agnostic as you can get and not be 100%. I wish something decent would come along to replace BOTH the Mac and PC.

I hate living in the Stone Age of computing. I've personally been in it since around 1975, and it seemed much more fun and wonderful 15-20 years ago than it does now.

But at least now we have the net (when we can get our computers to log on that is). Maybe the net will save us.

Michael, one thing that does help a Mac (or a PC) run better these days is to be dedicated to a single user rather than many, and if that user is conservative-- i.e., doesn't install new stuff willy-nilly on the system, but is discerning in what they add. It also helps if they do heavy research into an app or peripheral BEFORE buying it, so that they can avoid obvious lemons which might wreak havoc with their system. The iMac DV here is in almost the worst case scenario in that regard. The owner thinks they can just buy whatever looks good in packaging/promotion and try it out, like it was a new music CD to listen to or something. Computers don't work that way-- literally.

Sorry if my response focused primarily on personal experiences rather than the 'bigger picture' of Apple hardware/software strategies Michael-- but I've had so many Mac problems the past years that I had to withdraw from even considering the bigger picture any more-- I've been up to my ass in alligators!

However, I do think Apple made a terrible mistake letting HyperCard wither on the vine. HC was why I bought my first Mac, period. And now it's not even on life support apparently, so far as significant further development is concerned. I put tons of effort into learning HC only for Apple to relegate it to the basement. Super easy programming I believe will be a killer app at some point, and Apple clearly had the lead there in HC, but is just throwing it away.

I repeat, HC was the reason I got into Macs in the first place.

I have read some about OS X-- and it worries me. I don't like Steve changing the interface so radically. And I have no use whatsoever for the display gymnastics Steve thinks is cool. Will the gymnastics and PDF-in-everything make it too slow on G3 macs? I also read about a 128 MB RAM requirement, minimum? That sounds nothing like the wonderful NextStep OS Ten is supposed to be based on. What happened?

I don't see any quick switch to OS X for me. Heck, the only reason I upgraded to 9.0.4 from 8.6 was because I couldn't take the crashes and 20 minute restarts anymore. I was ready to nuke the thing.

And the reason I finally switched from my 7.5.5 Q650 to the 8.6 iMac for my main work platform was it appeared my biggest hard disk on the Quadra was flaking out on me. It sure wasn't because I thought the iMac was more attractive.

Michael, my cousin Edwin has 9.0.4 on an 8600 plus a cable modem, and virtually never installs anything but high end $500 apps like Adobe stuff (the highest quality, least buggy apps available for Macs). Plus, Edwin usually does his homework before buying new Mac stuff-- reading the reviews, etc, etc. He also keeps all his software and device drivers meticulously updated (which almost any geek will tell you is very important to optimizing your system).

Edwin's 8600 platform consists of older, well known hardware for which Apple software engineers should have learned everything they need to know years back in order to make it hum-- unlike the case with the everchanging iMac platform.

He's the sole user of his Mac too (he has a separate Mac for his wife and kids). He also backs up his data files religiously, and keeps careful track of his original CDs, manuals, and registration numbers in case of trouble.

He's almost the perfect Mac user, in terms of keeping his Mac in optimum condition.

He also swears all the time that his Mac never gives him any problems like we have here. Edwin's a bonafide Mac enthusiast, and will instantly leap to the Mac's defense if anyone says an unkind word about it.

Unfortunately for him, his mom is also a Mac user. And I turned her over to him for tech support years back, since he seemed to have all the answers.

Edwin's boast of supreme stability and problem-free operation gets big holes in it everytime his mom has problems. Because then he has to admit he's had similar problems, and then tell how he fixed them (or didn't). In case after case, it turns out he's had problems just like us, despite all his 'just right' circumstances. It's just that he won't admit them until he's backed into a corner.

Plus, at least once he had such a severe problem that he had to ask me for help-- despite his own considerable Mac experience and capabilities, and being himself a very accomplished electrical technician to boot. It's documented in my logs.

Well Michael, all the above is the best snapshot I can give you of my own present Mac situation and perspective. It's not pretty, but it's true.

I can only envy you your own hassle-free experience. And wish for you that it continues. If I had a Mac running that well I'd try to make sure to change absolutely nothing about its configuration, for as long as possible. I've personally went through and read every scrap of Apple technical papers and read mes, and through the MacFixit web site and forums, and others, collecting every tidbit I could find to make our Macs run better, and applied them, to get to this point. And they still aren't running nearly as well as yours. I also get email from other Mac users having problems like mine (or worse), who I try to help as I can.

Keep in mind that folks with the worst problems simply disappear online, because they can no longer log on.

-- JR

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

6-1-2000: The iMac Revison D covered in this iMac User's Log has joined my personal desktop computer club

Its previous owner upgraded to a Firewire-equipped iMac DV, and made me a deal I couldn't refuse on the older model (it involved a lot of elbow grease configuring and troubleshooting three different computers: the new iMac DV (transferring previous hardware/software to it, plus other matters), the PC laptop (restoring its hard drive to its original state and putting together all its original hardware/software bundle to be transferred to new owners), and the venerable Performa 6400 (installing Mac OS 9 on its second hard drive, plus more).

(Of course, there's lots more work also involved in configuring the Mac OS 8.6 iMac D so that it'll run more often than not-- but I'll get to that later)

Naturally, the peripherals of scanner, printer, modular tower Belkin BusStation USB hub, and old style-Mac serial and ADB ports in another Belkin USB serial adapter didn't accompany the used iMac to my desk, going instead to the new iMac DV-- but I did get the USB Iomega Zip and an Imation SuperDisk drive, Logitech Mouseman Wheel mouse, plus a basic entrega hub4U USB hub. And recall the iMac D had a 128 MB RAM upgrade too(!) So no complaints here!

Before getting this iMac windfall I was on the verge of buying something altogether different perhaps. Like a new or refurbed Windows98 PC to which I could attach my external Hewlett-Packard CD-RW drive. There was a USB Zip drive here at WebFLUX HQ I could borrow to convert all my old Zip backups/archives to a few CDs, with some effort (theoretically anyway). I would also have my choice of maybe half a dozen different free 56k internet access acounts on such a machine. Or maybe I'd have bought a cheap used PowerMac 8100, plus extra software, memory, and drives for it bought with the money saved on the system comparable to a newer machine.

My possible purchase was complicated by the increase in both PC and Mac prices over the past year, from what they were before. Earthquakes in Taiwan cut chip supplies for months, even as the net has been making consumer demand go through the roof for PCs as surfing stations, and booming cell phone sales also devoured many of the same chip supplies. The psychological rejuvenation of Apple by Steve Jobs has also pushed up used Mac prices considerably over the past two years, pretty much independent of the chip shortages.

Add to all the above the newer, more expensive technologies and higher capacities anyone should have in computers they intend to use for the next several years (CD-RW, lots of RAM, lots of hard drive space, USB, Ethernet, etc.), and you get some pretty expensive choices. And based on news I've seen over past months, this ramp up in PC prices may not lose much strength for another year or two.

Then there's the oodles of things looming just over the horizon in terms of practicality, versatility, and cost-effectiveness. DVD-RAM drives. Firewire. Firewire-comparable USB. Mega quantities of cheap RAM and hard disk space. Standardization on optical mice in bundling (imagine never having to clean a mouse again). Portable computers that really are portable. Giveaway PCs and set top boxes bundled with free net access. Windows2000. Mac OS X (if it turns out better than I expect). The list goes on.

After much consideration and research I'd reached the conclusion that there was little good reason to make a big investment in what new or nearly new hardware is available in mid-2000, either Mac or PC-- especially considering the temporary spike upwards in prices. So I was likely going to simply configure a decent PowerPC Mac from an older model, or get a reasonably equipped low cost new or refurbed PC, trying to stay well below $1000 for the whole shebang.

I also considered simply sticking with my old Quadra, plus buying a basic new or refurb Windows98 PC, and configuring my generic Pentium PC into a Linux machine. But there were problems with that plan. My workhorse Quadra's badly hurting for storage space and the cost to upgrade its SCSI drives looks ridiculous compared to PC wares or newer IDE-capable Macs. A PowerPC Mac also needs at least 32 MB RAM-- probably 64 MB or more-- and RAM for old Macs is outrageously expensive. Configuring Linux on the GenPC would apparently involve roughly the same commitment as the first year or so marriage (but without the fun parts), based on the scary stuff I found in my research regarding the matter. Free time is my most precious asset, and I cannot afford to give it all up for a year or more just in order to end up with a computer system that might do what I need. Windows98 is also still a pain in the file name and management department, compared to a Mac. I'm uncertain as to how much time I'd have to invest or lose just dealing with/learning how to work the Windows file system. Heck, I can hardly stand the short 31 character (or whatever) limit on filenames in the Mac OS right now-- how could I abide the five or eight character limit in Windows? (Yeah, I thought I read somewhere a year ago that Windows98 now allowed longer file names, but my recent experience with W98 PCs belies this. Maybe there's a setting you have to change or something-- I don't know).

So anyway, I've ended up with a deal on an iMac that no PC available to me could match. Yeah, I realize this is practically a miracle.

I've not yet had time to do a lot with it. But we discovered with the new iMac DV that it actually is possible to run near to 56k on the net for an hour or more at a time without disconnects, at WebFLUX Central. But to do it we had to install a new heavy duty phone line straight from the building's basement connection to the phone company to the iMac modem port. Since then we've installed a second direct line to my office too. And as of today the old iMac has stayed connected as long as three hours at a time at somewhere between 49k and 50k. It seems that anything around a hour or more means a pretty decent connection. With noisier lines our connection would typically last only 5 minutes, but sometimes as long as 20-30 minutes before spontaneously dis-connecting.

I'm again using a 15 MB RAM disk for the 14 MB browser cache to speed things up, but AOL always changes the preference to the hard disk when it's opened, so I have to manually reconfigure the cache settings in the browser everytime I go online (using AOL 3.0 with standalone MSIE 3.0 on a 7.5.3 Mac didn't require this manual resetting everytime you went online, to use the RAM disk with the browser, so far as I recall).

I downloaded and installed MSIE5 on the machine, and finally, after maybe a year, I have a Mac that can upload files to my web site again. Mac MSIE4.5 had bad problems in this area.

I've disabled every extension I dare on the iMac to try to increase its stability. So far I've only used it on the web, and even that only maybe a total of five or six hours so far (I've been incredibly busy the past month or two). But it seems to be doing pretty good so far. I also moved lots of fonts from the fonts folder inside the System folder to elsewhere, because the typing glitch reported previously had reappeared on this iMac in recent weeks-- likely from too many fonts added in new software installs. Unfortunately, after removing the fonts I got the jaggies in my text onscreen, and had to do much trial and error regarding fonts used in the MSIE5 browser too. I tried switching off then on again the Adobe Type Manager, to no avail. I had also NOT allowed the MSIE5 installer to install the new fonts it wanted at install time either, since this Mac already had a surplus fonts problem. As of this writing I have not yet solved the jaggies problem to my satisfaction, but the iMac is still usable-- and at least the typing glitch is gone again.

Hopefully I can strip the extensions and installed-applications-on-disk down to the bone, optimize memory and disk space, apply bug fixes as available, and just plain avoid certain actions to get things like the bundled AppleWorks 5 to work on the iMac. I know from experience that may be a daunting task. But I'm hopeful.

Even if I can't get the iMac to run anything else like AppleWorks or other non-web stuff acceptably, it'll still be worthwhile as a somewhat modern web client for my limited needs. I don't need Flash or Java or stuff like that, as my research mostly involves web text and very basic graphics.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

5-11-2000: I'm contemplating a new computer purchase...

The text below is a slightly edited excerpt from an email I sent to my cousin Edwin around this time:

...I may be buying a new computer soon-- when I get the time to do the research/comparison/shopping....

It's a tough decision what to do. I considered setting up a Linux PC but the config is still far too time-consuming for me, and the interface is also still in the DOS-age for the most part. But it may be the future-- plus its hardware requirements are quite modest for great performance.

(NOTE: Some Apple programmers abandoned Jobs to create an interface for Linux. Their company is called something like Eazy I think. Unfortunately, it could be years before their stuff is ready for prime time.)

The main two reasons I paid $thousands for a Mac in 1990 don't exist today-- far superior ease-of-use and a state-of-the-art HyperCard at least supported on all Macs. In 1990 MS only had Win3.1-- something like GEM windows from an Atari 520 ST. And HyperCard Players (or the full development environment!) came bundled free on all Macs, and HC was acclaimed everywhere for its cutting edge features. Yeah, the Mac cost $hundreds more than a PC then, but it was worth it. There was no easier platform to use OR program on, and many of the latest and greatest software apps came out first or ONLY on the Mac. Maybe once every several months my Mac would crash on me. It booted at least as fast as today's iMac-- maybe faster.

Now candy coated tints are considered more important at Apple than ease of use or programming or reliability or third party software development.

Pretty much of all I've seen and experienced of 8.0, 8.1, 8.6, and 9.0 has pained and annoyed me. The Mac interface slips further and further away from its Golden Age with every release. Mac OS X promises to be the final straw. Apple has let HyperCard wither away to a laughing stock-- while industry experts have pointed out HC was originally essentially a prototype world wide web that Apple let slip through its fingers.

Jobs has angrily denied that Apple has done this, as HC fans pressured the company. And yet it's official knowledge that Jobs killed the scheduled major HC upgrade and reassigned all the HC project programmers elsewhere-- even as Apple continues to milk the poor delapidated program in sales with no major updates in years and (at least for a time) discontinued the bundled HC Player support that used to exist on all Macs.

There's lots more regarding the downsides to Macs these days, but I'll stop there.

Of course, PCs are pretty awful too. So far as I can tell, they are roughly as bad as Macs now, except that they and many peripherals may be $hundreds cheaper than Mac equivalents, and there's a much greater array of options to choose from.

But the biggest significant difference may be the internet edge PCs possess over Macs as web clients. More web services cater to PCs than Macs-- many exclusively. Stuff that matters, like free net access for instance. Apple also can't or won't keep Macs updated with necessary web software like Java and other things, which means Macs are essentially cut off from many web sites now. Heck, WebTV's in a similar boat, but there's been times even WebTV would let me access a site that I couldn't on an iMac.

(Jobs seems to be letting QuickTime wither now too just like he did HC. QT seems to be losing marketshare at a rapid clip to MS and RealMedia)

Of course, since the Mac marketshare is so small, much fewer viruses appear for it than for Windows. But the same could be said for Be or Linux too. And PCs can be configured to be immune to the stuff as well, by savvy users. But someone like me might not even use the apps or services than make a PC vulnerable anyway (like MS Outlook). So the point may be moot in my case.

I'm really quite unhappy with all the available choices. It's very much like choosing a presidential candidate to select from among these computing choices (the lesser of various evils). You can make lists of cons about all the platforms that go on forever-- while the lists of pros for all would be quite short.

It's a truly sad conundrum.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

4-17-2000: The iMac log gets excerpted on Epinions.com

Sometime before this date I posted excerpts from this log into a review of the iMac on epinions. Epinions.com - A Mac user (since 1988) meets the iMac ["http://www.epinions.com/cmd-review-3F25-3E5ED2E-3814D6B1-bd1"] is the link.

I also posted Epinions.com - A Pain in the USB Port ["http://www.epinions.com/cmd-review-131A-8958B01-37EBBE6C-prod1"] from this log too-- a review of the UMAX scanner described elsewhere in this log.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

3-23-2000: The steadily deteriorating nature of the Mac

It's far easier and more satisfying for a person to start out driving a 35 horsepower VW bug and then move up to a 300 horsepower Ford Mustang, than the other way around.

Unfortunately, the reverse is what happened to me and many other long time Mac users, the past few years, in terms of computer power.

You see, some of us Old Geezers were on Macs during the Golden Age-- when PCs were still Etch-a-Sketches compared to the Mac-- and when all the best apps usually came out first on the Mac, and it was so damn easy to use it almost brought tears to your eyes.

And stability? It was so rare for the Mac to crash on you that you'd forget what a crash was like before you ever encountered the next one.

To be fair to Steve Jobs, the Mac industry, community, and platform had indeed begun to deteriorate substantially before he returned. And he did manage to build Apple's stock price back up by cancelling virtually all its R&D into future products and downsizing the company. Heck, for some reason some folks even thought putting motherboards in transparent cases was something special too ((?) I still don't get it myself).

Unfortunately, I used Macs in the Mac's Golden Age, and so notice everything about the current bad times on the platform. Jobs is really screwing up the OS. Things are getting harder to use and more unstable all the time, as of 8.6.

One example: ClarisWorks used to be a real workhorse of a program. The most stable program on the Mac. Extreme difficulty-of-use only in relatively deep and little used functions, like doing weird text wraps around graphics, or fooling around with the telecommunications application. Now, it's been renamed AppleWorks and crashes pretty much immediately after you open the program and click on a button. Like to save a file or whatever. DUH! Recently I wanted to create one very simple cartoony graphic for my web site, that would have taken only a few minutes on a 7.5.3 Performa 6400 with ClarisWorks a couple years back. But I made the mistake of starting out on an 8.6 iMac with AppleWorks. It took me all friggin' day to make that graphic, because the *&%$! Mac kept crashing on me and having to scan its disk to recover, over and over again. Yeah, this particular iMac has had a multitude of third party software installed on it since purchase, and yes, installing anything on a Mac or a PC these days seems to push the whole machine closer to death --- but technically owners are supposed to be able to install extra apps on their machines-- or why buy it in the first place? And, sadly, Windows98 seems to be much more robust in this area than Mac OS 8.6.

And worse yet, there's nowhere else to go. Mac OS 9? Are you kidding? I've been so horrified by 8.0 through 8.6, each version much worse than the last, that I shudder to even think of OS 9. And 10? OS X? Yeah, right. A total break with the real Mac OS. Totally new learning curve. Just what all us time-short folks need these days. The 90's NextStep OS, prettified but downgraded from its previous cross-platform and high end development environment status. Just another UNIX with a GUI. And practically zero native applications. Oh wow. Linux seems pretty much as attractive as OS X to me. The fact Linux requires less costly hardware than X puts it ahead. The fact it's Open Source puts it ahead. The fact it'll probably be more stable than OS X helps too. So what about Windows? The nightmare continues. Yes, it may run better than Mac OS these days, but only somewhat. It may be nearly as easy to use as a Mac, but not quite.

No, my machine of choice these days for my primary work (authoring my web site) is a 7.5.3 Mac Quadra 650. But guess what? The ever increasing bloat of software and the constant upgrade pressures from the web pretty much requires newer hardware/software than this to surf or update web sites (One example: install AOL 4.0 in Mac OS 8.1 on a Quadra like this and you've got yourself a time machine-- time stops. Or at least your suddenly molasses-slow web surfing will make it seem so). So I use the 8.6 iMac for 50% of my surfing, and a WebTV for the other half.

I have to use a Windows98 PC to upload my web site files though, since neither the WebTV or iMac are capable of doing it.

If someone had told me in 1990 that this is how I'd be living in 2000 I'd have told them they were crazy, and that Macs were going to rule the world. Now I just pray that somebody will create a decent net client that we can use to replace BOTH the Mac and PCs with, pronto. Maybe it'll be a game console. Or a Linux PC. Hopefully it'll be soon.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

2-3-2000: How I solved the iMac's web crashes regarding Yahoo visits and the browser's 'Back' button

Turns out it was a Java problem. I turned off Java in the browser's preferences and the problem cleared right up. Now the iMac has returned to its normal online crash rate of only perhaps one crash per every day or two on average (of course, offline crashes involving other applications or CDs are a different matter entirely, and boast their own unique crash rate).

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

11-14-99: The iMac suddenly develops a pretty severe typing glitch, as well as other problems

I believe the typing glitch was present before the MouseMan install below-- but I'm going by memory here, and cannot get any other user of the machine to verify this. Why? Although I personally don't use the iMac very heavily, I am probably the one user who actually does much typing on the device. Other users include kids who play Nanosaur or other games, or adults who surf the web and perhaps on occasion chat a little, or do some scanning and image editing. I'm probably the heaviest typist on the machine, occasionally writing lengthy emails.

It was within such email typing (via America Online 4.x) that I first encountered the glitch. It seems to get worse the longer the iMac is used, and especially if there's any idling time. Little boxes and/or several blank spaces will replace one or two of the characters typed in, during realtime, sometimes several times in the same sentence. This happens across-the-board in any and all programs currently open apparently, as I tried several.

I mucked around with the iMac's extensions inside the System folder, but could find only a couple of suspect items to remove there. That seemed to help some for a week or so, but then the problem returned strong as ever.

I've checked the MacFixIt site but found no references to this problem. So it may not be widespread. One obstacle may be knowing what key words to search for-- I used "typing glitch" and a few others, but if it's referred to by some other phrase there's no way I could find it.

UPDATE on typing glitch: Due to yet more problems arising on the iMac, the owner asked me to get rid of some of its fonts. A Mac can develop pretty bad problems if it gets more than 128 or so fonts installed on it-- which can happen with a single program install, or perhaps a Mac can even arrive from Apple itself in this sorry shape (depending on the pre-installed applications bundle).

Anyway, one of the best maintenance things you can do with a Mac is remove excess fonts every once in a while. There might be an alternative of paying out an extra $20-$200 for some sort of after-market font manager, to try to get the functionality you'd expect the OS itself to offer built-in, but I can't recommend it. Why? In my experience some of the font managers seem to be clones of Apple's own Extensions Manager (but for fonts), complete with similar problems and hassles required to get the desired features out of the thing-- if they work at all. Often as not you'll probably end up having to manually clean out your fonts folder regardless of whether you have a font manager installed or not-- so why shell out the bucks?

So I went into the Fonts folder inside the System folder on the iMac and tried to select fonts that seemed the least essential and least likely used by the iMac owner. I moved these fonts to a new folder on the desktop rather than throwing them away-- just in case I end up having to put a few back later (some programs may demand their own custom font be available or else they'll crash or not run at all). Rarely is there good information available about how essential (or not) a particular font might be. A few programs make important fonts clear with their own name on the font suite itself. But typically you're operating blind in this area. If you know what your favorite fonts are to use in publishing, avoid moving them. It also is best not to move any of the basic Mac OS fonts, like Geneva, Times, Courier, etc. (Chicago used to be the Finder menu font I believe, but that may be changed in newer OS versions). The OS will either not run correctly with these fonts missing, or it will automatically replace them-- so at best you're wasting time moving them, and at worst you're hurting the stability of your Mac.

After doing this chore, it seemed the iMac's typing glitch too cleared up! At least so far. I've done less typing than usual on the iMac lately, so I may not have been on it long enough for the glitch to appear. But I'm hopeful.

Another recent iMac problem is Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.x freezing up on the web. It happens when you click on a link or the back button sometimes. It can also occur for other reasons, although those are harder to pinpoint.

These freeze ups may have increased a lot just since the USB Logitech MouseMan Wheel mouse was installed. However, as the iMac owner also installs and uses lots of other things on the iMac regularly, there's no way to narrow the suspects down to just the mouse itself.

But I do know the iMac in months past ran much better on the web than this. Now, it's fast becoming unusable on the web.

Major troubleshooting and maintenance lie ahead for the iMac. I dread it. It looks like the iMac is going to be just as difficult to keep running as our 7.5.3 Performa 6400 ever was for us. At least the 6400 isn't as much of a headache for me anymore however, since it now is primarily used to run just a handful of games for kids, no longer goes online, and practically never even uses its peripherals of ZIP drive, scanner, printer, etc. Under these conditions about the only time I have to repair it is when a new game install goes wrong-- but we rarely do new installs these days. So the 6400 has been pretty stable for months now.

UPDATE on browser crashing: Much of the browser problem seems to hinge on visits to Yahoo's news pages. It may be Yahoo is breaking Mac browsers by some new Javascript trick or something they've embedded in their code. I've managed to greatly reduce the iMac's freeze ups by avoiding Yahoo on the machine. Now I try to always use good old reliable WebTV to access Yahoo instead. WebTV doesn't crash nearly as easily as the iMac.

Another method for minimizing crashes seems to be avoiding use of the 'Back' button in the top bar of the browser window. If you instead use the pop up menu that you get inside the browser window itself by holding the mouse still on one spot and holding the button down to make the menu appear, the browser is less likely to crash.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

11-10-99: As a long time Mac user (since 1988) it pains and angers me to see the OS getting harder to use rather than easier

The Mac OS is getting steadily worse from a usability standpoint. I'm constantly annoyed by the changes made in OS 8.x through 8.6. I miss having a scroll arrow at the top of the vertical window scroll bar. And the new total screwup arrow at the top of the scroll bars in Finder windows--- ARRGGHH!!! Every time I click it it's a mistake.

And I've not even fooled with what many say are the worst interface crimes in the new OS versions-- QuickTime, etc. I also have avoided using Sherlock since my first tests of it were so mediocre in results. How can anyone see Sherlock as a real improvement in the OS?

The Extensions Manager appears to have been rendered completely impotent now-- you have to manually manipulate extensions again now like way back in 7.1 or whatever, since the Manager has quit working. I hate the spring-loaded folders too-- you can no longer hover with a file atop a folder to make a decision like in the old days. When you try that now suddenly folders are opening all over the place of their own accord and confusing the heck out of you.

Yeah, somewhere among the OS prefs there may be a way to turn such things off-- but I truthfully haven't had the time to search for them. There's this thing called a LIFE that some of us have, that prevent us from having the spare time to endlessly tweak things in our computers (which we shouldn't have to tweak in the first place)...

The Mac's perpetual problem of font incontinence continues on unabated: install a few programs and your total system fonts goes over a critical number (128 or so?), and you start having all sorts of font-related problems. I didn't notice this problem until around OS 7.5 I believe (extra fonts were much scarcer in those days); but ever since then it's proved a constant pain in the butt. Just today I had to throw out a bunch of excess fonts from an 8.6 iMac, because they were causing all text to appear in italic style on the machine (and possibly causing other, worse problems, as well).

I don't think the Mac OS even informs you of this potential problem. Instead, you're forced to troubleshoot or guess about it on your own. But Windows98 on our Compaq certainly informs the user about such things. Indeed, W98 has been trying to get us to remove some fonts now for quite a while, saying that it now has more than 500 and this might cause problems for it (or something like that). However, we haven't gotten around to reducing the Compaq's fonts yet, since the excess there doesn't seem nearly as problem-prone as 128+ fonts on a Mac does.

All the above caveats might be acceptable if the OS and apps had gained any stability whatsoever during the last half dozen 'upgrades'-- but they haven't so far as I can tell.

Add to all this the fact Jobs insists on continuing to bundle the worst mouse in history with all new Macs, and you get a sorry situation indeed.

I continue to be amazed that Apple exists at all anymore, with all the abuse it's heaping on its users and customers (i.e., the stealth downgrade of G3 Macs regarding upgradeable CPUs, and the recent dropping of a 30 day return policy from the Apple Store if customers weren't satisfied, etc., etc.), and the steady decline in usability and software applications and hardware options available for its products. Atop all this, a $400 minimum premium for a very basic PC feature set in the lowest cost iMac. My aunt recently bought a new Hewlett Packard PC complete with nice 14 inch monitor, speakers, 64 MB RAM, fast CPU and roomy hard drive, MS Works, 56k modem, CD ROM, (a mouse that WORKS!), etc., for about $600 not including sales tax.

The new OS 9 is apparently offering users all sorts of glitches and incompatibilities for an extra $100 or so now, too.

My entire family consisted exclusively Mac users-- until Steve Jobs usurped control of Apple a couple years back. We'd all stuck with Apple through thick and thin until then, and even had hopes that Jobs might restore some measure of Apple's past glory upon the company's products. But that didn't happen.

Instead, Windows PCs have taken the lion's share of our new computer purchases since then, that otherwise would have went to Apple products. In the time since Jobs' took a whack out of our loyalty, we've bought at least two PCs for every single Mac. And the ratio of PCs to Macs seems to be on the increase. It helps of course that you can often get two or three PCs for the price of one similarly equipped Mac.

Just what reason can one offer to buy a Mac these days over a PC? Some say the case is prettier-- and worth an extra $400 all on its own. But that's a pretty weak argument in my book.

So long as you encounter only minor problems with your machine, the Mac may be a bit easier to fix than a PC. But in my own experience the Mac seems to have bigger problems, and have them more often, than the PC-- so this argument doesn't take you very far at all.

Windows 98 PCs do have an annoying short file name problem compared to Macs, as well as a more difficult to grasp file organization scheme. And in some cases these differences alone can amount to pretty big interface problems for PC users as opposed to Macs-- but even on Macs problems sometimes arise in this area, so it's not as clear cut as Mac users might wish.

Windows PCs have two big and steadily growing advantages over Macs-- much lower prices for equivalent hardware features, and a widening compatibility both in terms of Windows-related software/hardware and (perhaps more importantly) internet-related software and services. Apple doesn't yet seem to have realized that the net compatibility gap will kill them faster in coming years than the Windows compatibility gap. Apple continues to allow Microsoft to treat the Mac as a second-class net client (i.e., our iMac's MSIE 4.x can't reliably upload files in Mac OS 8.6), and Apple even makes IE the Mac's default browser. Since Netscape browsers fell out of the race due to general instability a year or more ago, and Apple killed its own independent browser efforts (CyberDog), the Mac is rapidly losing ground in this field.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

11-7-99: One of my cousins has had to re-install her OS and applications from scratch on her brand new iMac Revision D

It appears she bought her new iMac just days before the newer models were announced, with lower prices and better configurations (more speed, more RAM, etc.).

Then on top of that it went dead on her almost immediately, forcing her to re-install everything. I write this only minutes after a phone conversation with her, where she told me she's still weeks later continuing the process of trying to get all her applications re-installed again. We've come close a couple times to having to overhaul our own iMac this way-- but with the help of sites like MacFixIt and my own lengthy Mac experience we've managed to squeak by without doing so, so far (just barely).

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

11-7-99: We try a third mouse for the iMac (the USB Logitech MouseMan Wheel)

This time it was the USB Logitech MouseMan Wheel, compatible with both iMac (Mac OS 8.5 and up) and Windows98.

The iMac owner paid about $50 for it at a local discount store.

The package included a PS/2 port adapter for older PCs.

It didn't take long for all the original problems of the standard iMac mouse to rear their ugly heads again, once we were forced back to it by the failure of the Kensington USB Mouse-in-a-Box-- our previous attempt to rectify the iMac's Horrific Mouse Problem. The standard iMac mouse is simply a torturous device.

The MouseMan's most unique feature may be its sculpted contours to actually fit the user's hand. This, along with its two tone color scheme (battle-ship gray sides with an off-white top) makes it not look quite as sleek as some might wish on the desktop. But the shape works pretty well, and may actually be superior to the long-time standard egg-shaped mice of personal computers.

The MouseMan incorporates some extra features most long-time one-button Mac users will be unfamiliar with-- like the right-side button long used with PCs, a window scrolling wheel in-between the two main buttons, and a thumb button on the lower left side of the mouse.

The MouseMan comes with a CD ROM from which to install a driver to utilize all these extra buttons. I installed the software, but other than maybe changing the cursor speed haven't used it at all.

Being all long-time one-button Mac mousers here (and with little time or opportunity to spend learning a new way), that's how we've tended to use the MouseMan too.

How's it done at basic one-button mousing? Fairly well. However, for me the thumb button gets in my way-- I accidentally click it sometimes, making the Mac's window scroll bars stop reacting to the pointer and move up or down according to the mouse rolling on the pad instead (or something like that-- my memory of the action is hazy, and I can't easily test it as I write this since I'm presently using my own Quadra 650). This is confusing at first; you might think the Mac has locked up on you or something. Then you figure it out and click the thumb button a second time to get back to normal. So up to now the thumb button has been a bit of an annoyance and distraction for me (but not nearly as annoying and distracting as the iMac's standard mouse from Apple!). Other adult users seem to have similar problems.

The extra button also poses problems/distractions for children. An accomplished three year old user kept accidentally clicking the thumb button merely by way of his grasp on the device, and this would result in the main mouse button seeming to cease to function in his edutainment program-- until the thumb button was re-clicked again. However, he seemed to learn to avoid the thumb button immediately after I explained the problem to him just once (we adults continue to accidentally click it sometimes).

Overall the MouseMan seems a decent mouse, and its contours seem maybe more comfortable than an egg-shaped mouse. Long term use might allow the adult user to learn not to accidentally click the thumb button, or else maybe start using it and the other buttons as they are intended. But somebody like me, for whom the extra comfort is a marginal benefit, and the extra buttons simply annoying, would likely get by with either a standard or low cost egg-shaped mouse like 98% of all PC and Mac users have used since GUI computers became the standard.

Of course, no iMac buyer can do this without buying a third party mouse, since Apple doesn't provide a decent mouse with the machine from the factory.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

9-1-99: The Kensington USB Mouse-in-a-Box stops working

ARRGH! This was very frustrating. The USB mouse worked OK for a couple weeks and then rapidly deteriorated to total non-functionality. Mouse ball and roller cleaning helped not at all. Apparently this particular mouse had a manufacturing defect, or else there's a basic design flaw in the mouse. Whichever, the result is that the ball inside the mouse tends to retreat too far up into the mouse body to make suitable contact with the mouse pad-- i.e., you can't get the sucker to roll, and so the onscreen pointer moves only sporadically, if at all. In addition to this, the rollers inside tend to pick up dirt and gunk faster than the insides of any mouse we've ever used here at WebFLUX HQ in the past (maybe superior teflon is no longer used in mice rollers these days?). But the dirt attraction is irrelevant since the mechanism itself doesn't work, regardless of cleaning.

It seems one or more of the spring-loaded rollers inside the mouse which are supposed to keep the ball in contact with the pad are too weak, or else the ball cavity itself is too deep, or the mouse ball is too small. Towards the end the Kensington mouse was working so horribly it was actually a relief to replace it with the $%#@!-awful original iMac mouse-- yeah, I know this may sound unbelievable to anyone who's spent time with the standard iMac mouse, but it's true.

Two awful iMac mice in a row. I don't know what we'll try next. Maybe we need to run Virtual PC with Linux installed so a mouse is superfluous? (just kidding-- but the iMac mouse situation IS ridiculous in late 1999)

On another subject, the iMac owner recently decided they wanted to place something else on their desk to the right of their iMac-- a sort of combination printer stand/paper rack. If the iMac was a PC this would be a non-issue. The gizmo itself is nice enough-- but since the iMac's reset hole is hidden way back in a deep compartment on that side of the machine, it's now much more difficult to use it-- and the iMac continues its crashing ways to require frequent use of a bent paper clip. With an iMac, a minimum of around 12 inches clearance is required on the right side of the machine for reasonable access to the restart pinhole-- you know, bend over, stick your head as near the cubbyhole as you can reach, work at least one arm and shoulder into the space too, squint to distinguish the two pinholes from one another and the delicate I/O ports that surround them, then stick in your jury-rigged piece of trash (a ruined paper clip), to get the computer to work again (hopefully anyway). But the iMac owner is currently trying to make do with only a bit beyond four inches of clearance, on their roughly five and a half foot wide desk. How long will the owner be able to stand the extra aggravation of straining past the printer stand to restart the iMac? And will a fatal error of inserting the conductive metal pin into an I/O port kill the iMac? Only time will tell.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

8-14-99: The iMac gets a real mouse (the Kensington USB Mouse-in-a-Box)

Ding dong the iMac mouse is dead! Yay!!!!!

The....thing....that Apple calls a mouse and bundles standard with the iMac is so horrible I hestitated even throwing it into the electronic junk/spare parts bin at WebFLUX Central. But upon reflection that it's at present the closest thing to a spare USB...pointing instrument...we have on hand, I finally did drop it in.

The Kensington USB Mouse-in-a-Box was the iMac owner's replacement choice. The mouse does exactly what you'd want and expect of a mouse; it mouses. Simple as that. Something that cannot be said of the piece of *&%$ Apple ships with an iMac and has the audacity to call a mouse. Mac users must be meek indeed these days to accept such treatment from Apple (and the terribly inadequate 32 MB RAM the iMac ships with is also a travesty).

Of course, this real iMac mouse purchase now brings the true cost of the iMac to $1450, combining the necessity of the iMac itself ($1200), additional RAM ($90) and an after-market mouse ($30), with after-market writable storage device ($130), all in order to basically match the functionality and convenience of a $500-$600 emachine's PC (which includes a monitor, writable media drive, mouse that actually works, and can run better with only 32 MB RAM than an iMac can).

Since nowadays a personal computer is near useless without a net connection, and lots of PCs are now being sold for nothing more than the cost of a several year net contract, you might as well add in ISP costs to the machine too ($720).

This leaves a realistically equipped iMac connected to the net for three years at present costs hovering around $2170, compared to a PC at around $500 or so, (a low end emachines PC plus monitor and three year CompuServe contract/rebate). Sure, the iMac would boast some incremental advantages here and there in this comparison-- but all of them together would not total up to $1670 worth of advantages over the PC. I've sampled/used machines very close to these two configurations myself, and definitely could not see $1670 worth of differences between the two.

Note folks that those of us who aren't filthy rich but are continually searching for ways to get ourselves, family, and friends online (or upgraded) at bargain prices simply have no choices in regards to computers: PCs win hands-down over Macs. You can set up FOUR different families with three years of net access and a reasonably compatible, flexible, and featured personal computer for the same price required to set up only ONE family with an iMac. And all this is using only NEW wares. If you have the savvy and courage to go the refurbished route, even more might be done for the same prices or less in this regard.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

8-12-99: Our iMac goes dead; I perform Mac CPR

Fortunately I was able to revive it. The trouble began when the owner wanted to make a scanned picture show up on the desktop. Most of the time this seems to work OK, although I get the distinct impression from the user (who now owns both an iMac and PC) that the process is easier on a PC.

Anyway, the iMac didn't like something about the desired picture, and so thereafter locked up every time the machine was switched on or restarted, showing a blank desktop pattern menu and no mouse pointer. The owner was so traumatized by all this that they had already rounded up their receipt to return the iMac to the store they bought it from, before I ever learned of the matter.

I restarted the 160 MB RAM OS 8.6 iMac via the awful jury-rigged paper clip hole (such restarts are a daily routine on the iMac apparently), and held down the shift key to prevent loading of extensions.

OK, I finally got a usable display on the machine. I looked inside the system folder for anything obviously amiss, and noted a zero k size Epson pref file. I also noted the latest modifed file was Mac OS preferences. I found no picture (or anything else suspect) in the Startup folder.

I ran Disk First Aid to check the disk. It reported no problem.

I went into the Appearance control panel and 'removed picture', then 'set desktop', then quit. I then restarted.

The iMac seemed OK after that.

Note folks that the owner of the iMac has been using Macs for several years, and still hasn't gotten the restart-with-extensions-off-trick memorized, nor do they know what to do next after such a restart-- basically because they have a life and don't qualify as a geek. But in many other matters such as installations/app configurations they often succeed. The point here is that this is no Mac novice. And yet they were alarmed and stymied by this event. So take warning true novices; the iMac is not that much easier to deal with on a daily basis than a Windows98 PC-- only slightly so, and maybe not enough to make a significant difference. And surely not enough to justify the current price differences or substantial compatibility/capability differences between the two platforms.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

8-3-99: iMac/WebTV Users' Logs: Web surfing/email station contest: WebTV Classic Versus Apple iMac Revision D

First off, is there any way this contest can be fair? After all, the WebTV used here is the original, least capable and slowest model of the series, now some two years old (or more) and selling for as little as $100 or so including keyboard in some promotions, while the iMac is Apple's latest and greatest consumer wunderkind selling for around $1200.

Plus, the iMac is a full-fledged standalone personal computer system (although ranking as only a very expensive and slow Windows PC system, requiring emulation to run most mainstream software), while a WebTV is wholly dependent on the ISP and online applications for its usefulness, with no compatibility at all with either native Mac or native PC apps.

No, there's no way this comparison can be wholly fair: the WebTV hardware platform here is a middle-aged codger (in computer years) compared to the young child of the iMac hardware (WebTV possessing only a fraction of the circuitry in terms of manufacturing costs too)-- while the case is reversed in terms of operating systems, with the iMac's OS 8.6 practically ancient compared to the young adult of the WebTV OS.

Sufficiently confused yet? That's OK.

Let's greatly simplify matters by throwing out the respective ages/maturity/obsolescence of the hardware and software, the huge differences in costs, the substantial differences in standalone flexibility, options, and software-- and focus only upon the performance, convenience, and flexibility of the two devices in terms of web surfing and email alone. Functions which Apple's own surveys seem to indicate many buyers primarily purchase their iMacs for anyway.

In display prowess, the two stations are nearer than most folks might expect, what with the iMac using a digital display and the WebTV only an old cramped TV screen. WebTV does a great job at formatting the vast majority of web pages to display well on TV-- and what formatting problems do appear often occur on the iMac as well(!)

Of course, WebTV is handicapped where small graphic images-- especially those including text-- are concerned, so that those items can often be illegible. WebTV may re-size and reformat true web page text to larger sizes for viewing but not graphic images containing text. However, I've found after many months that only rarely does this liability prove a real problem with WebTV-- maybe 1% or less of the web pages sporting this particular problem are rendered unusable to the surfer.

Naturally, owing to the resolution differences between digital computer displays and old fashioned TVs, WebTV surfers are limited to an effective screen size maybe a third that of the iMac's-- so there's not as much to see all at once. This means your surfing will by necessity often be a bit slower with WebTV compared to the iMac, since you must scroll more via WebTV to see the same region. But the difference isn't a large one in practice-- and in some circumstances actually works in WebTV's favor. For instance, I've found Yahoo's near pure text 'What's New' listing of new web sites to be almost unreadable on the iMac compared to WebTV, due to Yahoo's particular formatting circa late July 1999. I much prefer using WebTV to access the list nowadays.

Support for various browser plug-ins technology and Javascript/Java is another subject altogether. WebTV closely resembles older Macs/browsers in this respect with little or no support for many of the flashier web technologies. By contrast, the new iMac is much stronger in this area. But how significant is this difference to the user? It probably depends on each person's personality, and what exactly they are after on the web. In my own case I keep the sound turned off, and pretty much hate most web noise/music with my surfing, no matter what the platform-- although I have opted to listen to a bit of RealAudio on WebTV for news purposes (which works very well). WebTV also offers a slow motion presentation of short video clips too, so long as they are available in a somewhat rare format. These too I have used successfully (albeit slowly). Typically however I avoid the kind of animations, video, and other items which might require extra plug-ins or bandwidth, regardless of the platform I use; I simply am not interested in such things (maybe this will change if we get a cable modem?). Perhaps the biggest failings for WebTV in the extra functionality arena regard forms and Java use. There's a handful of extra forms and Java sites I would use with WebTV, if they worked on the system. But again, this pertains to a relatively small percentage of the whole web, with me encountering such a non-functional item I'd like to use perhaps once every couple months. Most forms and functions seem to work well with WebTV, overall.

How do the iMac and WebTV compare performance-wise? For pure web surfing and emailing alone? Well, both use 33.6 modems (we had to downgrade the iMac because at 56k it would disconnect after 5-20 minutes on our noisy rural line). And the iMac has the performance advantage of offering a far bigger display resolution to the user compared to WebTV (as mentioned above)-- so you can eyeball more stuff faster with the iMac.

However, when you go beyond basic surfing/emailing to actually saving stuff for purposes of research like I often do, the iMac suddenly jumps out way ahead of the WebTV-- but of course this is beyond the scope of the activities I said I'd discuss here, isn't it? So strike this from the record...

Beyond the differences mentioned above, the iMac enjoys tremendously more physical RAM and raw CPU speed, as well as a writable hard disk, compared to the WebTV, which may be more comparable to a 386 or 486 diskless PC in hardware terms. But so far as perceptible differences in performance are concerned, all the hardware advantages of the iMac produce a much smaller effect than you might expect. Maybe 25-33% of the time all that extra hardware makes for a big difference in a particular page load-- but the rest of the time it's only a slight speed up.

So, amazing as it may sound, the iMac only presents a modest performance advantage over the WebTV here, on average. Indeed, I find I now use the two devices about the same amount-- 50-50-- partly because the performance difference simply isn't that great.

How do the two compare in convenience? Well, the WebTV usually wins hands-down here, as you can sit comfortably in an easy chair to surf, as compared to having to sit at a desk with the iMac. For folks like me who must spend much of their time tied to a desktop for other computer-related tasks, being able to lounge on a couch to web surf is a welcome luxury. Too, if you get involuntarily disconnected with the WebTV for various reasons, you can usually re-connect and return to the exact web page you left off-- unlike what happens with the iMac's embedded browser in AOL 4. In AOL 4 if you didn't bookmark your last site before disconnect you have to find it again manually from scratch later.

How do the two compare in reliability and troubleshooting? I'd have to give the WebTV the definite edge here-- although probably a big chunk of its advantage stems from its non-existant standalone flexibility and near total lack of desktop software and peripherals compatibility, as compared to the iMac. The rule of thumb for both Mac and Windows PCs is, the more apps and peripherals you install to either, the less reliable and more problem-prone they become. You can install almost nothing yourself on your WebTV-- only WebTV HQ itself has this power, with perhaps bi-annual software updates online.

If a WebTV user has problems with their terminal, there's only a very few things they can do about it, short of calling or emailing WebTV Central for help. They can switch WebTV off and back on again; pull WebTV's power plug from the wall; push a reset button present on the back of some units (not all); trick WebTV into calling its second access number when the first isn't working well; or simply stay offline a while and try again later. That's about it.

Things are a LOT different with the iMac. A user could potentially spend the rest of their lives trying to fix it if something goes wrong-- there's that many different things to try. There's at least $thousands worth of commercial diagnosis and repair software/hardware available, untold numbers of freeware/shareware utilities, and hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of different tips and repair reports available on the web regarding Macs, that you could follow up on and implement.

I've been on Macs since 1988, and am perhaps one of the best general Mac experts in East Tennessee not presently working as an Apple technician (or possessing virtually zero documentation or software utilities aids regarding the machines). I still regularly repair Macs and ocassionally PCs. I don't always succeed-- but mainly that's because of cost-effectiveness judgements; practically anything can be fixed, given enough time and money-- but few things are worth too large an investment of either.

I'm getting to be an OLD Computer Geezer now, and easily lose patience with stuff that's as troublesome and time-wasting as modern PCs and Macs. So I lean heavily towards preferring WebTV's kind of reliability myself. Although I admit for those few times when you have a very pressing need for something only your WebTV box can provide, and you can do nothing but wait on WebTV Central to correct the problem, you might well wish for more of the options available on a PC or Mac for do-it-yourselfing.

About the only time you miss standalone capacity on WebTV is during the writing of lengthy email messages or when all you want to do is examine an old message. WebTV can't tell you're typing during creation of a long message, and may drop your connection on you before you're finished, forcing you to reconnect before you can even continue typing, much less send it. Fortunately, nothing is lost during those events. However, if and when WebTV actually crashes on you for some reason (which it occasionally does for no obvious reason, much like Macs or PCs, only considerably less frequently), you CAN lose an email you're working on. Losing a lengthy and important email message this way is awful. Often you can never again repeat the eloquence or level of detail in a second try from scratch.

So why don't I save incremental versions of my email on WebTV as I writing, to prevent potential loss (like I could on a Mac or PC)? I can't. You can only save email on WebTV after you've sent it, or save email others have sent you....HEY!!!! I just realized I may be able to save incremental email work by sending it to myself on WebTV! Yes, I guess I should have realized this sooner, but like several aspects of the WebTV platform, it can require lengthy experience with the device to realize it's not quite as limited as you thought, and often the solution requires an extra step or two compared to full-blown computer wares (making it easy to forget a new discovery before you find the need to implement it the first time)-- plus, I may be suffering from being an Old Computer Geezer blindsided by new ways of doing things that are simply unlike the old desktop computer methods...

Anyway, other online services too involving PCs and Macs may disconnect you if no action is detected on your end for a certain period of time (e.g., AOL). But since a Mac or PC boasts considerable standalone power, such disconnection not only doesn't blitz your current message, but leaves it open onscreen so you can continue working on it. Like WebTV you still must log on again to send it, but unlike WebTV your stream of thought in writing suffers a bit less disruption. Of course, Macs/PCs can and do crash when online, possibly losing your email-in-process just like WebTV can-- but typically Macs/PCs don't crash if all you're doing is writing email; there usually must be something else going on too at the time, like concurrent web surfing, ICQ, downloading, printing, running other apps, etc. On balance, I'd say I lose an email I was writing on WebTV that was at minimum somewhat important to me, once to several times a year-- with similar emails lost on Macs/PCs at a much lower frequency (often only when I click 'send' without having saved it to disk, and my connection drops out or the computer crashes at that precise moment). But since 80% or more of my email writing has occured on WebTV rather than Macs/PCs the past couple years, normalizing the stats might make both platforms appear similar in reliability regarding this point. So it might be a toss up here which is better.

In fact, I frequently use WebTV as the preferred research station to locate solutions to problems we're having with either our Macs or PCs! And keep in mind that the WebTV is largely immune to most PC or Mac viruses, too (at least at present).

Another relevant area of comparison might be tweaking the devices for purposes of better performance or convenience-- like setting displayed text sizes. Obviously, you're limited in the amount of tweaking you can do with WebTV, while on the iMac you could tweak 'til the grave.

As a matter of fact, BOTH devices pretty much REQUIRE a certain amount of tweaking to achieve optimum usefulness and convenience-- with the iMac needing maybe ten times or more what the WebTV does (excluding initial set up and first log on)

But what if we compare the initial set up and first log ons themselves? In these matters it's a toss up; we had about the same amount of trouble with both machines in initial set up/log on, so far as I can recall (refer to the respective user logs for some documentation of the matters). Yes, WebTV should have done better than a more complex, full-fledged personal computer in this phase-- but it didn't. Which should serve as a warning to novices here. Of course, those reading the WebTV log might point out there were possibly unusual circumstances complicating the WebTV set up-- such as a store selling us a repackaged used WebTV with someone else's ID already burned into the unit, which made first log on much harder, and the fact we had to call a long distance number for access (being rural), and perhaps our TVs/VCRs were a bit too old to be fully compatible with WebTV, and so on and so forth. But hey! If WebTV sells units in areas and demographics like ours, it should properly prepare and market the units for such conditions.

The bottomline: in terms of basic web surfing and email performance alone, totally ignoring costs, standalone capabilities, and extraneous hardware/software matters, the Apple iMac Revision D offers marginally better performance than WebTV in our own experience-- although the WebTV is significantly better in terms of reliability and user convenience. So it's basically a draw, or tie. Note that there's presently one, maybe two newer generations of WebTV available today, compared to the unit used for these tests. But based on what I've read of them I suspect they could only succeed at making it a tighter race with the iMac, rather than outright winning the contest.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

7-19-99: iMac Users' Log: We install a UMAX Astra 2000U USB Scanner

The iMac owner did the install, and reports it seems to work well so far for the duties they desire. However, the owner was taken aback by the small print regarding the main software they bought the scanner for (Caere OmniPage). Namely, only 25 or so uses of OmniPage is allowed before it ceases to function, unless the user manages to register the software somehow. There may have been an online registration process during the install that the owner skipped (like most everyone does), because they didn't realize the onerous reg rule existed at the time. After the install, the owner tried to access the web site to register, but the site was down and inaccessible. They also tried to do it by phone, but got one of those automated menu systems which thoroughly confused them and so they gave up.

In most other matters the owner felt like the scanner was doing OK. However, the 'Gotchas!' related to the OmniPage limited uses and registration complexities all by themselves were sufficient to have the user seriously considering returning the scanner to the store from which it was bought.

Being an Old Computer Geezer though I noticed some other irksome things about the scanner and its software the owner hadn't.

For one thing, it doesn't offer the same level of automatic power management of the PC scanner (a Mustek 600 III EP Plus) we have attached to the Windows98 laptop. If I'm not mistaken, the Mustek only powers up when activated by software from the laptop, while the UMAX power light is on all the time that it's plugged into power. The limited life light bulb in the UMAX also stays on all the time (even when not in use), unless the user takes special measures to insure a timer on the unit in software. But even when the timer is activated, the light still comes on automatically everytime the iMac is booted up or even restarted(!) All this should greatly shorten the useful life of the bulb in the UMAX-- which is no small thing in a scanner. 7-27-99 UPDATE: The iMac user must manually turn off the scanner light via several clicks regarding a small control panel, each and every time the iMac is powered up or restarted-- apparently no automated management system exists or functions for this purpose. This is highly annoying to the user and wasteful of the lifespan of the scanner light. END UPDATE.

We also had extra trouble first locating the small control panel toggle for the light, as instead of appearing as a standalone on the desktop as the documentation stated, it turned out to be hidden inside 8.6's own control strip, accessible by a tab on the lower left hand corner of the screen.

But the above isn't the worst of it by far. No, there's a bug in the UMAX software that essentially acts like a vampire, continuously sucking away at the lifeblood of the iMac (processing cycles). Still worse, this involves disk accesses too. At least once a second you can hear disk accesses being performed. And this is happening even when you have nothing to do with the scanner, and you've not opened any scanner-related software. It also continues even if the scanner is separately switched off via powerstrip, and/or unplugged from its USB connection. From the moment you install the scanner software, anytime your iMac is powered up, the awful vampire sucking noise is present, and a perceptible slowing of your whole Mac is taking place.

Note folks that aside from the annoyance to the user forced to listen to this, and the slowing of the Mac across-the-board, there's also possible risks to your hard disk involved too. For if the power fails during a disk write, your whole disk could be scrambled. Yes, it's true that your computer is at risk anytime writing is going on-- but normally this is a pretty small percentage of the time-- during explicit file saves. In this scanner case though, it's virtually continuous, or happening roughly 100% of the time as opposed to maybe 5% or less for file saves. I can't determine at the moment if this is actually a disk write or read going on in regards to the scanner-- but the chances would seem 50/50, wouldn't they?

But the noise alone, combined with this awareness, is like being forced NOT to swat one mosquito after another as they stab you and suck your blood, over and over again. I would not be able to bear this on my personal machine. Everytime a web page is slow to load, or an app crashes, or anything else unwanted happens, you can't help but suspect the mechanism behind that constant vampire sucking sound.

I could find nothing in the Read Me or user manual to correct the problem. And the UMAX web site wouldn't respond.

I went to MacFixIt to find some way to rectify the problem. There I found a surprisingly long list of documented problems with UMAX scanners, even including suspected viruses in the software. MacFixIt also had a name for our particular problem: the UMAX Control Strip Glitch.

The list of UMAX scanner problems on the site far outpaced my time and energy for reading through it all. So I just read the first few dozen items. YIKES!

Our scanner came with Vistascan 3.5. Turns out upgrading to 3.5.one might solve the vampire sucking sound (it worked for some folks but not all, according to MacFixIt). There were also references to replacing Vistascan entirely with MagicScan or Silverfast software to improve the situation, although it's not clear if Silverfast is available free (it's from a company other than UMAX, and billed as 'high end' scanner software-- gulp!), and late model versions of MagicScan had the caveat of officially not supporting this model scanner or Mac.

It also seemed there were possible conflicts with regards to ColorSync and other things, for which MacFixIt posted various work-arounds to try.

OK, so I decided to try downloading the 3.5.1 upgrade from UMAX. Surprise, surprise, just like Caere, the UMAX site too was not responding.

So what could I do in the meantime, while I was waiting to download the upgrade? Look for other potential sources of problems, of course.

I checked the iMac's Extensions Folder, and lo and behold I found a copy of ObjectSupportLib that definitely shouldn't have been there. Apparently an app called EasyPhoto had installed it. I moved OSL from there and dropped it into the EasyPhoto folder where EP might find it if it was truly needed. OSL doesn't belong in the System folder of 8.5 and 8.6 Mac OS', and maybe not even in any 8.x OS, if I recall correctly. There was also two different AppleScript extensions present-- one was old and outdated according to the 'Get Info' windows, so I moved it out of there. Two AppleScript icons had been appearing on the iMac desktop at boot up ever since the owner first installed a few things on it, with one icon marked out with the angry 'X' Mac OS puts onto stuff that it's trying to ignore for some reason. I only now had gotten around to fixing the problem.

There were also two Kodak Precision CP icons showing up at bootup, but an inspection of the Extensions folder didn't make it clear that the two were the same file-- they were different sizes and had slightly different names, for instance. So I left them alone for now (although I believe I disabled some or all such things on the 6400 last year, after a year or more of them seeming irrelevant to the typical use of the Mac).

None of this helped the vampire suck problem of course-- but the actions didn't seem to hurt the iMac any.

I found a UMAX download site in the United Kingdom and tried downloading with a standalone MSIE 4.5-- but got only errors instead. Too, it turned out the Vistascan upgrade is something like 15-22 MB in size-- YIKES! I tried initiating downloads several times, with no success. I suspected the vampire suck was killing the downloads. So to test it, I went to an old download section of my own web site to do a test download-- and it worked. So the problem was with the UMAX site, not the iMac or browser.

After several tries I gave up getting anything from the UMAX site, and recalled that sometimes C|Net's DOWNLOAD.COM ["http://www.download.com/?ctb.dl"] offers updates like this. I checked it out and sure enough it was there (I searched for UMAX and got a list including the upgrade)! But would the download succeed?

Well, my first try failed after 3 MB had transferred-- maybe due to the noise on my rural line cutting me off, or a glitch at AOL or on the source server itself. I tried again, and something like three to five hours later had successfully gotten the file.

Or at least I hoped I had. I couldn't try running the update until late the next day, and immediately encountered problems at that point. The installer threw up an embedded Read Me file that looked like it had lots of important tips in it, so I tried to save it to disk via the included button. My reason was that the modal Installer wouldn't allow me to read the file and run around my desktop performing the recommended tasks at the same time-- so I needed a SimpleText version that would. Or else had to take a bunch of painful handwritten notes. Agh! The Save button only brought an undecipherable error dialog.

I didn't have the luxury of a lot of time here. And had already took so many handwritten notes about problems with all this junk and other matters in recent days that I just decided to forego the Read Me issues entirely in this ieteration. The owner was just about set to return the scanner anyway by now, having become disturbed by the incessant vampire sucking sound themselves too by now.

So I continued past the non-working Read Me save to disk, and tried to simply install the upgrade. Got another meaningless error dialog.

I guessed maybe the already present 3.5 version of Vistascan was causing problems for its also buggy replacement. So, being hellbent for leather at this point, I went into the iMac's Extensions Manager and set it to the locked Mac OS 8.6 Base set. This would disable just about every extra extension the iMac had, including the older Vistascan, to clear the way for other things. This move could also complicate everything else that followed too, but heck, I was about ready to literally set fire to the UMAX software and hardware both. I rebooted so the new extensions set would take effect.

This time the install seemed to work. I had to reboot the iMac again.

I opened up the Extensions Manager to see what the results were and to try to put back all the extra extensions the iMac would need for the other apps too. The EM threw up a dialog saying the current set of extensions didn't match the setting and did I want it to go back to the previous set or create a new set that accomodated the changes. I told it to accomodate. This essentially created a new set that may have been Mac OS 8.6 Base with the scanner drivers included. I changed this back to our original set before the Vistascan 3.5.1 install, and made sure the scanner extensions were still included (checkmarked).

OK folks, after this point I went very, very deep into mucking about with the inner workings of Mac OS 8.6. I had to, since the 8.6 EM is more difficult to use than older EMs like those in 7.5.3, and also doesn't always show you any duplicate extensions that might be present, etc., as well as seems contradictory on what's enabled and disabled, in many cases. No, for truly serious problems a Mac expert has to ignore the 8.6 EM and go straight to the Extensions folder inside the System folder itself, and try to decipher what belongs and what doesn't from woefully incomplete information-- I imagine it's something like brain surgery on a human being, since every brain can be a bit different in exactly what parts perform what function and the surgeon often is merely making his best educated guess about where to cut and not cut.

I made no notes during all this, and there were lots of details to be considered. Basically I looked for duplicate scanner driver related extensions, and when I found them compared the created/modified dates in 'Get Info'. I'd keep the newest one in the Extensions folder and move the older one to a junk folder elsewhere on disk NOT inside the System folder (and NOT trashing the old extension in case I found I'd made a mistake and needed it again later; never burn bridges in software matters if you can avoid it). I checked not only the enabled Extensions folder but the disabled one as well.

Some other things I did around this time was notice how the user (who'd done the first install of the scanner wares) had arranged access to the apps in regards to aliases in the Apple menu and elsewhere, and check to see if I needed to move any plug-ins or whatever.

An important rule in configurations is to try to make all the repairs, changes, and installations you do as transparent as possible to the primary user of the machine or network-- your job is to make things work or improve how they work-- NOT change the users' experience in any way that requires new learning or changes in their behavior, unless and until such a thing becomes absolutely necessary.

Finally I'd done all I could, and restarted.

Would all the various scanner-related elements still work? And would the constant vampire sucking sound be eliminated? For various unplanned reasons, plain scanning functionality got a major workout within hours of the upgrade session. We experienced lots of crashes in the related PhotoDeluxe software using Vistascan, and vastly increased PhotoDeluxe's memory allotment which seemed to help some. But still we continued to experience crashes.

After further work we seemed to narrow down the source of crashes to the presence of a mounted Iomega ZIP disk in the USB drive, which was formatted for DOS (the user was creating files for a PC with the scanner). Ejecting the ZIP disk and only momentarily inserting it to copy files from the hard drive as needed seemed to bypass the problem satisfactorily.

The vampire sucking sound? It seems to be gone.

Later on the OmniPage OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software got tested-- and although the user thinks the process for using it may have changed in some way, it seems to work (so far). It's possible the upgrade may have made the changes the user perceived-- it's also possible the user was mistaken, since they'd not had the chance to use the set up much since it arrived, and we were all very busy and harried during the period for various reasons.

At the moment I write this it appears we might be keeping the scanner now. But it sure did take a lot of work and aggravation to get to this point.

Worse still, my sister and her husband bought an identical scanner for their new iMac too, the very same day as ours if I'm not mistaken(!) Like the set up at WebFLUX HQ did earlier, their system seems to be working, but possesses the awful vampire sucking sound too. In my sister's case the imminent loss of the OCR package may not be that big a deal. But at last word the vampire sucking sound was bothering her, and she was hoping to fix it. Alas, it was difficult enough to do that I'm unsure if even I personally could correct the identical problem on a second iMac. Plus, recall that MacFixIt said the upgrade worked on some Macs and not others....sigh.

I sure hope Linux PCs and/or pure net clients become sufficiently consumer-friendly and worthwhile soon, to offer us some other options besides Windows and the Mac OS!


The info below regarding the UMAX Astra 2000U USB Scanner and an iBook was sent to me by Bob Richmond (RSRICHMOND@aol.com, ["http://user.icx.net/~richmond/linkspage.html"]). Here's his straight scoop:

"Found your UMAX Astra 2000U USB scanner notes through MacFixit, which I should have consulted earlier. Please add to your excellent page a very serious problem with the iBook and the UMAX Astra 2000U USB Scanner.

In late January 2000 I bought an iBook with MacOS 9 installed. I then bought a UMAX Astra 2000U USB scanner, with version 3.52 of VistaScan.

When I installed VistaScan and restarted, the computer was completely frozen. Only by restarting (with ctrl-apple-powerbutton) with extensions off (shift key held down during restart) was I able to get it to function at all. I eventually erased and reformatted the hard disk with the restore CD that came with the iBook (actually, everybody with an iBook should do this once, just to learn how).

Monday came and I called UMAX, and they gave me the solution to the problem - not on their Web site - but quite simple. After restarting with extensions off:

Open the System Folder.
Open the Control Strips (NOT Control Panels) folder.
Find VSControlstrip, drag it to the trash, and empty the trash. Restart normally.

Did this and it worked fine. - Please put this on your Apple iMac Users log page. I'm amazed UMAX hasn't been more willing to publicize this problem - I guess it's Good Management to pretend it doesn't exist."

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

7-19-99: iMac Users' Log: I try out Sherlock for web searches

As a long time Mac user and once enthusiastic proponent of Macs in general, I find one of the most highly touted features of Mac OS 8.6 downright embaressing so far.

I haven't yet had the opportunity to use the local disk content search function-- so that may yet prove valuable (although I've read it doesn't really work any better than the old Find until after you've allowed it many hours to index your drives, and even then it must be updated regularly to retain its usefulness-- a lot of trouble to go to if you ask me).

Sherlock's web search left me thoroughly UN-impressed. It's simply a meta-search like you could already get from many places on the web years ago, so far as I can tell at the moment. Any advantage you get from it being directly accessible on the desktop is pretty much neutralized by the huge ads that come with it. I've seen reviews of downloadable search aid plug-ins and the like for PCs which sound much more advanced and convenient than this.

Sherlock also doesn't return especially good quality results. I often do searches for things like the "future of technology and society", since these are relevant to my timeline work. The results Sherlock gave for these were heavily commercial (and therefore irrelevant) compared to results available from quite a few standalone engines on the web in recent weeks. I continue to prefer using Google and other 'real' search engines as opposed to Sherlock for web matters.

Unfortunately, since this isn't my personal Mac but someone else's, my files aren't present on disk and likely won't be-- thereby making it unlikely I'll get much chance to see Sherlock's 'search by content' function put to any useful purpose for me personally. However, oftentimes unexpected events lead me to trying out things I didn't expect to...so we'll see.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

7-18-99: iMac Users' Log: We upgrade the iMac to 160 MB total RAM, check out 8.6 RAM disks, and tweak our surfing functionality

Well, the iMac owner made the mistake of actually installing some extra software on their iMac-- which made the woefully inadequate standard 32 MB RAM from Apple show its failings, big time.

One or more of the new programs added a memory resident extension of some kind to boot up (lots of programs do), which consumed sufficient RAM to make AOL's web browser suddenly be too big to fit in the remaining RAM in its entirety.

This meant that suddenly the iMac was having to switch back and forth between physical RAM and virtual memory on hard disk constantly-- even in-between individual web page loads it seemed.

The end result was a 333 MHz, 32 MB OS 8.6 PowerPC Mac with 33.6 modem (see required downgrade from 56k detailed elsewhere on this page) that actually surfed the web slower than an ancient 25 MHz 8 MB OS 7.5.3 68k Mac IIci-- with a 14.4 modem yet.

We're talking an old $200 Mac surfing the web faster than a new $1200 Mac here folks.

I tried correcting the memory imbalance in the Extensions Manager by disabling extra printer drivers and the like that were not needed here. But it didn't help. I tried lowering the memory used by AOL to the bare minimum too-- but I couldn't go too far in this-- recall when the iMac first arrived the memory settings were already so low on AOL it couldn't open its web browser.

This was all very disappointing, for it'd only been a few days since I managed to downgrade the 56k modem to 33.6 so it would stay online longer than 10-20 minutes at a time. The iMac's web surfing had been reasonably fast and reliable after that. But now suddenly the crippling lack of RAM had come upon us with a vengence.

There was really only two things to do: return the iMac for a refund or drastically upgrade its RAM to something reasonable for a 1999 PPC Mac.

The iMac owner has been in love with the iMac since first sight, so for them it was an easy decision. As for me, well, despite its many flaws, I kinda like the iMac too (of course, I'd probably like it much less if I'd had to shell out three-to-four roughly equivalent PCs' worth of cash for it myself).

We ordered an iMac upper slot 128 MB SO DIMM from Coast to Coast Memory (800-4-MEMORY) for $85.49 and $13.00 standard FedEx next day delivery. I came across the deal on deal-mac.

The DIMM came in a small anti-static bag inside a standard fed ex envelope, with a receipt form-- that was it. No hand holding in the form of installation info or whatever. But it was an excellent price.

I'd cruised the deal-mac forums for some guidance on a RAM source beforehand-- looking for warnings and bad experiences with vendors, etc. In the past we'd always used Bottomline Distribution with good results, but their prices have gone up relative to other vendors and they were also bought out by another company I believe-- so they may be in flux service and products-wise.

Some of the other prices I found (not including shipping) for this DIMM were (rounded off to nearest dollar):

Data Memory Systems.......$109 (includes a bundled 4 MB SGRAM (video RAM) which the newest iMacs don't need I believe)

Memory to Go.................$91


Bottomline Distribution.......$120

Small Dog Electronics.........$139

Other World Computing......$99


I did a bit of comparison about return/refund policies among some of the vendors too, by reading the fine print on their sites. Coast to Coast seemed to have policies at least as good if not better than several others, and also got at least one recommendation in the deal-mac forums-- plus I found no complaints about them.

The iMac has two main RAM slots, one above and one below the motherboard. You automatically void your warranty replacing the standard 32 MB RAM in the underside slot, unless you happen to be an authorized Apple tech. Plus, that DIMM must be considerably smaller than an upper slot DIMM, and so costs much more. It doesn't make much sense to install RAM in the lower slot for most average consumer circumstances today.

If you have to go to the trouble and risk of upgrading your RAM, you might as well install as much as you can reasonably afford (there's always a risk your computer won't survive, no matter how careful you are; plus there's the lesser evil (but still extremely annoying) possibility of having to return defective memory, and even fighting a credit war with a vendor in the event of disagreements). The fact that the Mac OS is a terrific RAM hog and wants all the RAM it can get to function in an adequate manner is also a factor here.

I was dreading the install. I'm not a geek by choice you know. Far from it. Yeah, sure, it may have been interesting the first few times you do it, but after that...well, I'd just rather not.

However, the upgrade went much more smoothly than I expected. From previously looking at the excellent illustrated how-to guide in documents which accompanied the iMac from Apple, and recalling previous such jobs, I'd figured the installation would take many hours (I'm very careful and cautious).

Of course, keep in mind I'm probably more experienced and prepared for this sort of thing than most readers. I own a grounding strap and other tools of the trade, and have performed quite a lot of computer hardware installs (too many!) in my day.

Although there's arguably several more steps involved in upgrading iMac upper slot RAM compared to something like a Performa 6400, the process turned out to be easier and faster than that involving the 6400.

One of the ways I prepared for the install was looking over ALL the instructions before getting underway. You want the computer's guts to be open and exposed for the minimal time necessary. You want to move about the room during the task as rarely as possible too. All this is to lessen the risk of Bad Things Happening to You or the Machine (i.e., taking an extra step across the floor can generate sufficient static electricity to fry a Mac).

From looking over the instructions I noticed I might need more desk space for the task than I thought, and cleared a suitable area. I also gathered up all the tools that looked necessary-- flat and Phillips screwdrivers, needle nose pliers, grounding strap, flashlight, etc. I even brought an extra extension cord for my grounding strap just in case.

I have to say I was impressed with the form and fit of the iMac case, after the process was over. The high quality of physical fit and finish is one reason the install went so quickly and easily. Things went very nearly as ideally pictured in the Apple how-to instructions (if only the Mac OS and applications themselves worked so well-- sigh).

The only momentary glitches involved a strange not-quite Phillips head screw in the case which could have easily stripped out and forced me into much more extreme measures, had I not noticed it and taken extra care, and the difficulty in correctly seating the DIMM on the motherboard. The DIMM definitely did not want to fit properly. Of course, I've seen this before in many RAM installs by now, and so knew to go beyond what seemed appropriate in applied force measures to seat it. Novices however might not get it properly seated and then wonder what went wrong when the iMac doesn't see it-- as seemed to happen to someone posting in the deal-mac forums that very same day.

As easy as it is to open up the iMac and install RAM, you definitely don't want to have to repeat the process due to incorrect DIMM seating. So be sure to take your time and verify in every manner you can the seating before buttoning everything back up again.

I also had to use some needle nose pliers to get the metal shield off the DIMM slot area-- my stubby fingers simply couldn't get a good enough hold on it. This resulted in some bent corners on the shield. Keep in mind folks to use your ground strap and also near constantly caress the metal parts of the Mac as illustrated in the technical documents, in order to dissipate potential static electricity. This is especially important during cold weather, and in carpeted environments. Try to avoid wearing wool clothing during an install, too.

I finally got everything back together and plugged up, and crossed my fingers that the RAM would work. Yes! 160 MB reporting for service. Boot up went just fine.

The PRAM seemed to be knocked out of whack though, which surprised me since it has its own battery. I had to reset the time and date, and make sure the printer was selected in the Chooser, etc.

Being a savvy Old Computer Geezer, I recommended to the owner that the iMac be left powered up for 24 hours for burn-in purposes. If chips are going to fail, it's usually going to happen early on. For reasons of refunds, exchange, and convenience, it's better to discover this sooner rather than later.

Everything seemed fine 24 hours later. But I still wanted a more definitive test of the RAM. Switching off virtual RAM and trying to fill memory with open applications, then switching between the apps in search of crashes, is a method I've used in the past (though I'm unsure of its reliability). I was unable to fill memory conveniently with the few apps available though (one or more were games like Nanosaur that prevent you from checking 'About this Mac...' regarding RAM utilization, or switching between programs). So I judged this test inconclusive.

I had an old MacCheck program from Apple for OS 7.1, which I wasn't sure would even run in 8.6. But I tried it, and the RAM seemed OK to it.

I seemed to remember Micromat TechTool being useful for things like this (and seen references to the commercial TechTool Pro in the deal-mac forums), but couldn't find my old copy. So I found it online and downloaded it. Unfortunately, the free version didn't check RAM and could do almost nothing else on the iMac either, since its old database didn't recognize the machine. BUMMER!

I had to do a surprising amount of searching to find something that seemed functional for this. ZDNet/Macworld and C|net DOWNLOAD.COM ["http://www.download.com/?ctb.dl"] didn't have anything. Finally, I tracked down RAMometer v1.3.4 by Ben Mickaelian and Craig Marciniak, available from NewerTech I believe (the app requires virtual memory be switched off to work).

RAMometer however indicated it was only checking around 120 MB of the memory (if I recall correctly), rather than all 160 of it. It reported that the memory it did check seemed OK. I ran the test several times.

I believe I managed to check all the upper parts of memory by opening one or more other apps besides RAMometer, leaving it less total RAM to verify. I can't remember exactly the specs it displayed after that, but basically it said the memory passed and showed a figure that checked with what the 'About this Mac...' window indicated was free memory.

After gaining this additional RAM, it was time to optimize the Mac OS and various apps to take advantage of it. Unlike Windows applications which automatically adjust their RAM use according to what's available, Mac apps must be tweaked to do so manually by the user. Of course, the Mac operating system itself may do better than Windows when it comes to capitalizing on extra RAM automatically; a long time Windows user has told me consumer Windows PCs actually slow down when more than 98 MB RAM is available-- and long time programmers are aware of the original 640k barrier that DOS/Windows had to perform all sorts of acrobatics to get around in the early days, and seems to even today sometimes have significant impact in low level memory management on the machines (my brother Scotty uses both BASIC and C languages on PCs today at work and home). Mac memory architectures never had low level management constraints similar to those of PCs.

I'm accustomed to seeing Macs take longer to boot up when they gain more RAM-- but this boot delay either didn't happen with the iMac, or else was so short as to be imperceptable.

I went through all the apps on disk, attending to those apps with which the user had complained about memory problems, as well as those I simply knew from experience wanted more RAM.

The OS 8.6 RAM disk turns out to be pretty much useless for web surfing caching-- a serious downgrade in functionality from the RAM disks available in 7.5.3.

I set up a RAM disk to use for web browser caching in AOL 4, and then set AOL to use it, but the preference wouldn't 'stick', or stay that way. It appears you have to reset this manually everytime you crank up AOL anew. Bummer. That's too much trouble, and worse than how AOL 3 operated on the 7.5.3 6400.

There's also apparently a shared preferences file between MSIE 4.5 and the MSIE 4.x integrated with AOL 4 in 8.6-- which interferes mightily with the flexibility of the user, compared to AOL 3.0, used on a 7.5.3 6400.

Using a RAM disk for web browser caching can speed up your surfing as well as protect you against disk corruption, as it prevents the browser from constantly updating your disk (which can badly crash the disk if the power goes off during a write), as well as preventing flawed files from being stored on your disk to cause problems like more frequent crashes later.

Well, I gave up on the AOL embedded browser and brought up the standalone MSIE 4.5 instead, which also came bundled with the iMac. Using a standalone browser with AOL is recommended for many circumstances, as it tends to run faster and be more versatile and convenient-- at least for folks like me. MSIE 4.5 is also newer I believe than the MSIE 4.x that's integrated into AOL 4.

Another problem with the 8.6 RAM disk is that when it is active, suddenly 8.6 makes simple file moves from the desktop to a folder unnecessarily duplicitous-- making new copies of everything, as if you were copying files from one physical disk to another. I'm talking copying files from desktop to folder, both on the same physical drive here-- NOT between a physical drive and the RAM disk. 7.5.3 never did this-- and it's very annoying, causing much extra work for the user to delete the unwanted duplicate files and double-check that they aren't deleting the sole copy of something.

Still another caveat seems to be that if you save anything to hard disk from the browser, the settings for the cache to use the RAM disk get tossed-- with the standalone MSIE 4.5 reverting to its standard physical disk-based cache again (darn it). Since I save stuff constantly, this bug alone renders RAM disk use pretty much worthless to me-- even if the 8.6 RAM disk worked as well as the 7.5.3 RAM disk (which it doesn't).

But long, long ago, on a web site long, long forgotten, I saw a tip that you could simply set MSIE's cache size to zero and give the app a huge RAM allotment to accomplish a similar function to a RAM disk-- of course this requires you have plenty of physical RAM in the first place, and we do now. So I did.

MSIE's suggested memory allotment is around 4 MB, but it really wants more to work well at surfing. So I initially set MSIE 4.5 to 24 MB preferred and 22 MB for the other setting (the memory the app will use if another app is already open on the system when MSIE is opened).

I soon decided MSIE could use still more for surfing performance (plus a good sized RAM disk for web caching may be around 12-15 MB), and so set it to a total of 58 MB preferred, and slightly less for the other setting.

After a couple hours surfing, AOL was using less than half its allotted 18 MB, MSIE 80% of its 58 MB, and the Mac OS 80% of its 28 MB indicated in 'About this Mac'.

Note things like Java, Javascript, and Flash, etc., up the memory needs of web browsers plus plug-ins quite a bit.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult-- maybe impossible-- to adequately integrate the standalone browser with your AOL email. That is, getting AOL to automatically pop up when you click on an email address in the browser, etc. I've not had time to do much in this area yet, but it seems problem-prone. Apple does include some internet settings apps that are supposed to help with such matters-- but my prior experiences with earlier versions of same were dismal-- leaving me to conclude it's best to ignore Apple's various internet config apps which supposedly make global settings for all your internet ware but usually don't work in my own experience.

So far the iMac web surfing experience seems to work pretty well, though we miss the considerably faster 56k speeds, and still occasionally get AOL or MSIE doing 'unexpected quits', and Javascript/Java error messages from the browser-- sometimes pretty early in a surfing session, too.

A final note: Ever since we downgraded the 56k modem to 33.6 to stay online, it's been taking maybe a full minute to log off AOL. I thought changing our access numbers from the 56k to 33.6k category to match the downgraded speed might shorten the log off times, but it didn't work.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

7-5-99: Apple Mac Quadra 650 and iMac Users' Logs: An 8.1 Quadra outdoes an 8.6 iMac (at least in one area)

I couldn't believe it. Long time readers of this column may remember my problems using MSIE4.x with Mac OS 8.1 on a Quadra 650 when trying to upload files to my website: my files would be appended with garbage in such a case.

I managed to get around that by using Netscape Navigator 4.0.6 to upload instead on the Quadra-- although new problems have arisen since so that now my Quadra can no longer update my site pages on the Disney/Go/Infoseek servers. This new problem started when we were forced to change internet service providers. Our rural ISP just got so unreliable we could take it no longer, and upgraded my long time $10 per month AOL subscription to $22 per month to use AOL as an ISP in addition to email and web site hosting. Our net service reliability immediately improved tremendously. But somewhere deep in the bowels of Netscape Navigator, AOL, TCP/IP or something else on my Mac, some info somewhere may require changing or updating to make me appear legitimate to Infoseek again, cookie-wise or whatever. I haven't a clue what the problem is, and have already tried several times to address it, with no success. Yes, I've written Infoseek, to no avail, too.

I finally got around the direct obstacle by simply giving up on the Mac(s) here and using the NEC Windows98 laptop at FLUX Central to log into Infoseek and have my pages updated with a simple copy from Tripod-- whose servers I can still upload to with my Quadra. I grant this solution isn't available to everyone, since most Mac users probably don't have a PC sitting around to fill in the ever-widening functionality gaps of the Mac platform, and my situation of wanting essentially duplicate files on two domains may not be typical either. But still, this is what worked for me.

Anyway, I was now looking forward to using the iMac to upload with, to both Tripod and Infoseek (if possible). I tried to do Tripod though and got the same garbage problem with the 8.6 iMac I got many months before on my 8.1 Quadra. And yes, MSIE 4.x was involved again-- the one bundled with AOL 4.0. But heck, doesn't anything ever get fixed with new versions of these things?

I did some checking to see if an errant ObjectSupportLib had gotten installed into the iMac's System folder to maybe be a culprit here-- but there wasn't any.

I didn't have the time to continue troubleshooting, so I gave up on the new 8.6 iMac and cranked up the old, old 8.1 Quadra and uploaded to Tripod from there. I may update a few more files at Tripod and then just copy the whole thing over to Infoseek by logging in with the Windows98 laptop again.

I'm really disappointed the 8.6 iMac's not showing any better functionality authoring wise than far older Macs and run-of-the-mill PCs. Whatever the problem is and whoever is at fault, it's really Apple's problem, perception-wise: because many users are simply going to notice it's generally easier to author and maintain web sites on PCs than it is Macs, over time.

Even more ominous for Apple, there's slews of folks out there creating and maintaining websites with nothing more than WebTV set tops! No, I've not done such a thing myself yet, but I was recently astounded when I ran across a huge number of apparently wholly WebTV-created web sites on the net-- along with tutorials and other info on how to accomplish the feat.

If companies like Microsoft consistently refuse to fix things like file uploading bugs in the Mac version of their browser (and Netscape seems to be on its deathbed browser-wise), then Apple had better try doing their own browser, pronto, to try to keep the Mac in the running regarding web-authoring.

But there's more. Although AOL 4.0 on the 8.6 iMac certainly opens up in maybe a third of the time required on the 8.1 Quadra, in some matters the old and creaking Quadra still outdoes the shiny iMac. In hindsight though the difference may lie totally in the configuration differences between the two machines in this case. For example, I use Netscape Navigator 4.0.6 for a browser instead of AOL 4.x's bundled MSIE 4.x on the Quadra, while on the iMac I must use the bundled MSIE with AOL 4.x (since I've not had the opportunity to set up a different browser there). During the recent upload problems I noticed Javascript performance was much better on the 8.1 Quadra than the 8.6 iMac, with the Quadra seeming to be two or three times faster than the iMac. So apparently using the MSIE 4.x bundled with AOL 4.x on the iMac not only corrupts files you upload to the net with the browser, but decimates your iMac's Javacript performance as well-- compared to using the standalone Netscape Navigator 4.0.6 anyway.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

7-3-99: Apple iMac User's Log: We must slow the modem to 33.6 in order to stay online

I finally managed to get the iMac to stay online indefinitely, as opposed to its previous typical 10-20 minute stints. Unfortunately, I had to slow down the 56k modem to 33.6 to do it. I used the WebTV of course to research possible cures for the iMac, since the iMac itself couldn't stay online to do the job (and the WebTV is simply more convenient and reliable than any of the PCs/Macs we got around here anyway for such things).

It turned out the recent Macintouch alert about the security bug regarding new Mac modems didn't help at all regarding the reliability of our connection (although I still kept it implemented in the final string).

I found several things to try before downgrading the modem, but none of them worked for us. Just in case they might work for you, here they are:

Remove phone line splitters, surge protectors, and other devices like extra phones or answering machines or other modems from the phone line you're using the Mac with. The more things plugged into the same line, the weaker the line's signal strength may be, thereby increasing the unreliability of the 56k modem speed. Even too long a phone line between the Mac and the wall plug can hurt your signal strength too.

Yes, it can be a real hassle to disconnect any or all this stuff; so you might try just removing one, least desirable item at a time, and then testing your connection again. That way you might minimize the inconvenience of losing all the gadgets.

Still more problems with your line might come from the line passing too near electrical motors like fans, or power transformers like those stuck in surge protectors for computing peripherals, or proximity to other AC electrical devices and/or their cables. In our case though the wire only came near the iMac itself and a printer-- and there wasn't much to do about that.

One site also said you could test the noise on your line by picking up the phone handset and dialing just the number "one" to cut the dial tone, and then listen for noise. If you detect noise at that point you're supposed to contact your phone company to come out and do something about it. When I tested our line this way I detected no sound at all.

Keep in mind we're using America Online 4.x exclusively for Mac net access here. To change your modem init string in this situation, you've got to do an awful lot of clicking (I believe this must be done OFF-line).

#1: From the AOL sign on screen, click the 'set up' button.
#2: Click 'expert setup'.
#3: Choose your location by clicking on it (ours was already chosen by default); I believe ours was called 'Home'.
#4: Click 'edit'.
#5: Click 'modem options'.
#6: Click 'advanced settings'.
#7: Now you should see a screen with several different typable fields in it. The 'configuration' field or text box is the one you want. Before I changed the contents in ours I made sure to write down the string that already present there in case I needed to switch back (I'm an Old Computer Geezer that well knows the value of being able to backtrack when things go awry).

Next I just added some characters to the right end of the string already in the 'configuration' field. When I was finished, my string looked like this:


(Yes, "0" above is a ZERO and not the text character pronounced 'oh'.) The last part (S2=128) is a security fix recommended by Macintouch recently.

#8: Now you must back out of all the different screens by clicking "ok" or similar positive affirmations to save your changes. You may also be prompted to save the configuration with a new name too-- do so if needed. But remember what the name is in case you have to choose it in a pop up menu later. In some cases even after you do all this it may be necessary to choose the new settings you just completed from a long pop up menu of modem configurations. In our case though I didn't have to.

Now you should have successfully downgraded your 56k modem to a 33.6, and also have the new security fix recommendation from Macintouch included as well.

How much was our surfing slowed down? I'd guess 33% perception wise. But although the iMac modem now only runs as fast as our old WebTV Classic modem, the iMac's much faster CPU still helps it outrace the WebTV in sheer surfing performance. You can perhaps view two or three pages on the iMac in the same time it takes to view one on the WebTV.

But the iMac's chonic shortage of RAM sure keeps that hard disk a'churning.

The owner has seen my original review and now is seeking to upgrade the iMac's RAM pronto. I've told them they really need a mouse much worse than RAM at this point (it's difficult to use a GUI (Graphic User Interface) computer with a ghastly mouse like that shipping with iMac today).

Here's the main links I ran across and consulted regarding the modem disconnect problem:

Apple - Support (troubleshooting connections) ["http://til.info.apple.com/techinfo.nsf/artnum/n24803"]
Apple - Support(imac modem troubleshooting) ["http://til.info.apple.com/techinfo.nsf/artnum/n43079"]
Apple - Support(script for downgrading the imac to 33.6) ["http://til.info.apple.com/techinfo.nsf/artnum/n22234"]
Apple - Support(33.6 downgrade script for aol users) ["http://til.info.apple.com/techinfo.nsf/artnum/n22239"]
mac modem strings and scripts ["http://www.macntosh.com/help.html"]

Other matters

I must say that so far the iMac/8.6 does seem to be managing its virtual RAM and other OS elements at least a tad better than older counterparts like the Performa 6400/7.5.3 (although not nearly as much better as you might expect with nearly half a dozen OS 'upgrades' and several years of hardware 'upgrades' separating the two Macs and OS versions). The slight improvement shows itself in better stability in a severely RAM restricted Mac like standard iMacs are today (32 MB RAM). With 7.5.3 and a mere 32 MB RAM I believe we crashed considerably more often via virtual memory on the 6400. However, the disk churning can get fierce in the 32 MB RAM 8.6 iMac.

As the iMac owner installs more of their software library onto the iMac, the higher the crash frequency becomes too-- so it appears likely the iMac will soon match the crash rate of the old 6400/7.5.3.

Oh yes. I now have discovered where Apple put the paperclip restart hole on the iMac. I couldn't believe it when I found the diagram on the Apple web site. It and a programmer's reset hole too are both situated deep inside the same compartment you plug your USB stuff and phone line into.

How's that for raw stupidity? I forget which switch is which, since they both possess wholly meaningless geek icons for labels, rather than plain and clear words for the 'rest of us'. But when forced to choose recently I inserted the clip into the top hole, which seemed to do the trick.

It sure makes me uncomfortable to be inserting paperclips half-blind into the same general area where all the iMac's connection ports are-- with the frozen iMac powered up yet. What if you accidentally stuck the pin into the wrong place? KA-BLAM! Something would have to short out for sure. I believe the low voltage of the motherboard might save the user from being electrocuted, but that's little comfort.

This is poor design in my opinion. The iMac should have a bonafide and plainly marked restart button usable by human fingers alone in an easily visible and accessible place on the outer case. Users should not have to hunt and guess and research the button's location, or jury rig tools to use it, or take chances on frying their computer with something they obviously must use about as frequently as the iMac's power up switch. I bet if Steve Jobs himself was forced to use an iMac as his exclusive machine for very long this (and the mouse too) would be fixed! Of course, last I heard Jobs' personal machine was a Windows laptop...

As we've still never been able to get any sort of keyboard combination to restart the iMac even once(!), it's clear we're going to have to be bent over in worship to the twin restart holes on a regular basis with this machine.

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

6-25-99: Two new iMacs, one USB Iomega ZIP drive, USB Imation Superdrive, USB Epson Stylus Color 740i printer, and Entrega 4 Port USB Hub join the family

My sister and her husband who were previously using a Mac IIci bought a new iMac in past weeks. One precipitating agent for this may have been the battery going bad on their IIci, or possibly other problems, which rendered it unusable. They plan to try fixing the IIci and perhaps giving it to another family member. Since I live 50 miles away and my brother-in-law wants to try fixing it himself, I'm not sure if I'll be involved in the repair. The second iMac to which this piece refers arrived at FLUX Central a few weeks after my sister's iMac made its debut. In neither case had I recommended the purchases (since you can get practically THREE new low end PCs of equivalent hardware specs but much more mainstream development support (perhipherals, software, and service) for the cost of a SINGLE iMac plus removeable storage device (check out my Dirt Cheap PCs Page for examples).

Well, an iMac finally showed up here at FLUX Central. Based on the wows I'd seen in the press concerning its looks, as well as pics in zillions of ads, I was surprised to find it uglier in person than I expected. The look was made 'too busy' for my tastes by all the molded lines in the faceplate as well as other places-- it wouldn't have taken too many additional gee-gaws of that kind to push the imac's look all the way back into the Victorian realm.

I suspect that one of the more intriguing aspects to the iMac's looks for most relates to its appearance of defying gravity in a Jetson-ish cartoon way. In at least one of the options an owner has for positioning the unit atop a desk, the iMac looks severely unbalanced, like it might tip over at any moment. But test this with some prodding and you find the appearance is deceptive, with the iMac as physically stable as practically any standard PC tower you might possess.

Of course, people acclaim the translucence of the case too. But for me Apple went too far when they even made the electrical plug translucent. Several times the see-thru nature of the plug made me think the iMac wasn't properly plugged into the electrical outlet, since I could see the prongs sticking out of the plug-in. But no, it was the pesky translucence in action.

Being the latest new model, this iMac sports Mac OS 8.6 too, so I'm getting a taste of pretty much the latest and greatest offerings Apple has today in the consumer realm. Prior to this my most modern Apple experiences have been Mac OS 8.1 on a 68k Quadra 650 (which pretty much sucks), and OS 7.5.3 on a PPC Performa 6400 (which sucks just slightly less than the 8.1 Quadra). I also maintain 7.5.3 on a different hard disk of the Quadra, which basically forms my primary workhorse machine. So you might say to this point I've found a 7.5.3 Quadra to be better than a 8.1 Quadra or 7.5.3 Performa 6400. 8.1 seems to crash about as often as 7.5.3 on the Quadra, but the 7.5.3 Quadra is faster and more compatible and convenient than the 8.1 alternative. The 7.5.3 Quadra doesn't crash nearly as often as the 6400 7.5.3, so that's the Quadra advantage there (in 68k versus PPC running 7.5.3).

The iMac has only been here a few days, and I personally have spent less than maybe 16 solid hours or so using it or configuring it, total. But I've also had the chance to spend several hours observing others using it too, like kids.

The iMac's reasonably fast for many things, although the standard 32 MB RAM really makes its woeful inadequacy plain in web access via AOL and possibly other netwares. With only 32 MB RAM on a PPC you have little choice but to keep virtual RAM switched on (a circumstance which doesn't work well with some Mac software and peripherals, in my previous Mac experience since 1989).

Using AOL 4.0 on this iMac is reasonably responsive 80% of the time, but the hard disk churns constantly trying to keep up managing the virtual memory space. And since the hard disk is pretty loud it's hard not to notice the near-constant racket.

I'd guess that a 64 MB plus RAM equipped iMac would be noticeably faster and offer some relief from all this disk churning. I believe my sister's iMac possesses 64 or 96 MB RAM, which my brother-in-law wisely had the store install at purchase time.

Folks, I advise you to have any iMacs you buy be equipped with a MINIMUM of 64 MB RAM from the vendor, for lots of reasons beyond the above. Modern Macs need all the RAM they can get.

More on the iMac's speed: when you tell the iMac to shut down, it doesn't waste time: it's GONE! If only one's children would mind so well. This is a welcome change to the maybe 30-60 second hesitation we experience on our 7.5.3 Performa 6400 regarding shut downs.

The iMac's boot up time is less impressive. Sure, it boots up in maybe one fourth to one third the time required by the 6400, but nowhere near the instant-on everybody wants. The most frustrating thing about the boot-up process is that it seems to have a wholly unnecessary hesitation built into it via software, like it's waiting for a network command or something at a certain point. This may be something related to Apple's ultimate NC (Network Computer) plans for the iMac motherboard. If so, we may see the hesitation removed by OS upgrades beyond 8.6-- at least for the system configs most consumers are likely to possess. I sure hope so anyway.

The iMac mouse is cute, but really shouldn't be called a mouse-- since it lacks most of the contemporary qualifications for that title. Maybe pseudo-mouse would be a better name for this fragile undersized hocky puck. The ergonomics of this mouse aren't terrible-- they don't exist at all. The much talked about (on the web) mouse orientation problem is astoundingly severe, and affects kids just as badly as adults, based on my observations so far. The mouse's small size also seems annoying for adult males, grasp-wise (though seems to matter less to smaller handed folks like women and children).

One mouse-size related problem that took me several days to begin noticing was the 'tipping' problem. Apparently during normal use a person sometimes 'tips' a mouse slightly left or right. With pre-iMac mice this tipping phenomenon didn't matter, as the mice were large enough and squared off sufficiently at the lower edges to compensate for the tipping and allow mouse use to continue undisturbed. Not so the iMac mouse. No, the iMac mouse simply stops working the second these slight tipping actions occur. It's very annoying to the user, and may well contribute to RSS (repetitive stress syndrome), since it forces the user to handle the mouse in a less natural way than would otherwise take place.

In short, an iMac user has to spend a gosh-awful amount of time being distracted by their mouse use-- so the iMac mouse is a horrific productivity sapper. The more I use it, the worse I hate the mouse.

There's also the yawning, gaping seam between the mouse button and the rest of the toy hockey puck, considerably bigger than the seams I've seen on any other mice in my life. So what's the big deal about a wide seam on a mouse? Have you got little kids in the house that use the computer? That seam invites all sorts of food and drinks and whatever else might adorn a child's hand into falling inside the mouse works, causing all sorts of possible problems. Maybe I'm paranoid, but in regards to toddlers who often have damp hands due to everything from sticking their fingers in their mouth to spilled drinks, to hurried drying after hand washing by adults, I worry about them getting shocked or worse with any exposed electronics in close proximity to their little hands. If nothing else, large gaps seem dangerous to the mouse and maybe computer's health too, due to short circuits from liquids or debris falling through the gap.

Heck, a little kid might even spend quite a bit of time consciously trying to push something into the tempting gap, out of curiosity! Of course, it's possible we just got an iMac with a worse than usual gaping mouse-- but I don't think so, from all the other reviews I've seen on the web.

And another thing about the mouse....allowing the USB mouse cord to be attached to the side of the keyboard also seems problem-prone, as the cord stays constantly in the way of the user. This problem too may stem from the smaller-than-normal and rounded mouse, as a bigger, longer mouse like most Macs/PCs have used for ages tends to give a user more maneuvering room where cord coiling is concerned.

The dark-faced keyboard is annoying too-- at least for older people like me suffering vision problems already. If your iMac is parked in an ill-lit room the keyboard may be almost unusable but for already accomplished typists.

It turns out there was a good reason many computer peripherals and boxes were beige in the past-- so that people could see them.

Another flaw in regards to the keyboard is much harder to define: I regularly use a variety of machines and keyboards, including both Macs and PCs and desktops/laptops and even WebTV. Trained typists sometimes marvel at my typing speed-- since I'm basically a two finger hunt and pecker who's simply gotten faster from lots and lots of practice.

But on the iMac keyboard I stumble a LOT, and badly. Produce more typos than correct words and phrases, for some reason. And am much slower in general in typing speed. I'm not sure why I'm having so much trouble with the iMac's keyboard (while the reasons for my mouse problems are obvious to almost anyone). It seems to be something more than simply the black color of the keys.

In brief, so far as I can tell, the standard iMac possesses one of the worst keyboard and mouse combinations to be seen by computer users maybe since the dawn of personal computing itself.

If you're planning an iMac purchase, go ahead and expect to buy a mouse too-- and figure there's a good chance you'll have to buy a keyboard as well-- at least if you expect to ever type much on the machine.

This iMac has a fairly spacious hard drive-- where novices with little third party software to transfer from older Macs are concerned. Long time, software-heavy users may find it cramped though, especially since competing PCs in this price range may offer considerably more disk space (as well as RAM) than the iMac.

It's unclear how much software will eventually be added to this iMac (if the owner decides to keep it beyond the trial period). But for now the hard drive's big enough that I set virtual RAM to 256 MB. From experience I know PPC Macs want all the RAM they can get, be it physical or virtual. The more RAM, the slightly fewer crashes you get, too.

Speaking of crashes, the iMac didn't crash a single time over its first several days. But then we connected a printer to it and it began crashing with a frequency roughly equivalent to our old OS 7.5.3 Performa 6400. More on that later.

The iMac loses net connections with appalling frequency. Unlike the Mac OS 7.5.3 Performa 6400 PPC and the Mac OS 8.1 Quadra 650, the 8.6 iMac merely reports the connection lost and doesn't crash (so far in a few days of tests anyway). The Windows98 NEC laptop we possess also crashes at least sometimes when the net connection is lost. So this part of the iMac/8.6 OS I like. I also like the faster 56k modem on the iMac relative to the 28.8 on the other Macs. The iMac usually connects at around 46k-49k on our noisy rural phone line. Besides those caveats with our line, we also must use access numbers located a couple counties away, routing our connection through more automated phone switches than would otherwise be the case. One consequence is that the faster the modem we use, the less reliable the connection. So far the iMac and Win98 laptop, both equipped with 56k modems, seem to lose connection about once every 10-20 minutes during the day or evening. Our 28.8 Macs often run 30-50 minutes before losing connection/crashing. Our 33.6 WebTV sometimes will run for 12-16 hours with losing connection, though often you may get only 1-3 hours before a connection loss. The WebTV actually crashes (hangs up requiring pulling its power plug from the wall) maybe once every several months.

Keep in mind all this info is based on three different ISPs (AOL, WebTV, a rural ISP), four different operating systems (Win98, Mac 7.5.3 and 8.6, WebTV), and all but the rural ISP involving calling long distance numbers over a noisy rural line.

The 7.5.3 Performa 6400 is the only machine I've had any success doing lengthy downloads on (maybe 50% of the downloads have been successful)-- and those have typically been from AOL libraries, and late at night. Late night sessions may be essential for lengthy downloads via any of these machines under my own local circumstances (note WebTV can't do downloads and the iMac remains untested in that area, though so far its frequent disconnect rate doesn't promise great potential there).

I'm hoping I can up the iMac's connect reliability by rearranging the access number priorities in AOL-- but that tactic has had only mixed results in the past with other machines. Scheduling downloads/lengthy surfing sessions only in the dead of night might help too, but is so inconvenient for the user as to be rarely worthwhile.

So far the iMac's frequent disconnects from the net have completely stymied my tests of Sherlock, Apple's new search engine technology. By the time I've logged on, checked my mail, and got back my first page of Sherlock search results my net connection has been lost; so I can't check the quality of the results. I guess I'll have to write about that later (if I can ever get past the disconnects).

UPDATE on iMac connectivity: changing phone numbers around didn't help. On the plus side though, I've come to the conclusion that the iMac's performance advantage (333 MHz and 56k modem-wise) over our 200 MHz, 28.8 modem Performa 6400 pretty much makes the frequent connection loss problem a non-issue for me personally. Especially when you add in the substantial differences in restart/bootup times, and respective crash rates for the two machines as well. So for the purposes of surfing to lots of pre-planned web pages and saving the text for research like I do, it's a virtual dead heat between the two machines, in terms of productivity. Even including the iMac's god-awful mouse problem. The 6400 may often stay connected longer than the iMac, but it takes longer to recover from crashes, and crashes more easily, and the iMac fits lots of web page views into its meager few minutes online during a session.

The iMac/OS 8.6/AOL 4.0 combo is definitely more stable regarding certain web sites than the 6400/OS 7.5.3/AOL 3.0 combo too; e.g., WIRED. I can practically guarantee crashing the 6400 with two or three visits in a row to the WIRED site, due to some sort of Java or Javascript problem I suppose, while so far the iMac seems to surf there without problems.

A recent piece on Macintouch speaks of a problem with init strings for modems like the iMacs, which may be causing the frequent disconnects we're experiencing (?). Unfortunately the info available so far is still too vague, geeky, and difficult to apply for me personally. I'm hoping someone will simplify the process of diagnosing and fixing the problem and post it on the web soon. END UPDATE.

Despite the disk churning due to insufficient RAM, the annoying way AOL incorporates MSIE into AOL 4.0, and even the astonishingly bad iMac mouse, I'd likely change my current preference for web surfing from WebTV to the iMac-- if only the iMac could stay connected to the web longer than 10-20 minutes at a time. Sigh.

The iMac's CD ROM drive tray is indeed as fragile-seeming as previous reviews have described, spawning instant anxiety attacks for the owner when they spied children trying to change CDs on the tray on their own.

The iMac owner also bought an Iomega USB ZIP drive for the machine. I did the install. The install seemed to go well, though again, all this is very recent. The most substantial consequences of almost all new computer gear installs/configurations often aren't clear for as much as a year after the events. Case in point: Iomega drives themselves. I witnessed some significant problems crop up with my original SCSI ZIPs and/or Iomega drivers purchased way back years ago as much as a year after I began using them, apparently due to a software glitch of some sort, whereby files copied to disk in a ZIP drive attached to the PPC 6400 wouldn't show up in the same disk's directory on another Mac/ZIP combo (eventually an Iomega driver update seemed to fix the problem). In the latest USB install on the iMac it appeared Iomega's installer replaced a newer USB driver in Mac OS 8.6 with a slightly older version. I've seen similar things happen with kid's games replacing newer Quicktime files with older ones, to the detriment of the Mac it happened to. So I put the discarded driver in a safe place elsewhere on disk and went to Search MacFixIt via WebTV to see if there was anything posted there about this causing problems. I didn't see anything in several pages of search results, so I continued the ZIP install and everything seemed to work OK...

A day or two after the USB ZIP install, the owner also purchased a USB Epson Stylus Color 740i printer.

This may be the fourth or fifth Epson printer I've installed the past couple years on a computer (both Macs and PCs)-- I've lost count. I've also installed several Canons and possibly others as well-- and installed many Apple printers before they stopped making them, too.

I miss the Apple printers. Though they too were getting more complex and rising in difficulty of install in their later years, and typically cost $100-$150 more than their PC counterparts, they were never as problem-prone as all these PC printers are in regards to the Mac today. PC printer makers just seem not to care about finishing the debug of either hardware or software regarding their products for the Mac platform. Typically a printer will install at least slightly easier on the PC than the Mac, these days. Don't get me wrong-- it's often a bear to install printers on the PCs. But in my experience it's usually only the Mac which freezes up or outright crashes during a printer install or afterwards.

And even the latest iMac/Mac OS 8.6 is no exception to this. I got the same infuriating screen freeze ups here as with every other Mac and printer combo I've fooled with the past several years.

There's been no less than FIVE supposedly significant OS releases from Apple since 7.5.3 (7.6, 8.0, 8.1, 8.5, and 8.6). This latest iMac is at least the FOURTH in the line (Revision D). Epson has had literally YEARS now to debug their printer software too for Mac use. The new USB standard is supposed to be a vast improvement in Plug'nPlay over previous technologies; and both Apple and third party developers have enjoyed roughly a year now during which to perfect their iMac USB wares.

But still today's user installation experience is not improved a bit from installing new Epson printers onto Mac OS 7.5.3, via Apple's old timey serial ports, several years back.

So there's been absolutely no progress in this department regarding Mac improvements, folks.

Well, actually, the Mac may have declined in quality in this respect. Since it's much harder to restart the machine now when it locks up. On our Performa 6400 the keyboard restart combination almost never fails to work. The iMac manual says the same combo works there too, but I've not seen it work a single time yet. The manual also mentions a pinhole and paperclip trick like the old Macs used for freeing stuck floppy disks, but gave no info on its location in the text(!). A quickie visual inspection didn't reveal it either, and I was too short of time to spend mucking about trying to find the darn thing (holding an infant in one arm and trying to protect the iMac CD ROM drive tray from a curious three year old toddler with the other, while also coping with a frozen iMac, takes its toll)-- so I've just been switching off the power to the machine via power strip, like doubtless hundreds of thousands of iMac owners everywhere are doing frequently these days. I do plan to try to research the restart pinhole and custom bend a #$@!&^%$#! paper clip for this #$@!*&^%%, when I get the time-- since apparently we're going to be spending LOTS of time poking wires into it trying to revive the computer.

I despise using the paperclip gimmick, and always have. Often the clips are too weak to do the job (bending rather than working) and everything else is too big to fit through the pinholes. And Apple seems to made the pinholes even smaller on some of their later machines compared to the older models, since a tiny hex wrench I found to work on an old Mac for this chore proved too big to fit later model Mac pinholes.

I guess Apple shrunk the pinholes planning to sell their own proprietary wire tool, and then forgot to offer the wire tool at all to users, leaving us up the proverbial creek.

Folks, if you had to fool with this aspect of the iMac under the same conditions I did, I'm sure you'd write something similar. I guess part of the problem is the latest Apple hype regarding ease of use, plus the Mac's actual history, which all serves to raise user expectations-- back many years ago the Mac truly was easier to use, and I was one of those who experienced the profound differences between Macs and PCs in that respect. Alas, those days seem gone forever-- although Apple's trying to feed off the memories to convince people that it's still true, in some anecdotal or point-of-view sort of way.

Windows98 PCs are very similar in this respect, of course. Often all you can do when they freeze up is to switch them off and back on again.

Anyway, when I finally seemed to get the printer driver working I stopped short of installing the extra software Epson had bundled with the printer, since the iMac's stability already seemed to have suffered a grievous blow. Plus, the iMac owner wasn't around to question as to any preferences regarding the other apps-- I sure didn't want to install any extra apps I didn't have to.

A couple hours after the printer install the iMac owner themselves got a crash, when they clicked on something in the Microsoft Internet Explorer bundled with AOL 4.0, after having already logged off. This was the first possibly online related crash we'd seen on the iMac since purchase. From my experience with MSIE3 and 4 elsewhere, I know that it gets pretty fragile after its host machine has been logged off the net; so we may have been heading for that sort of crash sooner or later no matter whether a printer was installed or not.

But again, I'm forced to wonder how lots of Mac sites can justify their posted opinions that the Mac OS has made any gains whatsoever in stability since 7.5.3. It looks less and less likely as we get more experience here with Mac OS 8.6 and the Revision D iMac. Maybe what those Mac sites mean is that now OS 8.6 only crashes with roughly the same frequency as Windows98? If so, that might be accurate; in my limited W98 experience it seems plausible. But that sure doesn't sound like a selling point to me.

It's reasonably easy to physically connect things to the iMac port-wise-- but not 'top-of-the-line' easy. Maybe women and children with smaller hands and fingers would have an easier time connecting phone lines and USB cables in the side compartment of the iMac than I did. The compartment is something like what you'd expect the dashboard glove box in a kiddie's pedal car to be, which means plugging things in can be a bit cumbersome and acrobatic at times. The phone line port is especially cramped to get to, looking like it almost didn't make it into the compartment at all, being situated right at the far edge of the interior, jammed into a close corner. Two adults who had hold of this iMac before me had trouble getting the USB keyboard and mouse connected for initial setup. Apparently they couldn't determine which were the proper ports to use, or else couldn't see inside the compartment very well to make the choice. These were two grown women with years of Mac experience, and one with maybe six months of laptop PC experience as well. Occasionally one of these ladies achieves something install or configuration-wise on a Mac or PC that eluded even me, although I carry maybe ten to twenty times the computer experience they do-- so it's not like they were raw novices having problems getting the iMac to work. The iMac I/O compartment simply isn't as easy to use as Apple hype suggests. Another point: often when someone's setting up a new computer or relocating an old one, they'll end up having the computer and any nearby lights/table lamps all plugged into the nearest outlet via a power strip. And that strip will naturally be turned OFF as this is the setup phase, which means all the nearby lamps are unpowered, and light might be scant around the ports compartment, making designs like the iMac's side compartment pretty user UN-friendly. Savvy long-in-the-tooth folks like me might keep a flashlight around for such times, or even have an independent/redundant lightsource just for such occasions. But most folks are not that geeky, AND SHOULDN'T HAVE TO BE.

Get a clue Apple. And you too, Compaq, MS, etc.

Getting the iMac online was similar to plugging the USB and phone line cables into the side compartment-- reasonably easy but not 'top-of-the-line' easy. I'd guess that things would go better for someone who was connecting to the net for the first time rather than someone with an already established account like us. I've seen this attribute before, in Apple's first versions of its Internet Connection Kit, which were astonishingly buggy and hard to use for those with already established net accounts, as compared to total newcomers. Apple's early net connection kit quality probably ranked up there with making 8 and 16 MB RAM standard on the earliest PowerMacs, so far as awe-inspiring marketing goofs go. Fortunately though Apple's improved their net set up about 10,000 percent since. But it's still got an annoying point or two for some circumstances.

AOL 4.0 was on the iMac waiting for us, but I had to tweak things a bit to get it to work the way everyone here expects it to, such as forcing the TCP/IP to stop defaulting to the Ethernet port and use the AOL connection parameters instead. I also had to log off and quit AOL to up AOL's allotted memory space when AOL reported the default memory size was too small to permit opening the web browser (Gee-- does that mean novice AOL users are utterly unable to surf the web out-of-the-box on an iMac? Looks like it). It seemed like someone with less net config experience than I might have had to put up with some very annoying log on glitches into perpetuity here (NOTE: My experience with Mac net access includes constructing a connection kit and comprehensive user manual for the process back when net connection was still geeky, that would allow practically every Mac from a Mac Plus up through PowerMacs to be taken online; this kit served 13 counties in East Tennessee for the local rural ISP for several years, and I provided phone support and sometimes on-site support as well. The kit manual was also online serving Mac users worldwide for some time as well).

Not long after all the above transpired, the iMac owner showed up with a new USB Imation Superdrive too. Since we have no USB hub yet for the iMac, we now have to disconnect the ZIP to use the Superdrive.

Apparently Imation announced a new and improved version of this drive the day after we installed ours. I hope they cut a couple inches off the enormous protuberances sticking out the back of the drive. I couldn't believe the length of these bean pole connectors when I saw them. They waste a ton of space on your desk. We also get Finder errors using the device, for what reason I do not know. Remember folks, all this stuff is brand new, and we are following the instructions for installation faithfully. Plus, I've got the discipline and savvy of working with Macs for ten years now, and other computerwares for years before that, as well as some PC stuff on the side all along too. So having this much trouble with virtually everything we do with the iMac is not exactly confidence building.

So why did the iMac owner buy this Imation drive? They have one old Mac app on a floppy that they dearly love, and the iMac has no floppy drive. That's why. So how many other iMac buyers I wonder are being forced to effectively pay an extra $100 or so to get the $15 1.44MB floppy functionality 99% of all PCs include as a standard feature?

Oh yeah. Remember how some of the ads for the iMac acts like it does away with extraneous cables strewn all over your desktop? Don't believe it. The monitor cables may be out of the way (since the display is built-in), but even the original Mac 128 could make that same boast. In fact, the ancient Mac 128 actually did the iMac one better by including a built-in removable writable drive too (a floppy). On the iMac, you have to buy one separate, and viola! You've got cable mess! Now add a printer, and you've got TWICE the cable mess a Mac 128 or SE would have caused you. And so on and so forth. Our desktop parking space for our iMac looks like an eagle's nest of branches (cables) or dead octupus sprawled over several square feet of table top. By contrast, our Performa 6400 actually looks like it has virtually no cables at all compared to the iMac, since the tower can sit under a desk, and all its cables connect at the rear rather than the side. And yet, the 6400 in actuality has LOTS more devices attached to it than the iMac-- such as a VCR for video in and out, an external microphone, and a scanner, in addition to a printer and ZIP drive.

Apparently on both the iMac and PC, USB devices are less apt to freeze up or crash the computers if you connect them while their respective host computers are up and running, rather than doing so with everything turned off and then switching on. It's taken some trial and error to discover this. But get this: the installation instructions for some USB devices like the printer described above actually tell the user to have everything switched off to connect the peripheral to the computer. Catch-22.

After all the above, suddenly an Entrega 4 Port USB Hub showed up. The outside of the box said it worked with PCs or Mac, but inside the instructions didn't mention Macs anywhere. Fortunately it didn't matter. I plugged everything up and it just worked. The Entrega is smaller and lighter than you might expect, making it one of those devices that might sit cockeyed on your desk due simply to one stiff cable being connected to it. It has four lights on the front, which each show red when no USB device is active on a particular port, and green when the case is otherwise.

The enormous nest of peripheral cables around the iMac by now is starting to look scary-- and the owner is complaining about the 'messy' look of the desktop. But hey! This is the iMac-- the king of spaghetti cable configurations, since it has no built-in floppy, and connections must come out the side in full view of users, rather than behind.

These are my own first impressions of the iMac at FLUX Central. The bottomline is that I regard the iMac as an OK mid-range quality computer system, albeit overpriced for its limited software and peripherals compatibility, and PC hardware features. It's not difficult at all to find better bargains out there that outperform the iMac in everything but possibly for general ease-of-use. Indeed, the hardware feature set of an iMac is basically the same as a low end $500 PC-- perhaps only the presence of the Mac OS raises the quality to mid-range PC status. But the iMac's ease-of-use advantage is razor-thin here-- if you have a single real problem with the iMac/OS 8.6 you may well find yourself treading water in a sea of complexity not much different from that of a Windows98 user-- only with far fewer potential options regarding tech support and services. The long-term viability of the Mac platform also seems suspect to me, due to Apple's past troubles before Jobs returned, and many of the moves Jobs himself has taken since. In past months third party developers have continued to flee the Mac platform in considerable numbers, despite Apple hype to the contrary. For these reasons and others I cannot recommend anyone buy an iMac today.

I like the iMac, and if not for all the concerns wrote about above, would like to have one. But I'm afraid to invest any substantial money in Apple products with Steve Jobs calling the shots, and since Apple simply surrendered to Microsoft the past few years. Plus, virtually all the interesting computer wares these days are available first or only on the PC, and even many cutting edge web services are exclusive to the PC too. Add the significant instability of the OS and the cost difference atop all this and it just doesn't make sense to buy a Mac these days-- unless you've got money to burn.

I continue to hope that Apple does something to change my mind on all this, but after years of waiting anyone will finally give up at some point.

The new 8.6 iMac versus an old 7.5.3 Performa 6400 as a gaming platform.

So what's an unbiased kid's opinion on the iMac compared to a Performa 6400, given a choice of playing the same game on either machine side-by-side?

According to my three year old nephew wanting to play a Casper game, and having tried both the iMac and 6400, the 6400 is the first choice.

If I were forced to buy a new personal computer today, the top contenders for my money would be either a new emachines Windows98 PC or a refurbished Sony VAIO Windows95 machine. I could get either one, plus add oodles of upgrades too, for the same price Apple demands for a naked iMac today. And I'd get a functional floppy drive, keyboard, and mouse included in the price as well. Heck, these days I'm even considering giving a Linux PC a shot, I'm so frustrated with both the Windows and Mac platforms (and also worried about where their respective owners are taking the platforms).

Apple iMac User's Log Contents

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