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A Windows machine in iMac clothing
By PETER H. LEWIS, New York Times
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 1999
Back in college, a classmate turned in a writing assignment that was almost identical to a short story written years earlier by Ray Bradbury. Only the characters' names and minor details had been changed. The instructor suggested that the work was dangerously close to plagiarism. "It's not plagiarism," the student declared defiantly. "It's homage."
Like the iMac, the eOne is a one-piece computer with a built-in 15-inch monitor, in translucent blue and white plastic, with a skeletal keyboard, a weird mouse and a multicolored power cord.
Put the iMac and the eOne side by side, and the most obvious difference appears to be that the eOne has a clunkier, boxy design and is less elegantly molded than the beachball-like iMac.
If you think the iMac is ugly, you will want to beat the eOne with a stick. But a bigger difference is that once the power button is pushed, the eOne hoists the Jolly Roger flag of the Windows 98 operating system, running on a 433-megahertz Intel Celeron microprocessor, instead of the happy-face logo of the Mac OS running on the iMac's 333-megahertz PowerPC G3 chip.
While the eOne lacks the elegance of the iMac, it is nevertheless impressive for the money. I was able to set it up and connect it to the Internet over a telephone line in less than 10 minutes, and that included a few puzzled moments lost when the on-screen instructions suddenly and mysteriously lapsed into German (this may be the most original thing about the eOne).
The eOne also improves greatly on the iMac's skeletal keyboard and hockey-puck mouse. But unlike the iMac, which comes in five colors, the eOne comes in only one, which should probably be called "Sue Me Blue." Apple last month sued Daewoo Telecom, a South Korean electronics company, and its PC subsidiary, Future Power, after they announced plans to start selling one-piece, translucent, colored, Windows-based computers that looked remarkably like the iMac. It since has filed suit against eMachines.
"I swear ours was not designed to be a copy," said Pattie Adams, a spokeswoman for eMachines. "Yes, it is an all-in-one design, it is translucent and it is blue, but the similarities stop there," Adams said. "We're not offering multicolors. Our mouse is different. You have to be a space alien to use theirs."
And you would have to be from another planet to be unaware of the spectacular success of the iMac, which was introduced a year ago. Month after month, the iMac is the most popular single model of computer sold at retail, for reasons that include styling, simplicity, price and ease of use, particularly for making it easy to connect to the Internet.
The eOne mimics the iMac's style, at two-thirds the price. It is as simple to set up, and it connects almost as easily to the Internet.
Almost -- because, after all, this is a Windows machine, and Windows is not quite as easy to use as the Mac OS. Example: Just a couple of mouse clicks into the Internet set-up routine, the eOne made an annoying "boink!" noise and issued this warning: "File and printer sharing is running on the same TCP/IP connection you will use to access the Internet. Other users on the Internet might be able to access your files. You cannot continue unless you disable file and printer sharing." The user, who may never have used a computer before, has two puzzling choices, "OK" or "Cancel."
It comes down to this: The Macintosh operating system is a little easier to use, and generally more stable than Windows. In part because of the iMac's success, Apple is no longer a risky choice. But 90 percent of new PCs today are based on the Windows operating system, and far more software is available for Windows.
There is safety in numbers, especially when you are trying to find someone to help fix a computer problem at 10 p.m. On the other hand, there will probably be more problems to fix with Windows.
If the main purpose of the computer is to connect to the Internet, browse the World Wide Web and send and receive e-mail, and maybe handle personal finances and an occasional game or educational program, the operating system is becoming less and less important.
Choosing then becomes a battle of features. Let's compare: The eOne has a 433-megahertz Celeron chip with 128 kilobytes of Level 2 cache, which improves the chip's performance. The iMac has a 333-megahertz PowerPC G3 with 512 kilobytes of L2 cache. Although the clock rate on the Celeron is higher, the iMac has the better engine.
The eOne comes with 64 megabytes of random access memory and a 6.4-gigabyte hard disk drive. The iMac comes with 32-megabyte RAM and a 6-megabyte hard disk. Boosting the iMac's memory to 64 megabytes, which is highly recommended, adds $70 to the price.
Both have a 24X CD-ROM drive, but the eOne has a floppy drive while the iMac has none. A floppy drive may not be state of the art, but no matter what Apple says, almost everyone needs some sort of removable storage device.
Both machines come with an Ethernet networking port, and both have two Universal Serial Bus ports. Both come with a built-in 56K modem and fax software. But the eOne wins on connectivity, because it also has a built-in home phone line networking port (HomePNA), two PC card slots, a serial port, a parallel port and a game/MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) port. Both machines have audio-in ports, while the eOne also has a video-in port.
The eOne has a Rage XL AGP graphics accelerator with 8 megabytes of video memory for displaying 3-D graphics in games and for viewing Internet video. The iMac has a more powerful Rage Pro Turbo graphics card with 6-megabyte video memory.
The eOne comes with a one-year parts and labor warranty and 15 days of free telephone technical support; subsequent support calls are $20 "per incident." Apple offers a limited one-year warranty and 90 days of telephone support; after that, calls are $35 to $37 per incident.
Finally, eMachines (www.e4me.com), which recently passed Apple to become the fifth-largest PC seller in America, is a partner in America Online's $400 rebate program for customers who sign a 36-month contract for AOL's CompuServe Internet service at $21.95 a month. That cuts the initial cost of the eOne to $399, a better bargain.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.