25 years ago, in August 1998, Apple released the iMac. Another all-in-one Macintosh in the same spirit as the original. But this time it was different. A clear blue plastic design that led to a swarm of products following that trend replaced the “beige” (Macs went silver in 1987). The removal of most of the ports in favour of USB, and of the floppy drive, which at that time, with a capacity of 1.44MB, was already insufficient to store any Microsoft Office document, pushed towards getting rid of “legacy” connectors.
Still, I think the iMac pointed the way to the era of ubiquitous laptops. (What is a laptop but an all-in-one computer? Fortunately, laptops don’t weigh 38 pounds like the iMac G3.) From the very beginning, the iMac was criticized as being limited and underpowered. Apple frequently used laptop parts in the iMac, whether it was for cost savings or miniaturization reasons. Today, Mac desktops use more or less the same parts as Mac laptops.
Today an iMac is just a big screen with a laptop hardware, and a laptop is just a portable workstation with CPU power that was unimaginable 25 years ago, and that satisfy majority of users.
But how do the iMac reflect on the whole computer industry?
It was the kick-start for USB. USB had been available for a couple of years already on select PC hardware, but no one used it as the de-facto PC operating system, Windows, needed a serious update to support USB, update that was only available a year after ; Windows NT, the more serious version of the OS didn’t support USB until Windows 2000. Today USB is ubiquitous, and it is uncertain how much the iMac helped it, but it did. Apple replaced everything with it. No more ADB, no more serial, no more external SCSI.
Later generations of the iMac brought other colours, and Firewire combined with iMovie bed for a more affordable Digital Video editing system.2 The “lamp” design of the following iMac, introduced the switch to flat panel screens, and the current iMac shaped into a screen define the desktop computer for everyone, a form factor copied by others.
Also, the iMac probably helped saving Apple. Following it came a lot of “i” products, some being smashing hits: iPod, iTunes, iMovie, iPhoto, iCloud, iPad, iPhone, iWatch, oh wait. Not that last one, it’s called Apple Watch.
Had Apple not saved itself with the iMac, where would Linux on the desktop be? This is a serious question. MacOS X (now macOS) attracted a lot of (IT) professionals from both Linux and Windows to use a Mac because it was better suited for them. Faced with the choice of only Windows or Linux, what trend would that have been?
I have to admit that the Macintosh as what drew me to computers, and without it I may not be where I am.