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by Andrew Welch

[Andrew on Harley]

P1derful ideas

There's been quite a bit of buzz surrounding Apple's upcoming "consumer portable" computer lately. For those of you who haven't been paying attention in class, a quick recap: Apple announced some time ago that they would divide their product line into just two parts: professional and consumer. In each product line, there are to be both desktop and portable computers.

So far we've seen the wildly successful iMac (the consumer desktop machine), the quixotic yet stunning "smurf tower" G3 (the professional desktop machine), and of course the "Pentium steam-rolling" PowerBook G3s (the professional portable machine). Of course, there's something missing from this picture: the consumer portable.

There are any number of rumor-mongering Web sites and magazine columns that will be glad to offer you the latest dirt on what the consumer portable will be, and when it will be available. Their accuracy is generally a mixed-bag, so take it with a grain of salt, but they certainly can be entertaining and occasionally informative.

I'd like to ramble on a bit about what I personally would like to see in a consumer portable machine -- we'd be the first in line to pick one up if Apple can come close to what we need here at Ambrosia. I'm not privy to any inside information or facts about what these machines will be -- rather I'm just expressing my personal opinion about what I hope they'll turn into.

I should start out with a bit of history. The first "portable" Macintosh I ever owned was the original "Macintosh Portable." Yep, I was one of the dolts who bought that 17 lb, non-backlighted behemoth. Scarred by that experience (though left with arms that were significantly beefier from carrying it to and fro), I waited some time until purchased a PowerBook 180. This was actually a fairly decent machine for the time; decent form factor, a grayscale back-lit screen, and good performance for a portable.

My most recent PowerBook is a 540c -- excellent design, good performance, decent battery life, and a subtle but striking curved appearance. This machine has been my trusty portable for quite some time, until it developed a rather strange "psychedelic screen" which would pulsate and color-shift like an eye-candy screen from a Grateful Dead concert. Mildly entertaining, but not particularly useful.

I actually haven't used it for serious work in quite some time; and I've skipped the entire generation or three of PowerPC PowerBooks. They always had one or two things wrong with them that made me decide it just wasn't worth the investment. Even the current generation "professional" G3 PowerBooks just aren't what I need. Sure, they have a beautiful color screen, a decent keyboard, and screaming performance -- but I really don't need a huge portable computer that'll set my lap on fire if I decide to check eMail on the couch.

What I really want is a small portable (4-5 lb max) that's easy to carry, has a very usable keyboard, a decent screen, excellent battery life, and reasonable performance. All I want to do with it is stay in touch, reading/answering eMail, browsing the web, remotely accessing the office, etc. I'm not going to be doing any serious development work on it, I don't need to be able to play full-screen MPEG movies, and I certainly don't care if it has any kind of 3D acceleration in it at all.

I'm absolutely willing to take a hit in terms of performance/features to end up with a machine that a) lasts a long time between charges and b) is light and easily accessible. I think there are others who might be interested in something similar; my brother, for instance.

He's writing his thesis in Central America -- he needs a durable machine with good battery life that he can reasonably use to write his stories. The current PowerBook G3 would be relatively useless to him because it is too large, the battery life isn't up to snuff, and it burns a lot of energy on features that would be completely wasted on him.

So what do you say, Apple? Gimme the good stuff! We have a few customers lined up already...

[Andrew's Signature]

Andrew Welch
Ambrosia Software, Inc.

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