My first encounter with the iMac

by Konstantin Weiss on July 11, 2022

I remember my first encounter with the iMac clearly. It was in the kitchen of my girlfriend at the time. I must have been 18. The computer belonged to Björn, a friend of my girlfriend. Björn was a few years older than me, and was about to graduate from high school. Why Björn brought the iMac to Melanie, I don't know anymore. But I can remember all the more clearly how the iMac stood there in the kitchen. It looked like an object from another world, brought to us by aliens. It looked exciting. And it looked inviting.

Until then, I had only known PCs. I knew there were Macs. But I didn't have anyone in my circle of acquaintances who was even close to Macs. For years, I had known only one narrative: anyone who had a Mac at home was pitiful because they couldn't play games. Macs just weren't made for that, and because pretty much no one had a Mac, the Mac kids couldn't interact with anyone. A vicious circle.

But I was already 18, and at 18 I played almost no games. Instead, I was now passionately interested in the new land of infinite possibilities: the Internet. I had been friends with the Web for a few years. When I was 17, we made the school website in the school Internet study group after class and on weekends. So the browser was my new home, and my new gateway through which I explored the new world. The sound of the modem was like the sweet song of sirens, beckoning me into a new age.

And now there stood this new Mac. A vehicle for the information superhighway. Made for surfing, and downloading and enjoying media files, and reading and writing emails, and discussing in forums. It no longer mattered how compatible the device was for games. It didn't matter if it ran anything from Microsoft. It ran Netscape. It ran email and forum programs. You could even prepare everything for websites with Photoshop and the like, and upload it to the server via FTP. You could read on the Internet, and write for the Internet. A Read/Write Web device.

So there it was, the iMac, in the kitchen of my girlfriend's parents. It was unusual that there could be a computer in a kitchen. At that time, computers were still a tower, a screen, peripherals, and a lot of cables. (Who had a laptop back then?) And this equipment was anything but handy to carry around. That was also different with the iMac. Even the (strange) mouse was attached to the keyboard, which reduced the cable length considerably. The iMac was really nothing more than a screen. Just taking the mouse and keyboard in the other hand, the thing was easy to carry around.

At that time, it was still running OS8 or 9, and it was performant for the hardware, definitely for anything internet-related. It also had a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels. That was not unusual, but definitely generous. Many PCs still ran on 800x600 pixel screens. And so you had enough space for browsing and for design programs.

And how did the data exchange work? Today USB is like air around us. We don't notice it, it's just there, on every device. At that time it was unusual not to see a floppy drive. But it was obvious. Even then, just about nothing fit on a floppy disk anymore. And USB sticks were so much slimmer and more robust than floppy disks.

Why did Björn choose this computer? I don't know (anymore). He was preparing for his studies in Aachen at that time. It was an unusual choice for an engineering student. I don't remember him ever regretting it.

Maybe Björn saw what I saw in this egg from the future. RWTH in Aachen was already connected to the Internet backbone and directly to Frankfurt with super-fast lines back then. All the dorms had direct access, their own local servers, Ethernet everywhere. Maybe he just liked the shape. If I meet him again, I'll ask him.

The iMac is in my eyes like a first attempt to have an internet-first device, which is then continued by the iBook and today by the MacBook Air. Apple was betting on that when they released the device. I think the math worked out.


This text was written on an iMac G3.


by Apple, 1998