I’m not sure it’s a more emblematic example of the transformation of Apple from the mid – 90s to the excitement of the Steve Jobs – Jony Ive era than what happened to Apple’s flagship Mac tower, the Power Mac G3. Today we refer to the original Power Mac G3, introduced in late 1997, as the “beige G3.” It was the Apple School, a dull beige tower – but with a teeny triangle of green transparent plastic as a touch of what was to come.
A little over a year later, in January 1
This computer is remarkable in so many ways, it’s practically a box of Apple-themed Trivial Pursuit questions. It was the first Mac with FireWire. (“FireWire is going to explode,” Steve Jobs boasted.) The first Power Mac to dig into the long-running SCSI peripheral. The latest Mac to ever be released with an ADB port, the old Apple Desktop Bus that was used to connect keyboards and mice for more than a decade on the Mac. These were the days of the awful iMac hockey puck mouse, so being able to continue using your computer devices a little longer was an important selling point. Many people still hung on to the old excellent Apple Extended Keyboards as well. (Me? I used an ADB Kensington Turbo Mouse – a giant trackball, in beige) to road extend.)
As you might expect, Mac users did not respond well to a Power Mac that shut down old technologies. “How many advanced users do not have a significant investment in SCSI peripherals? This makes no sense, ”complained a prepress specialist to MacWEEK. “It’s frustrating to be Steve Jobs’ guinea pig,” said another design director.
Fortunately, Apple offered a $ 49 SCSI expansion card for users with a large pile of SCSI peripherals who did not want to make the aircraft yet. (Having available expansion slots made the transition to a Power Mac G3 much less painful than the same transition to an iMac, which did not provide internal expansion.)
The Blue and White G3 was also the first Mac not to include the Macintosh Toolbox in ROM, instead relying primarily on Open Firmware – an esoteric technical issue, to be sure, but if you consider how Macs start up, is this dividing line between the time before and what we do more or less to this day. Things that are in ROM are, as the name suggests, just read. Blue and White G3 read the toolbox from a file on disk and ushered in a time when much of the wired content in the early days of the computer was replaced with firmware that could be updated over time.
The gates and plastic were not what really however, the Blue and White G3 differ. It was the design – a largely driven by ergonomics. This is the first professional Mac that came with a handle and a hinged access door. It was revolutionary.
Let’s start with the handles. Power Macs did not use to have them. But in the late ’90s, Apple’s design team really got into the functionality of the handles. IMac had them. IBook got a flip-out one. And the Power Mac G3 got these big polycarbonate bows on all four sides that you could use to pick them up and carry them around. The Power Mac G4 continued the tradition and improved it. When the Power Mac G5 arrived, it also had handles – although they were metal and less comfortable to grasp. The modern Mac Pro is a reversal to form, with some very nice stainless steel handles. This is where it all started.
Let’s lower the wooden bridge and storm the castle. The Power Mac G3’s motherboard was mounted on the side of the computer on a door hinged at the bottom. Pull a plastic tab on top of the case, and the entire page will open so you can lay it flat so you can access the entire computer – even if it’s still running. It was incredibly easy to replace removable media (Blue and White G3 had a CD drive, but the Zip drive was optional), install more hard drives, add RAM, pop on a PCI card or three, you name it. It was the best.
I chose the blue and white G3 as my choice for this list because it came first and because the blue color was cute. It can even be combined with a color studio Apple Studio Display – either a 17- or 21-inch CRT monstrosity – with huge plastic tripod base and a VGA cable. (Apple had finally given up its own proprietary Mac display port.)
I’m cheated a little. I also honor the entire Power Mac G4 line, which was originally a less colorful skin on the Power Mac G3. I had a “Sawtooth” Power Mac G4 for many years and I can not remember how many different hard drives I stuck in that thing. I know I swapped a new video card and a new processor card at some point. At a time when it was easy to cut yourself on the metal plate from which most PCs were constructed, that pull-down door kept me safe.
Six years later, the Power Mac G5 moved the motherboard to the other side of the case to facilitate another cooling system. While the door to the G5 was still easy to remove, it just wasn’t the same. Opening the entire computer provided a level of free movement that the movable door did not have. And of course, the Power Mac G5 was made of metal. Not only did you bite these handles into your hands, but the door itself was a little sharp.
Today’s Mac Pro does not strengthen the availability of the Power Mac G3, but it comes close – mostly because now the entire metal packaging comes off, giving you access from both sides. It shows how groundbreaking the blue and white G3 was. Even in 2020, when I judge a Mac tower, I compare it to one from 20 years earlier.
Today, silver metallic is the new beige. Blue and White G3 showed that professional Macs can be fun, but once again, Apple seems convinced that Macs, especially professional Macs, are life-threatening. I think it’s high time for another blue Mac (white transparent plastic optional). Why Should iPhones Have Fun?
I’ll be back next week with number 15.
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