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Would the iMac Cut It at Your Company?
Here's how it stacks up against a comparably priced PC

Andy Weissberg's company has been thinking about buying Apple's new iMac, but he doesn't care about its teal-colored coolness. "We just want stuff that gets the job done," says Weissberg, vice-president of CPR Communications, a marketing firm in Teterboro, N.J.

While Apple is aiming iMac at consumers and the education market, several small companies we contacted were considering it, a task made easier by the fact that Apple's own survival is no longer in day-to-day doubt. So in these days of commodity-priced beige Windows PCs, is the translucent iMac a good choice for your business?

If looks alone were the criteria, the iMac would win hands-down. But let's compare this way-cool model point-by-point with another $1,299 computer, the way-beige Gateway GP6-333C. Most competing PC vendors will offer you a similar deal. From that vantage point, the decision isn't so clear.

Appearance: Looks are, indeed, important for computers in public spaces, such as those in reception areas and information kiosks. "We put an iMac in the lobby so everybody could walk around it and touch it," beams Tim Beck, MIS director of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, a Manhattan ad agency and an avowed Mac fan. Advantage: iMac.

Simplicity: iMac users raved that you take it out of the box, plug it in to a wall socket and a phone line, attach the mouse and keyboard and you're ready to compute and communicate. PCs are easy to set up, but not quite that easy. Macs also have the reputation of being easier to use day-in, day-out, although that's a matter of faith. Advantage: iMac.

Storage: The iMac has a 4-GB hard drive and 32MB of RAM, while the Gateway has a 6.4-GB drive and 64MB of RAM. This gives the Windows PC a strong advantage, particularly if you frequently perform memory- and storage-hungry tasks like saving and viewing large image files. Both have CD-ROM drives, but only the Gateway has a floppy -- a major issue if your clients or suppliers still use them. An external drive for iMac costs about $150. Advantage: PC.

Speed: The iMac has a 233-MHz PowerPC G3 processor, and the Gateway has a 333-MHz Intel Celeron processor. The G3 is widely acknowledged to operate more efficiently than Intel chips of comparable speed. However, given the Gateway's higher processor speed and greater memory, actual differences should be minimal. If you happen to get a faster PC chip, the iMac would probably begin to look less attractive, but for now, at least, that's not in iMac's price range. Advantage: Draw.

Connectivity: Connecting Macintoshes to a local-area network dominated by PCs is a hassle. But iMac's built-in Ethernet adapter makes it a cinch to connect to AppleTalk networks, and it includes a modem. The Gateway has neither. Advantage: iMac.

Expandability: You can add RAM to both computers, but the iMac has no slots for add-in devices such as fast SCSI adapters, while the Gateway has five slots. You can attach Universal Serial Bus peripherals to the iMac, but there aren't many of them available yet, so for now you can't use popular hardware such as a Zip drive. Advantage: PC.

Business software: The iMac comes with the AppleWorks integrated program and some entertainment CD-ROMs. The Gateway includes the heavier-duty Microsoft Office Small Business Edition. To be fair, you can purchase the new Microsoft Office 98 for Macs, which wins a rave review from Business Week technology writer Steve Wildstrom. And more artistic applications are available for the iMac. But the Office software is an added expense -- and if you don't like Microsoft, good luck: Lotus SmartSuite and WordPerfect Office aren't available for Mac. Other business software may be similarly hard to obtain. As for graphics, one art director tells me you'd want a heavier-duty Macintosh for such tasks. That's because higher-end Macs are more expandable and allow you to use monitors larger than the iMac's tiny 15-inch built-in monitor. Advantage: PC.

Miscellaneous: The one-piece iMac is a lot more compact, which can open up desk space. On the downside, if the monitor ever needs repairs, you have to take the whole machine in, losing the use of your entire computer. That's balanced by the fact that Apple monitors generally have proved reliable. Advantage: Draw.

How does the iMac compare to other Macintoshes? A Power Mac G3 with similar specs retails for about $300 more, without the monitor. While its speed and power are similar to the iMac, the regular Mac has a floppy drive and expansion slots.

The bottom line: If you're committed to the Macintosh, the iMac is an attractive money-saver for basic business uses like word processing. If you're considering both Windows PCs and iMac, base your decision on the factors that are most important to your business. For instance, go with Windows if storage capacity is key. If simplicity is most important, iMac is the choice.

The verdict at Weissberg's company? They're passing on iMac but will continue using higher-end Macs in their creative departments. "iMac is fast and low-cost," Weissberg says. "But there's no floppy drive, which makes it harder to exchange information with PCs." That's a point worth pondering for any business. Even if Mac users do exist in a more perfect world, they still have to co-exist with the rest of us.

By David Haskin

David Haskin is the author of 12 books and a frequent contributor to national computer magazines.

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