The Webb Chronicles

Clamshell iBook Still a Fun and Practical Notebook

- 2006.08.11

Years ago, when desktops were beige and laptops were black, a revolution was born. Apple beat the odds and introduced the iMac to the world, adding a splash of color and innovation to the stale PC market.

And what's better than a multicolored, all-in-one, easy to use computer? A notebook to match, the iBook.

iBookAvailable in iMac-matching blueberry or orange, the first generation iBook did to the notebook market what the iMac had done to the desktop market: It provided an affordable, easy to use, and reliable machine for the consumer market that stood out from the monotonous HP's and Dells.

Marketed as "an iMac to go", the iBook shipped with a 300 MHz PowerPC G3, 32 MB or 64 MB of onboard RAM, a 12" (800 x 600) active matrix display, a 3 GB or 6 GB hard disk, and an optional AirPort card. It had plenty of power to run Mac OS 8.6 or 9.x, but more RAM is a must for OS X.

Fast forward to 2006, seven years after its debut. How useful is the clamshell iBook in today's world?

I wanted to buy a notebook computer for my 14-year-old cousin from Italy. Initially I thought a PC would be best, due to the lack of Apple support in Italy, but as I watched her use my Mom's Pismo PowerBook and easily navigate and enjoy the functionality, I decided that a Mac would be perfect.

I found an excellent deal on eBay: A blueberry 300 MHz machine with 128 MB of RAM, a 6 GB hard drive, and and Airport card - all for $120.

I knew that OS X was a must, but the limited 6 GB hard drive and 128 MB of RAM would be a real problem for 10.4, so I went with 10.3, which worked great after a mere 64 MB RAM upgrade. Applications such as Office 2004 and iTunes are slow loaders, but once up and running they perform in a satisfactory capacity. 3D games are, obviously, not a good idea on this machine with just 4 MB of VRAM.

The screen, although limiting with its 800 x 600 maximum resolution, is crisp and bright. Expansion ports are lacking in this model, since it has only one USB 1.1 port, ethernet, and a modem, but that adds to the notion of simplicity that Apple clearly wanted to convey with this machine.

The handle included on this machine is also a very nice touch and was very convenient.

BarbiBookCase design is a mixed bag, both now and in 1999. Many touted the iBook as being too feminine (see The BarbiBook), due to its clamshell shape and colors.

It was only with the release of the Graphite Special Edition that the iBook gained a more elegant feel. However, given its target market being high school and college kids, the design was appropriate and well marketed. Even today one of these original iBooks stands out in a crowd - in a positive way.

Bringing this machine to the office or campus isn't something I would do; however a for an Italian high school student, this machine is perfect.

Granted, this iBook isn't a speed demon in any way, but it's amazing what a 7-year-old Apple notebook can do. And what's more incredible is that it still looks good doing it. LEM

Further Reading

  • Getting the most out of the clamshell iBook, Charles Moore, Miscellaneous Ramblings, 2006.08.14. "'Unique' is an overworked adjective, but in the case of the clamshell iBook, it's justified. There's never been anything quite like it before or since."

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