Old Mac of the Month: Beige PowerMac G3

This month’s entry is written by John C. Vieira. He’s a copywriter living in Portland, Oregon. It’s very important that you read his blog at jcv.me and follow him on twitter @thelegendofjohn. Seriously, his self-esteem is directly tied to his internet popularity.

What does it mean to be the last of your kind?

The beige Power Macintosh G3 knows. It was the last beige Macintosh. It looked like every Power Mac before it but it was top of the line and it came with that ad campaign where a snail was carrying a Pentium II processor on its shell. It was the first computer to use the G3—the third generation of PowerPC processors. It could perform just as well and sometimes better, than its immediate, supposedly superior and certainly more notorious, replacement.

By now we all know the truth. The beige G3 was a last stop on the way to today’s modern Apple and it is with this context that we can fully understand what it meant to use and own a beige G3.

The first iMac appeared just a few months after the beige G3’s release (November 1997 vs. May 1998.) It had very similar specs and insides and guts, but it was clear to everyone that it was something else entirely. A different beast with gentle curves and friendly translucent Bondi blues.

There’s a rumor that says Jony Ive created Bondi blue by taking a palmful of the bluest Australian ocean water he could find and, after walking several thousands of miles back to his industrial design lab in the dank bowels of the Apple campus with that same palmful of water kept in a state of perfect tranquility by Ives’ unnaturally strong equilibrium, he used a machine that had no knobs and no buttons, but a silhouette strongly reminiscent of somehow all of the Dieter Rams-era Braun products, to turn it into a Pantone swatch while Steve Jobs massaged his shoulders.

With that Pantone swatch secure in an underground bunker within an underground bunker, Steve and Jony switched places. As Jony worked out the kinks and knots in Steve’s shoulders, Jobs started changing things. Fundamental things. He literally drove a dump truck full of floppy drives and ADB ports off of a cliff. Just to make a point. He invented the USB port by accident. He made every peripheral company swear to make matchy-matchy accessories so you never had to stop touching Bondi blue. Whether or not they were under duress when they entered this agreement, nobody could say.

That iMac changed everything we know about computers as super-fuckable consumer objects. And still there was the beige G3. Ungainly in retrospect, but an equal in practice.

How do you prove yourself in a world where you’ve been replaced by a much more handsome and popular version of yourself? If you have 233 megahertz and a G3 processor you use 233 megahertz and your G3 processor for all it is worth. You work harder.

For me using this computer to it’s potential manifested itself as hours in Claris HomePage making moderately trafficked websites about Apple (who the hell is Daring Fireball?) and going against printed requirements and logic by installing a USB card so I could burn so many mix CDs full of Minnesota-based rap music on the purple Iomega burner I got for my birthday. And if I don’t mention LucasArts adventure games and demos of varying fun and usefulness installed from the monthly MacAddict disks I will almost certainly wish I had. To save several late night emails of varying desperation sent from myself to the owner of this website, I’m mentioning them now.

The beige G3 never felt weird or wrong or outdated to me. It felt right. I was excited about the iMac and the broader implications of how it was saving Apple, but my G3 felt (and looked) just like every other Mac I’d previously owned–only better. It wasn’t a new type of hammer I had to learn to wield, it was just a bigger, badder hammer. It was more powerful than ever, and by proxy so was I.

And that’s all good, but let’s get serious here.

As a 12 year-old kid that beige Power Macintosh G3 was shaping my life. I’m now a copywriter at a design firm. We create brands and products and services—many of which you’ve used and perhaps loved. My job is to write and be clever. Knowing my work can make an experience better gives me that ‘dent in the universe’ feeling Steve Jobs spoke about. I started writing meaningfully on that G3. I typed hundreds of thousands of words into it. I began to learn how to tell a story and write a tag. Not that I knew that, I was just having fun making things.

Realistically, my experience would have been mostly the same had that beige G3 been a Bondi blue iMac but I like to think the fact that I used a beige tool instead of a translucent tool somehow made me different. More authentic. A shittier version of Hunter S. Thompsen eschewing computers to write strictly on a typewriter. I didn’t even make the choice to purchase the G3, but the fact that a computer created an emotional narrative for me is something powerful.

In my mind I had this incredible, almost sentient, underdog tool that helped me become something. In reality it was just me with an effective conduit. Either way, I’m glad Apple made something that could mean something. I still have that G3 and it still means a lot to me.

Want to write about an old Mac you love? Get in touch! In your initial email, please indicate which Mac model you are planning to write about, so I don’t have systems covered more than once.

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