Consider Apple's eMac for small business

In the world of Mac these days, iMacs, PowerBooks and the Power Macs seem to get all the attention. Rightfully so, these Macs are elegant and sophisticated machines with cutting-edge design. However, there is another Mac-while often overlooked-that can be a robust workhorse for most small businesses. I'm talking about the eMac, Apple's most affordable Mac.

Although the 'e' in eMac stands for 'education,' the target market of this machine, don't let the name fool you. The eMac may lag somewhat behind the other Mac models when it comes to the latest and greatest in Apple innovation, but it's certainly no slouch and by no means limited to educational uses.

Recently on the Arizona Macintosh User's Group website, writer Michael Bean compared the eMac to a dual processor Power Mac G5, the fastest computer currently available to consumers. Bean found that the only time the eMac couldn't keep up with the G5 was when the compression of video was required to create a DVD or an AVI.

After comparing the two Macs, Bean wrote that "when using the eMac for web browsing, email, simple web publishing, iPhoto, iTunes, word processing, Quicken, CD burning, simple GarageBand tunes and most Macintosh games the eMac performs great. The eMac performs these tasks so well that there is little noticeable difference between the two computers in most of the tests performed."

With this type of work ethic and a price range starting at only $799, the eMac makes for an attractive machine for small businesses not involved in video editing or other activities involving such extreme data crunching. Factor in the rock solid stability and security of OS X and you've got an excellent and affordable platform to get just about any job done. The eMac is a compact all-in-one computer powered by a 1.25GHz G4. It comes with 256MBs of ram and is expandable to 1GB. The $799 eMac comes with a combo drive, capable of burning both CD-Rs and CD-RWs, and a 40GB hard drive. The $999 eMac comes with an 80GB hard drive and Apple's SuperDrive, capable of burning CD-Rs, CD-RWs, and DVD-Rs. If you work with and back up large amounts of data, consider spending the extra $200 for the SuperDrive and the larger hard drive. If you primarily need the eMac for e-mail, word processing, accessing the web, and running your accounting software, the $799 eMac is more than adequate and one of the best computer deals available. Moreover, a 40GB hard drive is plenty for a machine used primarily for non-graphic intensive purposes or as a workstation. Plus, the $799 eMac is still able to burn regular CD-Rs and CD-RWs for backups.

Every new eMac comes with multiple FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 ports, and both Ethernet (100 Base-T) and a 56K v.92 modem are built-in. Options include wireless network capability and a Bluetooth module, which allows the eMac to communicate and sync with Bluetooth enabled phones, PDAs, and other hardware.

Part of the reason the eMac performs so well is that, unlike most PCs in the same price range, it has a dedicated graphics processor and 32MB of video memory. This frees the main processor from handling graphics and increases the overall speed of the system. It's also part of the reason why many PCs in the same price range, though boasting faster clock speeds, aren't anywhere near as fast as the eMac. To keep costs down, these PCs rely heavily on the main processor to handle graphic-related tasks and overall system performance suffers.

Speaking of graphics, the eMac's flat 17" CRT display is a crystal-clear monitor. The flat screen reflects less light and this cuts down on glare and eyestrain, allowing one to work for longer periods. Anyone who has ever sat at a computer all day and experienced the sickening feeling of 'monitor glaze' will appreciate how easy the eMac display is on the eyes. Moreover, the display is capable of resolutions from 640x480 to 1280x960. This provides one with a lot of desktop real estate for working with numerous windows or large documents, spreadsheets, or images. Moreover, one can also mirror the video display to a projector, allowing one to easily give presentations to larger groups.

One great thing about the eMac is that it comes ready to work right out of the box. Set one on your desk, plug it in, turn it on, and start using it. It's that easy. When I bought an eMac for my home office, I did just that. After connecting it to the router and all my peripherals, I turned it on, answered a few questions about myself and my Internet connection, and everything worked right away with no fuss or hassle. In comparison, a friend of mine bought a PC laptop a few weeks later and spent over a week trying to get it to talk with his router, an identical unit to mine.

Speaking of ready to work, the eMac ships with AppleWorks, a Microsoft Office-like application. AppleWorks includes word processing, spreadsheet, database, drawing, painting and presentation modules. None of AppleWorks is very elaborate, but you can still accomplish a lot with it. It can handle the great majority of word processing, spreadsheet, and office needs. However, AppleWorks and Microsoft Office compatibility leaves a lot to be desired. The word processor is fairly compatible with Word, but only the most basic of spreadsheets seem to transfer easily between the two applications. If you're going to be trading Excel spreadsheets and heavily-formatted Word files with other users, you're best off to skip AppleWorks and get a copy of Microsoft Office for Mac.

Whenever I'm asked to recommend a computer system, the eMac is almost always my first suggestion to anyone not involved in video or music editing. The all-in-one design allows it to fit easily into cramped quarters, and the balance of price, power, stability and security make the eMac the best choice for a lot of small businesses. With power to spare, the eMac can certainly handle with ease any spreadsheet, accounting or word processing task you throw at it and a whole lot more too.