Wouldnt it be ironic if the processor became a peripheral to the storage device, instead of the other way around? I asked that question at the end of this column eight months ago, and users of Apples iPod are busily turning that conjecture into fact.
Refuting many critics, the iPod is turning out to be much more than an overpriced, overdesigned MP3 music player. With its fast IEEE 1394 bandwidth (FireWire to Apple loyalists), the iPods 5GB hard disk (now also offered in a 10GB edition) is more than theoretically usable as a portable boot device. As in days of yore, when PC users carried personal boot disks, an iPod owner can feel truly at home on any modern Macintosh.
At $399, the smaller iPod makes any laptop computer look like an expensive way to carry a personal data repository with a customized digital desktop: In many environments, a handful of shared Macs could meet the needs of many users. (And since the debut of the 10GB iPod at $499, brand-new 5GB units are selling on eBay for an even-more-affordable $280.)
Even when not plugged in to a "mother ship" Mac, the iPod does more than play music. With Apples latest software, it also takes on contact management duties. Third-party hackers are doing still more; PersonaPodX, a $25 shareware utility, combines contact management with alarm clock, notepad and multimedia preview capabilities. PodNews, a free download, pulls headlines from selected news sites; included source code lets you tailor your selections.
Apple has often been on the trailing edge of aftermarket enhancements to its hardware. When GCC first improved the original Mac with an internal hard disk, an Apple engineer is supposed to have said, "Impossible. We made sure you couldnt do that."
In the same vein, Apple presumes to tell iPod users that they cant move music from their iPods back to their own (or anyone elses) Macintosh.
Mac users whove discovered the Unix-style Terminal utility in OS X beg to differ; theyll do as they please with the bits on their disks.
Send your plans for the open iPod to email@example.com.