By Jason Snell
March 21, 2022 6:18 PM PT
A cowboy roping an iMac? Stop the presses!
Back in late 2000—unfortunately, I don’t have any email archives from this period—we were planning a cover story about Mac customization. Written by Christopher Breen, it recommended utilities like James Thomson’s DragThing and St. Clair Software’s Default Folder. In the era of OS 8, this story also discussed utilities for adding items to the menu bar and changing the appearance of the Mac interface (via Greg Landweber and Arlo Rose’s Kaleidoscope utility).
I’m sure our circulation consultants had told us that how-to covers were big sellers, so we went with “Customize Your Mac” as our cover line. For the art, we hired four models—a rare and fun situation—and did a photoshoot in which one posed with a Mac that had been “customized” visually to get across the idea that you could make your Mac represent your personality. A cowboy was roping an iMac on which we stuck cow spots. A hippie-esque woman in a yoga pose with flowers in her hair sat in front of a psychedelic-patterned iBook. A Neo-like dude in red-tinted wraparound sunglasses held an orange Power Mac G4 Cube. And a woman in a pinstriped suit clutched a pinstriped Wall Street PowerBook.
At some point, one of our production people had revealed that it was relatively easy to print multiple covers of the magazine. We frequently did subscriber-only covers that were a little more sedate and newsstand covers that were more aggressive to get the attention of people browsing on the newsstand.
In the case of the February 2001 issue, though, we were so enamored with the models that we decided to do three covers: the Cube Dude would go to subscribers, and the newsstand would get a 50/50 split between the cowboy and the flower child. (Apparently, multiple covers lifted sales because some people would buy both, either because they were collector’s items or because they thought it was a different issue. Oh, magazine business, so silly!)
Anyway… in those days, the president of Macworld was our conduit to Apple, in the sense that when Steve Jobs was mad at us, he was the one Steve would call.
I don’t know if it was Steve, but someone at Apple absolutely freaked out about our Customize Your Mac covers. They threatened legal action. They claimed that by “defacing” Apple’s Macs by dressing them up in costumes, we were violating their trade dress and their copyrights and literally any other ludicrous argument you could possibly make. Sabers were rattling.
As editors, we were baffled. Apple had never complained about anything we’d done on the cover since I’d been at Macworld. (And it wouldn’t do it again until we depicted a smashed and smoking Power Mac G5 in a 2005 cover titled “Prevent Mac Disasters.” They complained about that one, too. It was still silly and precious to complain about a photo illustration in a magazine, but at least I could understand that they didn’t like the implication that a G5 could explode!)
But… why did the cowboy and the flower child make them so mad? We just didn’t understand.
Months passed. Keep in mind, the February 2001 issue of Macworld was actually released in early January and mailed to subscribers in late December. (Oh, magazine business, again so silly!) And then, in February 2001, Apple announced some new iMacs.
They were called Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power. And while the polka-dotted Blue Dalmatian iMac doesn’t really resemble our dumb cow iMac1, that Flower Power iMac was awfully similar in concept to our hippie girl’s psychedelic iBook.
That’s when it began to dawn on us. This was why Apple was so freaked out about our dumb “Customize Your Mac” concept covers. They thought we were (accidentally!) spilling the beans on their forthcoming announcement. Not only was there nothing to be done, but it also didn’t amount to anything in the end. An already off-sale Macworld cover would not make any difference in how the world would greet these two iMacs.
It was almost the end for the G3 iMac. There was one more update in the summer of 2001, and Blue Dalmation and Flower Power were nowhere to be seen. The final iMac shades were Snow, Graphite, and Indigo.
- It was much more the trade dress of cow-themed (really!) PC clone maker Gateway 2000. ↩