The NSW RTA’s iMacs lasted a full decade



blog Those of you with long memories will recall that Apple introduced a version of its iMac desktop back in 2002 that had a dramatic new design of a form that the IT industry hadn’t really seen before. Dubbed the ‘sunflower’ iMacs because of their resemblance (and inspiration by) the sunflowers growing in Apple chief Steve Jobs’ back yard, these new brand of iMacs were quite popular until the line was discontinued in 2004.

In Australia, the machines were famously deployed at the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority’s public registry offices under the remit of then-chief information officer Greg Carvouni. Carvouni’s tenure at the RTA was an unusual time for a government authority; iMacs, Mozilla Firefox and other alternative platforms such Sun’s StarOffice suite (which became were all implemented, in highly unusual and pioneering moves for a normally conservative government agency. The group even dumped Microsoft Exchange (horror of horrors) and migrated its email onto Sun’s Java Enterprise System.

Of course, Carvouni’s long gone from the RTA, and the RTA itself has now been merged into a new agency, the Roads and Maritime Authority. I’m sure, if it’s not already, the new RMS will shortly be back on Outlook/Exchange and Microsoft Office like everyone else, and from iTNews today arrives the news that the iMacs — almost a decade after their deployment — are set to be binned as well, replaced by Acer gear. The publication reports (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“New Acer terminals will replace 1300 aging second generation (“lampshade) iMacs in RMS service centres. The old hardware has been in service for over a decade, and has reached the end of its useful life”

Say what you like about Apple, but its hardware does last, principally due to its extremely solid build quality and fundamental engineering. In major organisations, it’s common to see a three to five year desktop PC/laptop refresh cycle. The fact that the RTA’s iMacs are still in operation a decade after they were deployed is a huge testament to Carvouni’s vision in deploying them in the first place. The ‘sunflower’ form factor was perfect for the job in the cramped terminal spaces allotted to the RTA’s registry offices, and Apple’s Mac OS X operating system was obviously secure and stable enough to last the distance, although I’m sure the RTA’s iMacs aren’t running the latest Mountain Lion version today.

And don’t be under any illusions: These iMacs are still being used right now by the RTA. I went into the Sydney CBD RTA registry this afternoon to renew my driving licence (a happy coincidence). I was served by a very polite lady who filled in my details on her sunflower iMac and gave me my new licence. To her right was a string of about a dozen other sunflower iMacs happily being used by staff. A decade after they were deployed. Now that’s what you call return on investment.

Image credit: Apple


  1. I think that’s in general – older hardware last longer.

    Not necessarily Apple specific, but given their duties though of sitting there not being abused can make life good for a computer hardware that will last long.

  2. ‘Sunflower’ iMacs? I’ve never seen them referenced as such before (in writing or conversationally). These have always been known as ‘lampshade’ iMacs to me. Your pull quote from ITNews even references to them as such.

  3. Although I completely agree that apple hardware does indeed last longer. You are also failing to mention or realise that whether the computers were up to modern task or not, they would have kept using them for at least this time length. Have a look at any state or national Government / public service center. We are using many systems that are over 10 years old, and trust me, they are not up to the standard needed. It’s simply lack of funding to enable upgrades, whether it is needed or not.

  4. David Jones only recently upgraded it’s NCR POS terminals (to I think the new NCR range) and they had been in place since ~1985. If you buy the right equipment for the right job this kind of performance should be expected. You can’t sell any ruggedised retail/industrial equipment without a 4+4 roadmap these days.

    • I used to work as a systems administrator at David Jones and conducted maintenance work on the Unix machines underpinning much of this gear. The installs were ancient when I worked there a decade ago.

      • The pos systems at Harvey Norman’s are older i think. Last time i went to mine (probably 2 years) im pretty sure my receipt was an a4 dot matrix sheet.

  5. A dreaded visit to the RTA queue, often those imacs bought a small smile to my face when everywhere else you’re greeted by the dullness of black Dell screens.
    I don’t expect the Acers to push the cause of design as the iMac does.

  6. I’m amazed the hard disks didn’t die. The lampshades iMacs I dealt with would have the disk die like clockwork every 3-4 years.

    • I had one and its still working at my sister in laws as a stereo.
      I’ve also heard them referred to as the Luxor iMac

  7. You should get out more. I come across 10+ year olf HP’s and Dells on a daily basis in corporate Oz. Its not unusual in the slightest. Most hardware has been very reliable in the last 10+ years.

  8. I never thought I’d say this… but replacing Apple stuff with Acer stuff? If I had to pick one of the two, I’d go with the lesser of two evils, and pick Apple over Acer any time simply because the stuff would actually last and not randomly break.

  9. Regarding the longevity of the hardware – in my (admittedly limited) experience, it’s the software that causes problems, not the hardware. At my work, where I was the formal/informal local IT support for a 40-person office, the Dell machines were replaced on a 3 year rolling schedule. Near the end of the 3-year life, I found staff would complain incessantly about sluggish PCs, excessive boot times, and instability. Yet this is the same hardware that they praised as being such a relief to use just three years prior.

    A wipe of the corporate image and a standard Windows install would leave it feeling somewhat zippy again, though Windows itself usually had gained enough cruft in the intervening years to not behave the same.

    IMHO, the big problems were related to 1) poor software choices – the corporate MS software ecosystem chews up phenomenal resources on any PC, and 2) lack of RAM in the first place.

    I’m currently using a 7-year-old laptop that work literally threw out as my HTPC, and it has no trouble at all running Ubuntu 12.10, XBMC, and full HD media playback.

    Sure, we had a few hardware failures, but over the 10 years I was looking after it (and about 80+ PCs), I saw 2 failed HDDs, about half a dozen failed motherboards, and a couple of dead power supplies. Considering the beating some of the laptops took, I’m amazed they stood up so well (some came back with dented casings and cracked LCDs). This is even though Dell computers are definitely built to a price far lower than Apple’s!

    BTW: Can anyone explain to me why Dell would, for nearly 5 years, supply LCD monitors with no DVI ports at all, just VGA? And why even now, in 2013 fer cryin’ out loud, they *still* ship all their LCD monitors (even the so-called “professional” 24-inch ones, like the two I unboxed just the other day) with VGA leads pre-attached? Pulling the VGA leads off and plugging in a DVI lead was always the first thing I did when unpacking them. Although I should note that some of their desktops only had VGA & DisplayPort outputs, though those ones at least came with a DisplayPort to DVI adaptor.

    • Re, VGA cables, I suspect it will be related to the testing procedure. Dring manufacture attach VGA cable, use said VGA cable to run test images on monitor, verify, close box tape it up. No need to waste time undoing the cable.

      Saves 10 seconds on the boxing time. Multiply by a million, saves dollars.

  10. “replaced by Acer gear”
    Whoever made that decision is either working on the world’s tightest budget and doesn’t care about further replacement costs in a couple of years, or simply knows nothing about PC manufacturers.

  11. The 3-5 year replacement cycle isn’t because of hardware dying, it’s because of obsolescence. I have worked in agencies that haven’t abided by this timeframe and I have been incredibly frustrated by their IT.

    If you manage them adequately, 10 year old machines using any OS will be fine – but don’t consider upgrading their software. So your users will be using Office 2010, with over 1 million rows in Excel, at home – but when they arrive at work they’re stuck with 65,536 rows. At home they can do beautiful graphs – at work, that functionality doesn’t yet exist.

    So 10 year old machines pretty much also means 10 year old software and functionality – not really something to boast about.

  12. acer is a shocker. the ultimate in low cost cap blowing commodity. I hope they measure up just how many m^3 they are going to need to bury all that acer garbage after 3 years. I also hope they pay the $1000 per ton they squeeze into the ground, like the rest of us have to.

  13. those iMacs in use at the RTA were (and probably still are) running OS X 10.3 with apps running through a Java Virtual terminal, and were rolled out from April 2004. So technically, they’ve not lasted a full decade yet – they’ve got more than a year to go. As I Mac user since the late 80’s, I’ve become used to that kind of longevity from them.

  14. my amiga 500 still works… :P

    most places will go with a new machine after a 3 year period as the warranty has expired and it’s better off putting money into a new system , over buying replacement parts.

    pc hardware really isn’t an expensive issue nowadays, even a current core i3 with 4 gig of ram would cover nearly all office work requirements.

  15. I have over 20 years experience in the maintenance and teaching on both platforms. I used to run a private multimedia college which had 6 PC’s (windows) and 30 Macs. I am not a Mac lover but I have to admit that all the Macs always ran flawlessly and were a fantastic return on investment. They are easy to maintain and painless to upgrade (software and OS). Never ever encountered any Viruses or Trojans. Hardware in all 20 imacs never failed and that was with daily student use (abuse).

    Unfortunately I cannot say the same for the windows based computers (expensive custom built workstations). They consumed most of the maintenance time and budget. Headaches with computer crashes, Viruses and Trojans (even with antivirus software) Not to mention hardware and driver upgrade issues with Windows upgrades…

    • Being locked into one venders hardware has it’s advantages, it works seemlessly. It also has it’s disadvantages… being locked into one vendors hardware the main one :)

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