betsy_frameI know this is not what Steve Jobs wants to hear, but I haven’t sent a dime to Cupertino for a piece of hardware since midway through Bill Clinton’s second term.

It’s not that I don’t want to support the mothership, so please don’t flame me for being “disloyal.” I’ve dutifully handed over my ducats on things like AppleWorks and the Mac OS X Public Beta (not only the first one, but that second one, too — better known as 10.0), and I’ve helped keep more than my share of Mac peripheral makers in the black.

But back in those days when there was just one George Bush, and the only Monica the president lusted after was played by Courtney Cox on “Friends,” I had the uncharacteristic good luck to purchase one of the best computers Apple ever produced: a 233MHz beige G3 desktop.

You see, what Apple produced in those early days following Steve Jobs return was a machine he had little to do with developing. Introduced in late 1997, the G3 is arguably the most expandable Mac ever made.

I’ll also venture to guess that Betsy is the last of her kind: an eminently expandable, easily upgradeable workhorse. She was a product of her times, when Apple was in the midst of its self-imposed competition with cloners, and before Steve Jobs brought back with a vengeance the concept of planned obsolescence.

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Imagine what kind of shape Apple would be in if every Mac it made had such a lifespan. Computer companies rely on customers upgrading their machines. Some industry analysts look for lifecyles of 18 months or so. By that standard, that makes Betsy about 160 in “PC years.” PC manufacturers have to count on advancements in operating systems, software and peripheral technologies to drive new sales. No wonder Microsoft stays in the software business.

Luckily for me, Gil Amelio was too busy trying to keep people from parking in his space to notice his engineers had taken the concept of plug and play and used it to build what is essentially a modular computer with the ability to morph into something far beyond what anyone could have envisioned when it rolled off the assembly line.

Thanks to its replaceable processor, Ol’ Betsy now beats with the heart of a 500MHz G4, and is packed with 620-or-so megs of RAM. Her three PCI slots are filled with an ATI Rage 128 Pro video card, a Firewire/USB combo card and, most recently, a 133MHz IDE controller card, which let me add two additional internal hard drives, with the potential for two more. A DVD-ROM internal drive and a CD-R/W external Firewire drive keep her in step with the times. (A DVD burner isn’t out of the question, either.) In fact, Ol’ Bet is so current, I finally gave her floppy drive the heave ho in order to make room for another internal hard drive.

Perhaps best of all, I’m happy to report that my diminutive little G3 runs Mac OS X like a champ – with no discernible difference from the Quicksilver G4 that sits in my office.

With each new Macworld announcement, I wonder if Steve Jobs will unveil something that finally prompts me to put Betsy out to pasture. And although the new iMacs are tempting, they offer no compelling reason to ditch the G3, especially considering I’d have to give up my 20” monitor. But my battle-scarred Betsy runs Photoshop, iMovie, iTunes, iPhoto, FileMaker Pro, Adobe InDesign — and even Quake — with aplomb. Thanks to its remarkable expandability, I haven’t had to miss out on a single of Apple’s “iApps,” and I have over 110 gigabytes of storage inside – plus another 60 or so on an external Firewire drive.

Alas, though, it looks like I’ll finally have to come to grips with the fact that the old gal’s days may be numbered at last. At the Worldwide Developers Conference, Steve Jobs announced that the next iteration of Mac OS X – codenamed Jaguar – would feature hardware graphics acceleration that would require high-end AGP graphics cards; an addition my G3 isn’t ever likely to see.

The jury is still out on whether Jaguar will run on older systems without the hardware boost, though, and my guess is it will. If that’s the case, Bet and I may not have to part company for some time to come. We may be coming to the end of the road, but I think there are still a lot of places left to see before we get there.

A final note: lest you think I’ve developed an unnatural affection for my computer (and my wife would probably swear to it), I did not actually name it “Ol’ Betsy.” That was just for the purposes of this column.

I’m glad we cleared that up. After all, naming a computer Ol’ Betsy would be just plain weird.

I just call her schnookums.