Am I in the Mac Twilight Zone? Did I go to bed and wake up in a different dimension? Have I died and gone to heaven — or maybe hell?

Apple’s stock is up and the financial analysts are jumping on board. I’m definitely not used to this. Mostly, I’m used to expecting them to continue their "Apple is near death" mantra. But analyst firm Ragen MacKenzie has nothin’ but love for Cupertino. Weird.

It also seems we may have some actual, honest-to-God proof that more people are buying Macs — at least in the business and education sectors. No doubt that the business sales are driven by Apple’s Xserve and an acute sense of fear caused by a bad year for Microsoft-based PCs when it comes to viruses and the like. And Apple’s education market-share was due for a revival after being challenged by other suppliers — such as Dell — in recent years. It also doesn’t hurt that Virginia Tech University just bought more than 1,000 dual-processor G5s for a supercomputer cluster. But darn if this market share thing isn’t good news!

Speaking of market share, Apple apparently has 7 percent of the laptop market, according to IDC, which is at least more than the company’s share in the overall market. That is, if you believe all of the folks who say they keep track of this stuff.

And finally, Apple is apparently one of the coolest and hippest brands around.

This one’s not surprising, not to those of us who have been using Macs for years. Not to those of us who name our computers and hold on to them for a decade or longer — because they actually last that long and continue to remain useful. I recently acquired a Powerbook 500 series laptop that still chugs and runs an early version of Microsoft Word!

Nope, this isn’t surprising to those of us who have watched our PC friends struggle with drivers and buried preferences while we actually get some work done.

It’s not surprising to those of us who actually have owned a Bondi-blue iMac, which, in my opinion, will always be the world’s very first "cool" computer.

Los Angeles-based Look-Look’s network of 20,000 "cool hunters" determined that Apple "is one of the top five brands for young people," according to the above reference Wired article. It continues: "Asked recently what company they would most like to endorse (if they were a celebrity), the correspondents nominated Apple the most popular choice."

But another marketer in the article makes a good point: Being cool is often tied to being in a niche. "Being cool is the opposite of being mainstream, and as long as a brand has a cool cachet, it will remain small," the marketer said.

Being cool is nice. But much like in real life, where being the prom queen is no guarantee that you won’t end up living in a trailer on the wrong side of the tracks 10 years later, there needs to be a little more there.

Apple has that "little more there" — especially with the release now of the super-fast G5, the impending iTunes Music Store invasion of the Windows world and the imminent release of Panther — but it needs to be more effective at letting everyone know about it. Cool ads with a G5 crashing through a house may appeal to the young, hip crowd that wants a fast computer. But Apple needs to get down and dirty in its ads and start showing Windows people — not telling them — what Macs can do and how well they can do it.

I’ve often said that if more people actually saw Macs in action, they would give up their PCs in a hearbeat. Apple has to remember that not everyone will happen by an Apple store and decide to go inside and look at the pretty white and aluminum computers. Cupertino needs to start making ads that show OS X in action — a Macworld Keynote propaganda speech in 30 seconds or less.

I guess it’s not so bad to be cool. But things that are cool soon go out of fashion. Apple needs to show the rest of the world — the unbelievers — that the reliability and performance of the unbelievable products it is shipping these days will never go out of style.