Not so long ago, Apple tried to seduce me with a long-term loaner MacBook Pro. It almost worked, but in the end, while Apple's software and hardware stack were compelling, I just couldn't stomach the cost for any sort of large-scale deployment. And guess what? Apple's announcements today about even more compelling iMacs and Mac Pros that would eat Photoshop for lunch and run Final Cut smooth as silk just don't add up in cash-strapped schools.
I spent the better part of last Friday helping a school district examine its FY 2011 technology budget, looking for reallocations and cuts that wouldn't damage programs. More state budget cuts when year 2 stimulus money just didn't quite meet expectations meant that something had to go. This particular district actually happens to be in relatively good shape because of years of careful management, but even the most careful or well-funded of districts will struggle under continued municipal budget cuts. School districts across the country, however, are laying off teachers and cutting programs. These new iMacs and Mac Pros are not for us.
They might make it into some media labs. I hope they do, in fact, since I'll be the first to admit that OS X and iLife allow students to focus on the content they're creating rather then the tools with which they're creating it. But most schools need to be looking at high-value solutions for decreasing student-computer ratios. Whether this is entry-level hardware, DIY computers, thin clients, netbooks, or low-cost student/parent buy programs, it won't be often that the latest round of Macs figure into the equation.
We've heard all the arguments before and I'm well aware that Macs can compete quite handily on price with comparably equipped PCs. But Apple still has no multiuser computing solutions, no entry-level hardware (sorry, the Mac Mini doesn't count) and no truly affordable solution outside of iPods and iPads (the latter being a dubious member of the "truly affordable" category). Even with Apple's standard $100 discount, I could buy 2 of the Lenovo X100e's on which I'm typing this blog for every "low-end" Core i3 iMac I'd buy. I could buy 2 or 3 refurbished Core 2 Duo laptops and I could buy at least 3 refurbished desktops with LCD monitors.
Better yet, I could fill the back of a classroom with a Windows Multipoint Server solution for the cost of 2-3 of the bottom of the line iMacs.
My oldest is headed off to film school, new Macbook Pro in hand. It's required for his program and he and his peers will also have access to high-end Mac Pros running Final Cut Studio in a lab for the film majors. No problem. Except, of course, I could snag some great Windows laptops or build a monster PC that would run Adobe Premier just dandy for a lot less than this laptop will cost me at the Apple Store or that new Mac Pro lab will cost me indirectly via tuition. Bummer.
So, well-heeled consumers, film producers, and graphic designers, enjoy your new iMacs and Mac Pros. I have no doubt they'll serve you well. I, on the other hand, will be testing the latest incarnations of LTSP to see just how many computing seats schools can squeeze out of their dwindling budgets.