Why my users don't like their Macs

Why my users don't like their Macs

Summary: And why they probably won't like their PCs either.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware

A number of readers of a previous post (Macs - Why bother?) questioned why my current Mac users were actually asking to switch to PCs. I acknowledge that this is, in fact, somewhat out of the norm, so I started doing some digging and here's what I came up with.

Some of the users, of course, are still using OS 9.  Even Mac fans don't particularly like OS 9.  The only good thing to be said about these machines is that they are still running reliably after too many years.  So we'll discount my OS 9 users.  What about the folks who are using newer Emacs and run OS X?  After talking with them, I found a few answers.  A small number (2 to be exact) actually had PCs at home, were relatively savvy, and simply preferred the Windows interface and the wide variety of readily (and cheaply) available applications.

Most others used a PC at home instead of a Mac and were therefore more familiar and comfortable with the interface.  OS X just looks different.  Which of course gets at a key issue for many of my users, whether they have Macs or PCs on their desks.  These folks still aren't that comfortable with computers, let alone something that looks different from their Windows ME desktops on their kitchen tables.  These people represent as many as 75-80% of the users in my district, with a definite skew towards teachers of younger grades, where we have a large installed base of Macs.

Many users who fall into this category of the vaguely technophobic use computers because they must, not because it seems natural to do so.  Many of our students might prefer one interface over another for any number of reasons (including familiarity), but few are as befuddled by a new windowing environment or lack of a Start button as my Mac-disliking middle-aged teachers. 

This, of course, was one of many reasons that Linux was short-lived in my test lab.  Aside from legacy hardware compatibility issues, teachers use the computer labs to get things done.  Most often, they are leading the students through an activity, assisting with research, etc.  When confronted with an unfamiliar interface, all too many simply panic and call for Mr. Dawson.  Windows is at least familiar and they know where to find Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word (unless the icons disappear from the desktop); Windows is simply so ubiquitous, even the most technophobic can't help but be familiar with it.

However, upgrading to Vista, switching to OpenOffice, or even switching print servers presents a major obstacle for these users.  As a case-in-point, I migrated from a dying print server the other day and provided all teachers and staff with instructions for connecting to the new print queues.  I even gave them pictures.  It was, in fact, a work of desktop publishing IT support art.  A remarkable number of teachers were absolutely overwhelmed by the idea of adding a printer.

So it's no wonder that these users don't like their Macs.  However, with training, they could probably be convinced to like BSD.  Or DOS.  Or whatever.  Training is a key that is all too often overlooked in a variety of environments.  Nobody wants to make the time or pay for the donuts, but without training, users will never be able to exploit the computing power we give them, regardless of our OS choice.

Topics: Apple, Hardware

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Your whole post begs the question

    Are you actually providing training for your users? It kind of seems as though either you aren't offering it, or they don't care about taking the time to get trained. Which means you're making a rod for your own back (sooner or later). That's disconcerting.
    • It IS disconcerting ...

      ... but it is a reality that when budgets are tight in public education, one of the first things to go is teacher training. This comes right after life-cycle funding. Without a serious commitment from the school's or district's administrators to both life-cycle funding and adequate IT training, the challenges faced by Ed Tech will only grow worse.
      M Wagner
      • Too true.

        Actually, the first thing that goes at my school are the portables we're renting, then stuff the kids into bigger classrooms. :P

        I read an interesting article (here on ZDNet, I think) about Palo Alto school district. They're the heart of Silicon Valley but their extremely limited budget keeps them from being a technology saavy district.

        Frustrating, really.
      • Teacher Training

        I worked in schools for 5 years as Network Admin / Tech Guy... Teachers have their own training regimes mandated by the department and nothing to do with my purview.

        I would run informal 'brown bag lunch' sessions in the Lab, or ask for 30 minutes during the after-school staff meeting once a month for a training session with a projector, hand-outs and doughnuts.

        Topics were minor but useful things like 'Re-sizing images for email or the Web'... 'Formatting Word documents for Report Writing'... 'Logging into the Network via Dial-up'

        The things that you assume people know, but gets lost with staff turnover and lack of usage... Takes 15 minutes to explain, 10 minutes to field questions / show people, and 5 minutes to ask for suggestions for the next topic.

        Be pro-active, it never hurts to pass on a few nuggets that make people's jobs easier

  • Seems ironic ...

    ... that teaching teachers is so much of a challenge. People tend to stay in their 'comfort zone' and if Ed Tech does not have the resources to expand the comfort zone of the district's teachers, how do the schools expect to benefit their students. Today, students are more tech-saavy than their teachers and thanks to un-funded mandates and poorly funded IT, schools can no longer provide adequate tools for their teachers or their students.
    M Wagner
    • so true

      You have explained it very clearly. you must expand peoples comfort zone. Challenge them to challenge themselves, which some people wont do.
  • Users should not have to install printers themselves

    I recently did a print server migration. I installed the printers from the old server to the new server with the same names. I migrated the users over with a script.

    Hopefully this formats ok.

    ' Simple printer migration script
    ' This script will uninstall printers from "oldprintserver" and
    ' install printers with the same name on "newprintserver". Set this
    ' up as a global login script for users in Active Directory. Make
    ' sure the printers from "oldprintserver" are already set up with the
    ' same names on "newprintserver".

    option Explicit
    On Error Resume Next
    Dim oldServer
    Dim newServer
    Dim strdomain
    Dim prnText
    Dim WshShell
    Dim WshNetwork
    Dim oPrinters
    Dim i

    oldServer = "oldprintserver"
    newServer = "newprintserver"
    ' remove domain name from all printer names - optional
    strDomain = ".example.com"

    Set WshNetwork = WScript.CreateObject("WScript.Network")
    Set oPrinters = WshNetwork.EnumPrinterConnections
    For i = 0 to oPrinters.Count - 1 Step 2
    prnText = lcase(oPrinters.Item(i+1))
    'wscript.echo prnText
    If inStr (prnText,oldServer) Then
    'Wscript.echo "Removing old printer:" & prnText
    WshNetwork.RemovePrinterConnection oPrinters.Item(i+1), true, true
    prnText = Replace(prnText, oldServer, newServer)
    prnText = Replace(prnText, strDomain, "")
    'Wscript.echo "Adding new printer:" & prnText
    WshNetwork.AddWindowsPrinterConnection prnText
    End If
  • Training *is* key

    My wife is a Mac user - she has an iBook.

    I'm Linux user. when I have to deal with her OS X machine it takes me a bit to get under the hood, but I can make do with it. The one thing I *don't* like about it is the one-button mouse. I *hate* that.

    My wife can move around on the Linux machines I have set up - but she doesn't ever get too deep. She shouldn't have to - that's my job.

    She can do what she needs to on my Linux box using OpenOffice.org just as easily as things she does using AppleWorks or NeoOffice on her iBook.

    Of course, our son can surf from either machine using Firefox or Safari.

    Training *is* key - but the best training is with concepts. Training that is too narrow is simply making trained monkeys, not productive people.
    • Training costs more money, and just getting...

      Training costs more money, and just getting teachers to show up is another miracle. :P

      Educational environment is socially and politically very different than a corporate environment. Even when teachers get [i]paid[/i] to get training, a lot of them still won't show up. Then they complain they don't know how to use the software and call tech support.

      We run identical training seminars 4 or 5 times a year because teachers just never show up, even when it's "mandatory."

      Office is Office, whether it's on a Mac or PC. The icons are different, though, but believe me, that's enough to throw a few teachers completely off the deep end.

      Macs are, in general, easier to use than Windows for a first-time user. However, there're a lot of people who've been used Windows first and just are [i]not[/i] willing to change anything. They're familiar with it and they don't want to change a thing if it's what works for them. You'll find people who're still on Windows 98 simply because XP is [i]too[/i] different.
  • windows users don't like Macs

    Christopher wrote: ". . . I migrated from a dying print server the
    other day and provided all teachers and staff with instructions
    for connecting to the new print queues. I even gave them
    pictures... A remarkable number of teachers were absolutely
    overwhelmed by the idea of adding a printer."

    We have had Mac iBooks in our school for about 5 years. Of the
    70 teachers, only about 7 or 8 were regular Mac users at home.
    One of the first tasks we taught them was how to add a printer.
    We also provided screen shots. They learned it quickly and we
    have not had to revisit the subject during training sessions. On
    the rare occasion when a teacher has had a network printing
    problem, we simply remind them how to delete then re-add the
    printer in the Printer Setup Utility and all is well. It's usually done
    over the phone or via iChat.
    As a side note, the printers in the classrooms have a static IP
    address that is keyed to the classroom number. For instance, my
    classroom is #52, so the IP address of my laser is xx.x.xx.52
    This makes it very easy for a teacher to add a printer in MacOS.
    If they forget this scheme, or cannot find their screenshots, they
    can simply add it as a auto-recognized Bonjour printer. The
    photocopiers in the building work the same way.
    Lastly, to facilitate administrative tasks, the iBooks also are
    keyed to the classroom number. Therefore, my laptop's IP is
    xx.x.xx.52 The desktops in the classrooms all connect via
    DHCP, but have sharing names that identify them on the
    network. For example, Room27eMac01, is the eMac closest to
    the door in room 27. There is a label on the top of the eMac that
    says the same thing. All software upgrades to the Macs are
    "pushed" over the network, after school hours. No visiting of
    classrooms with upgrade CDs, or slowing down the network with
    online upgrading is necessary.
    That's my 2?, FWIW.
  • what the .......

    start with this quote- I am not sure what it means:

    "A small number (2 to be exact) actually had PCs at home, were relatively savvy, and simply preferred the Windows interface and the wide variety of readily (and cheaply) available applications.

    Most others used a PC at home instead of a Mac and were therefore more familiar and comfortable with the interface." end quote

    Thats a bit weird- either two do, or most do!

    And whats with discounting users of mac os9?

    Its a great system, and shouldn't be discounted with- and I quote:

    "Some of the users, of course, are still using OS 9. Even Mac fans don't particularly like OS 9. The only good thing to be said about these machines is that they are still running reliably after too many years. So we'll discount my OS 9 users".

    I didn't switch to osx until it got beyond 10.3 because os9 was just too good.
    • os9 was just too good?????

      That's too funny dude.
  • Don't buy it

    Someone always has a different opinion about something. So
    what? Let him rant and blow. I still have machines running OS9. I
    love OS9. I am glad OSX is finally as fast feeling as OS9. But I'd
    never run Windows at home. And I am sick of Windows users
    calling me, a Mac guy, to come over and set upi their printers for
    them or install/uninstall some crappy cheap software.

    Windows is overly complicated for the average person, who
    should by default purchase a Mac, simply because you can get
    stuff done....simply.
    • Who's "casting stones"?

      Sadly, "zealots" feel the need to justify their personal choice by degrading those who have made a different choice.

      I have re-read all the posts plus the original article and your post is the sole "rant and rave".

      Sorry but, IMO, you need to respect the choices of others even when you "know" they are "wrong".
  • Another reason for the preference of PC over Mac

    in my area is simply price. Our entire Tech staff is Mac all the way, but most of our teachers couldn't afford an Apple, so they had PC's at home. After a while, the teachers were finding that they could do a lot of things for free that the Mac couldn't do, or couldn't do as cheaply. Now I know the argument, that cheap is just that, and that the Mac is somehow better because it costs more; but teachers don't buy that. You see, teachers are cheap, too. At least, we cost less than almost any other college trained professional out there, and are expected to do miracles with the lowest funding possible; so we KNOW that price and results have no real connection. We have learned to cut corners, and we have learned that getting it done is often more important than getting it done with style. The PC allows us to buy our own add-ons and upgrades with our limited budgets, while the Mac simply won't.
    Essentially, Mac priced themselves out of education. There are lots of reasons for using Macs, and many of them are good reasons. But education simply can't afford them. Believe me, our tech guys tried to justify spending $800 per seat to fit labs with eMacs, but we could get HPs or Dells with better specs and smaller footprints for $500 a seat. And the $9000 difference per lab buys an awful lot of printers and supplies and training to go with it all.
    • TCO

      Total Cost of Ownership:

      Don't confuse a low purchase price with TCO.

      You buy cheaper PC's. Okay, congrats, you saved $$$. Great.

      Now you must consider longevity. Macs, as has been pointed
      out, last a long time.

      I picked up a pair of B&W G3's on eBay for about $45 each. They
      run OS X fine even being five years old.

      That would be like running XP on a five-year old Pentium. Not
      too likely.

      Your PC's may not last as long, requiring replacement earlier
      than Macs would have.

      Or your PC's may end up costing you $$ with their need for virus
      protection, a non-factor in OS X.

      Finally, it comes down to this lesson: You pay in money, or you
      pay in time, or you pay in labor.

      If you have a resident volunteer who is knowledgeable and will
      donate his time to do updates, virus checks, repairs, re-installs,
      etc, can you save money by purchasing the cheapest PC?

      Yes, sure you can.

      But you paid the difference in labor. In time lost. In data lost,
      if a new virus slips past your anti-viral app.

      And in cash, too, when the time comes to update those PC's.

      In my experience the upgrade cycle for PC's is 18 months in
      business settings, longer for education.

      MUCH longer for Macs. My neighbor does home schooling for
      her kids and was just given a working Performa 636CD or some
      such model, it must be ten years old.

      I will probably help her set it up for Internet access. Nice
      having a computer that you don't have to worry about getting a
      virus on !
  • One other point about preferences

    I started using Firefox a few years ago in our labs, and discovered that students thought they had to click the blue E to get to the internet. They didn't know they were starting an app, they just thought the blue E meant Internet. So I changed the Firefox icon to the IE one. Voila, the kids used Firefox every time, no problem. Then I started using Open Office, and thought, why not use the Word icon? So I did, and the kids used it almost seamlessly, except when they tried to save a file and take it home. So I got the teachers to start requiring .rtf so that everyone everywhere could use the files regardless of their word processor. Then I tried about 5 different Linux distros, made sure that I used generic desktop icons for the main apps like word processors and browsers, and the kids didn't even blink, except that some of them insist on moving the task bars down to the bottom of the screen. Oh, and I keep finding .exe files laying around, where the darn kids tried to install their favorite game or music program. Life has been good ever since.
    My point is that the kids have no real bias toward any specific OS. Because of game consoles and cell phones they are used to different looks and interfaces, and learn them quickly. And they learn how to modify them just as quickly. The adults might have a preference for what they are used to, but the kids just don't care.
  • More points

    Talked to several of my peers, who said they had quit using the Mac because their kids had come back from college and complained about their Macs, and told them all the things they could do with a PC. Yeah, its anecdotal, and yeah, there were probably ways to do it with the Mac, but they didn't know how, and no one could help them, but all their friends could tell them how they did it on their PC, so when they started looking to replace their old Mac, they came over to the dark side. They spent less money buying a PC, now have a bunch of people who can help them learn new things, and they can buy whatever hardware or software they want to use on the PC at many local stores.
    Just one more story of why users don't always like their Macs.