Educators draw lessons from Apple's woes

Teachers offer some suggestions to reverse the Mac maker's recent slide in the education market.

During last week's conference call, in which he discussed Apple's first quarterly loss in three years, Jobs pointed specifically to the company's decision to revamp its education sales force last July, at a time when school districts were making purchase decisions.

In Part One of a series on prescriptions for Apple (aapl), MacCentral asked developers to play armchair quarterback and offer suggestions for righting the Cupertino, Calif., mothership. Now, it's educators' turn.

One education user, who asked to remain anonymous, said that "Apple has been killing its best customers in education" thanks to the transition from At Ease (software for limiting students' access to the Mac desktop) to Macintosh Manager, which allows administrators to manage client Macs.

"Apparently, it was always the plan that At Ease was not going to run under OS 9, but nobody at corporate shared that with anyone in the field or their customers," he said. Then a hardware conflict prevented iMacs running Mac OS 8.6 from using At Ease, so the company, he said, was forced to release an AppleShare version of Macintosh Manager before its time.

"Needless to say, it was a horrible version, and subsequent revisions of it have not proven to work out all of the bugs and kinks," he said. "We are now on Version 1.3, and it still does not work consistently. This has left customers who had once been strong Mac advocates unable to sing the praises of a company and product they once loved."

Many schools, he said, are dreading the forthcoming migration to Mac OS X. "I believe some are looking at Windows because, if they have to do another migration, and to another platform essentially, why not to Windows?" he asked. "Also, I don't think that anyone in the field truly believes that Mac OS 9 apps are going to run properly in Classic mode, under Mac Manager."

With this in mind, he has four suggestions for Apple:

Fix Macintosh Manager.

Allow schools to buy machines with Mac OS 9.1 installed for at least 18 months after OS X ships.

Adopt a certification program. "Third-party companies and schools cannot find qualified people to maintain their Macs," he said, "and people looking to upgrade their own technical skills have no incentive to get up to speed on the Macintosh."

Destroy what he describes as the "cone of silence" that keeps Apple from communicating with its customers.

The Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District in Massachusetts exclusively embraced Windows PCs about three and a half years ago. At that time, the district had an installed base of about 150 Macs, 150 older Windows machines, and a host of Apple IIe systems.

Technology Coordinator Kathy Schrock pointed to the limited availability of Apple technicians and parts in the area, as well as the challenge of maintaining 400 -- now 1,200 -- computers with a single staff person. "It is much easier to maintain a large infrastructure with one platform," she said, "and we chose the PC platform and Novell as our operating system."

The move came before the introduction of the iMac and Apple's subsequent revival. However, Apple's then-dour financial forecast didn't play a role in the decision, she said. And in her case, she noted Apple's recent moves to use more industry-standard hardware won't help win back her business. "In our experience, it is still easier to maintain a single-platform network."

She does have one suggestion, echoing what many other Mac users have said: "I think Apple's strong point has always been its operating system. I would love to see them strongly support a Mac emulator for the PC hardware, such as they do with the Windows emulator on the Macintosh hardware. Then, the different types of learners who are comfortable with each platform would have the choice of a box that those in charge of infrastructure could easily maintain."

Looking at higher education, R/com Networks CEO David Barrett said he believes that Apple needs to examine the purchasing process in colleges and universities.

"Schools have specific ways of buying things -- if a vendor (Apple or anyone) changes or complicates the buying process, it makes other brands instantly more attractive," he said. "I'm not sure Apple has given significant thought to the process of getting Macs into college campus environments, from a purchase order, budget, and payment point of view."

Apple, he suggested, should bring the "store within a store" concept to university retailers. "If there are plenty of peripherals, software, and so on, -- all at educational bookstore prices -- then students and educators alike will get a visual clue about the company's capabilities and product offerings," he said.

He also believes that Apple should enlist college students to help promote the Mac on campus, not unlike Apple's old AMP program. "However, instead of charging a fee to enroll, I'd give stuff away for participation," he said. "Get college students to evangelize the product line and applications. Imagine the power of having 1,000 or 2,000 students talking you up on campus and off. And if you help those same students with their education or educational tools in the process, you have a nice public story to tell as well."

For up-to-the-minute Mac news, check out MacCentral.com. During last week's conference call, in which he discussed Apple's first quarterly loss in three years, Jobs pointed specifically to the company's decision to revamp its education sales force last July, at a time when school districts were making purchase decisions.

In Part One of a series on prescriptions for Apple (aapl), MacCentral asked developers to play armchair quarterback and offer suggestions for righting the Cupertino, Calif., mothership. Now, it's educators' turn.

One education user, who asked to remain anonymous, said that "Apple has been killing its best customers in education" thanks to the transition from At Ease (software for limiting students' access to the Mac desktop) to Macintosh Manager, which allows administrators to manage client Macs.

"Apparently, it was always the plan that At Ease was not going to run under OS 9, but nobody at corporate shared that with anyone in the field or their customers," he said. Then a hardware conflict prevented iMacs running Mac OS 8.6 from using At Ease, so the company, he said, was forced to release an AppleShare version of Macintosh Manager before its time.

"Needless to say, it was a horrible version, and subsequent revisions of it have not proven to work out all of the bugs and kinks," he said. "We are now on Version 1.3, and it still does not work consistently. This has left customers who had once been strong Mac advocates unable to sing the praises of a company and product they once loved."

Many schools, he said, are dreading the forthcoming migration to Mac OS X. "I believe some are looking at Windows because, if they have to do another migration, and to another platform essentially, why not to Windows?" he asked. "Also, I don't think that anyone in the field truly believes that Mac OS 9 apps are going to run properly in Classic mode, under Mac Manager."

With this in mind, he has four suggestions for Apple:

Fix Macintosh Manager.

Allow schools to buy machines with Mac OS 9.1 installed for at least 18 months after OS X ships.

Adopt a certification program. "Third-party companies and schools cannot find qualified people to maintain their Macs," he said, "and people looking to upgrade their own technical skills have no incentive to get up to speed on the Macintosh."

Destroy what he describes as the "cone of silence" that keeps Apple from communicating with its customers.

The Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District in Massachusetts exclusively embraced Windows PCs about three and a half years ago. At that time, the district had an installed base of about 150 Macs, 150 older Windows machines, and a host of Apple IIe systems.

Technology Coordinator Kathy Schrock pointed to the limited availability of Apple technicians and parts in the area, as well as the challenge of maintaining 400 -- now 1,200 -- computers with a single staff person. "It is much easier to maintain a large infrastructure with one platform," she said, "and we chose the PC platform and Novell as our operating system."

The move came before the introduction of the iMac and Apple's subsequent revival. However, Apple's then-dour financial forecast didn't play a role in the decision, she said. And in her case, she noted Apple's recent moves to use more industry-standard hardware won't help win back her business. "In our experience, it is still easier to maintain a single-platform network."

She does have one suggestion, echoing what many other Mac users have said: "I think Apple's strong point has always been its operating system. I would love to see them strongly support a Mac emulator for the PC hardware, such as they do with the Windows emulator on the Macintosh hardware. Then, the different types of learners who are comfortable with each platform would have the choice of a box that those in charge of infrastructure could easily maintain."

Looking at higher education, R/com Networks CEO David Barrett said he believes that Apple needs to examine the purchasing process in colleges and universities.

"Schools have specific ways of buying things -- if a vendor (Apple or anyone) changes or complicates the buying process, it makes other brands instantly more attractive," he said. "I'm not sure Apple has given significant thought to the process of getting Macs into college campus environments, from a purchase order, budget, and payment point of view."

Apple, he suggested, should bring the "store within a store" concept to university retailers. "If there are plenty of peripherals, software, and so on, -- all at educational bookstore prices -- then students and educators alike will get a visual clue about the company's capabilities and product offerings," he said.

He also believes that Apple should enlist college students to help promote the Mac on campus, not unlike Apple's old AMP program. "However, instead of charging a fee to enroll, I'd give stuff away for participation," he said. "Get college students to evangelize the product line and applications. Imagine the power of having 1,000 or 2,000 students talking you up on campus and off. And if you help those same students with their education or educational tools in the process, you have a nice public story to tell as well."

For up-to-the-minute Mac news, check out MacCentral.com.