iMac Education Config: Good deal for schools

Schools still running old software will need to upgrade, new costs may push some towards open source Office software.

Jeff Mao, coordinator of educational technology for the Maine Department of Education, has a review on Macworld of Apple's new iMac Education Configuration. The 17-inch dual-core iMac Apple is selling to education is smaller, lighter, and more energy efficient than the eMac. It's also Intel-based which means, Mao says, that "schools will have to carefully review their software titles."

If you've been running OS9 apps under OSX, you'll have to finally made the upgrade. OS9 apps flat-out don't work on Intel-based Macs.

Also, AppleWorks is no longer pre-installed. Schools will have to pay a license fee for it. Volume licenses up to 99 seats start at $29. Microsoft Office is more - starting at $55. iWorks is cheaper but lacks a spreadsheet and other tools.

So, Mao says, schools might want to look to the free, open source Open Office. "While commercial products suffer from bugs and performance issues from time to time, open-source programs generally lack commercial product support and are updated frequently, which could add work to your IT administrator’s plate."

The fact that an Intel-based iMac can now run Windows, whether via Apple’s free Boot Camp software or third-party software like Parallels Desktop (4.5 mice), is a positive development. Many schools maintain multi-platform environments, and the ability of the iMac and all other Intel-based Macs to run Windows (or Linux) creates a multi-platform potential, while at the same time maintaining a single hardware vendor, and simplifying purchasing and hardware support.

Mao says the system's design shows Apple is still responsive to education's needs. Here's his checklist:

  1. Are your teachers and students relying on Classic applications? If so, are upgraded or similar titles available for OS X?
  2. Do you have licensing or budget allotted to ensure that the iMac has a productivity suite?
  3. What kind of applications will be used on the iMacs? Will the pre-installed RAM (2x256MB, no empty slots) suffice? Does the configuration allow you the flexibility you need?
  4. Do your users frequently plug and unplug peripheral devices like digital cameras and video cameras?
  5. Are you working in a networked environment that includes network-based home directories? If not, will the smaller (80 GB) hard drive provide adequate storage space for your situation?
  6. Do you need any of the features removed from the education iMac? Bluetooth? SuperDrive? The Apple Remote control?
  7. Will the iMac be used heavily for video/graphic intensive applications? If so, remember that the education iMac lacks dedicated video RAM. The commercial configurations do have dedicated video RAM.