Macs...Why bother?

I asked all of my students yesterday how many of them owned a Macintosh. The answer of course was zero.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

I asked all of my students yesterday how many of them owned a Macintosh. The answer of course was zero. One of my interns happens to be a Mac guy and swears by it with the fervor only a Mac guy (or girl) could muster. Then I started asking teachers. One still has an ancient Mac of undetermined heritage, but never uses it. Of course, she rarely uses her PC, either. So then I walked around the university where I'm taking grad classes and started looking at the ubiquitous computers under students' arms, on their laps, and on their tables. While this is a technically-oriented school and may not be an accurate cross-section of college kids worldwide, the overwhelming majority were using Windows-based laptops. I did notice one girl hiding in a corner with her iBook, but the cool kids were all sporting Dells, HPs, Lenovos, and the occasional Gateway. Marc Wagner quoted some figures from the University of Illinois, which we could probably assume to be more representative:

"At my university, my group is by far the largest single provider of student computing workstations. Of those workstations that we own or support, 3000 are running Windows, maybe 450 are running MacOSX, another 50 or so are running some (other) flavor of UNIX/Linux. That’s 14 percent non-Windows."

I know I've been writing a fair number of pro-Windows posts lately, but only because I'm trying (and failing) to justify a platform change in my own organization. A new set of administrators in the district has finally seen the light and is working very hard to identify funding mechanisms for conservative, but tolerable lifecycle funding. Our hardware, taken together, is so old, that we are looking at a system-wide tech refresh with some creative leasing. I still stand by my view that platform standardization (regardless of the platform) saves money and reduces TCO. So now is the time to explore alternatives to Windows and, if we're going to make a switch, it's now or never.

We've already talked about Linux and, at least for my district, it still doesn't make a lot of sense, given our existing user base, support infrastructure, vendor relationships, etc. Which leaves Macintosh. Despite some impressive innovation in personal entertainment and a very loyal (and very small fan base), most people simply don't use Macs. Without a doubt, OS X has some brilliant built-in features for home entertainment and multimedia. It is also widely acknowledged  to hold an advantage over Windows in terms of security and malware prevention (or simply in terms of a lack of malware).  Which makes it a fine choice for the consumer electronics market, as well as niche multimedia arenas. 

As with Linux, if you have the user base and in-house expertise to support a Mac-based enterprise, then Macintosh might make sense, at least from a TCO perspective.  However, the fact remains that most people, businesses, and organizations use Windows.  While it is true that Web 2.0 continues to make your choice of web browser more important than your choice of OS, our job in Ed Tech (especially in K-12) is to provide the most relevant educational tools for our students.  In many cases, relevance means Windows.  Add to that the significantly higher initial cost of Mac hardware, and I'd be hard pressed to make a case for moving to (or sticking with) a Mac platform. 

For many years, Apple dominated the educational market.  Now, extremely aggressive pricing among Window-based OEMs and, for some, the emergence of mature Linux distributions, makes Macintosh far less relevant, and far too pricey for this area.  I challenge readers to talk back below and make a case for Macintosh in Ed Tech.  Why should I bother? And why should I pay more for a machine and OS aimed at digital entertainment far more than productivity and business applications?  Let me know...Because those new HPs are looking pretty attractive, even if their boardroom isn't.

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