Religion in schools

It no longer matters as much what icon appears on the splash screen when students boot their machines.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

So it's time for me to buy a new computer for myself now (my budget for buying computers at the school is nil, but I've managed to scratch together a few of my own dollars so I get to buy a new toy!). Which got me thinking about the age-old issue of Windows vs. not Windows.  This isn't all about me, though. Like many public schools, we are badly in need of a tech refresh, and come H-E-double hockey sticks or highwater,  need to be thinking about significant equipment purchases over the next few years (or, GASP, on an ongoing basis, just like big boys and girls properly managing equipment lifecycles). 

Used to be that educators tended to stick with Macs (or at least consider them a lot more seriously that the other 90% of the world in Wintel-land).  I've long been a fan of Macs, both from a hardware and OS-perspective.  Apple often also gave really substantial discounts to educators and educational institutions, sweetening the pot even further.

However, ZDNet and Slashdot are full of recent articles on emerging vulnerabilities in the Mac OS. Apple as well has always been a niche player, whether in the educational market, high-end graphics/design, or, more recently, as the uber-consumer electronics device, leading one to question its relevance in a mainstream educational setting. Ideally, shouldn't students be learning to work in a computing environment that mirrors what they will see in the real world? After all, 90% of the computers they see when they graduate in the next few years will be Windows PCs. I have to admit, I'm selling my G4 Powerbook to buy the above-noted computer.

From my own perspective, I actually think this highly religious issue is becoming less and less relevant. Here's why: In a previous post, I talked about how I built a Kubuntu-based computer lab. Although this wasn't without its problems, those of you who have used any of the recent crop of graphical Linux distros know that they're really slick.  In fact, most of them look fairly Mac-ish, they're stable, secure, and free!

On the other hand, have you see the recent screen shots or a beta from Windows Vista?  The graphics and text rendering look a bit, what was that word, oh yeah, Mac-ish.  Although I can't imagine that we'll all want to run out and buy Vista when it drops (give me 2 years and 3 or 4 service packs and I'll think about migrating), there is no doubt that Longhorn will address at least some of Windows' bigger security and stability issues.

Open-source, cross-platform applications are maturing as well, making your choice of hardware and OS far less critical.  OpenOffice works quite nicely on Mac, Linux, Windows.  So does the GIMP.  And Firefox. And the IM client of your choice. MP3s play just fine on any of the above, too.

Computers are computers, folks. The current generation we're teaching has been referred to as homo ipod and they live online in ways we couldn't have imagined even 10 years ago. From an educator's perspective, if we're teaching students to use computers responsibly and to take advantage of the plethora of software and resources available, regardless of platform, it no longer matters as much what icon appears on the splash screen when students boot their machines.

So what kind of computer am I going to buy myself to replace that Powerbook? Well, I am a teacher, after all, and, as much as my inner geek is begging for something dual core, my inner checking account will be buying me an AMD Turion-based laptop.  The price is right and I can dual-boot Windows with some flavor of 64-bit Linux, giving my inner geek some solace.  As for my Mac, I'll miss the slick iLife apps, but I won't miss the price tag of a new MacBook.  And when it comes time for that tech refresh, let the lowest bidder win.  We can always install a new OS and pretend we're using Macs.

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