Since I first started writing this blog, I've had very few nice things to say about Macs in education. I've never been the typical Windows or Linux fanboy, merely claiming that Apples suck. On the contrary, I've owned 2 Macs (an 8100 that I got instead of a car before college and a Titanium Powerbook). They were both very cool and met my needs at the time. As my needs changed, I moved on, using Linux almost exclusively on my computers; supporting Windows, Linux, and a small Mac lab at school; and, now, supporting aging Macs in our elementary schools. With rare exceptions, non-Macs, whatever they were, simply seemed to make more sense for ed tech because I could buy low-end hardware on the cheap and still meet my students' needs very well. As we moved to more server-centric models, the need for Mac-level hardware disappeared even further. Even Mac Minis, Apple's "low-end" offering, start in the mid-$500's and don't include a keyboard, mouse, or monitor.
I went to New York this weekend with the family, though, to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City. We had some free time before the show started, so we took in FAO Schwartz and the 5th Avenue Apple Store, which happen to be right next to each other. FAO Schwartz was great (they actually had a couple of toy inventors there, selling the toys they invented), but I couldn't help but be drawn in by the Apple Store. It is a big glass cube with a giant apple suspended above an underground store, after all, 1 part Louvre and 2 parts Borg cube.
This particular store, in typical Big Apple fashion, puts the Cambridge store where I bought my Powerbook years ago to shame. Row after row, display after display, Mac products were suddenly far more appealing than they ever had been. I found myself seriously wondering about the new Mac laptop that should be debuting at MacWorld in January and thinking that maybe my New Year's resolution should be to start using a Mac. They're just so cool and sexy and my oldest son would be more than happy to inherit my 17" HP beast. A Mac ultraportable or new ultralight MacBook would be just what I'm looking for as more of my life moves online, right?
My kids were sucked in, too. Before I could say Linus Torvalds, 3 of them had seated themselves in front of 24" iMacs and were immediately playing games on just about the prettiest screens you've ever seen (the other made a beeline for the iPods, rethinking that PSP he'd put on his Christmas list). Even my wife, quasi-Amish technophobe that she is, commented on how nicely the iMac could replace our television. She also made another interesting remark, noting how easily all of the kids just sat down and did what they wanted to do, on a type of computer they had never used before (none of them, ages 5-15, had ever seen OS X; my wife wouldn't know OS X from from Windows 95, but she knew this was something different).
This is hardly the ringing endorsement of Mac ease of use that most Mac diehards would preach. These kids have lived with me through several different Linux distros; the toughest questions they ask tend to be along the lines of "Hey Dad, what's the root password?" or "Hey Dad, can you get Flash working?" It is, however, a testament to the irrelevance of the operating system. The only question that needs to be answered is, "Does it do what we need it to do?"
While the answer would certainly be yes for any of the Macs in that store, it would also be yes, in most cases, for thin clients running Edubuntu or cheap white boxes running Xubuntu, or even entry-level Dells running XP, all at a significant cost savings, since inexpensive hardware isn't to be had from Apple.
I have to give Apple credit, though. These guys really are good. The salespeople were actually the only nice non-tourists we met in the city, they were all very knowledgeable, and the atmosphere was almost too good not to induce spontaneous credit card usage. The Genius Bar (a place to ask questions 1:1 with your Mac of Mac gurus) is a brilliant piece of marketing, as well as a valuable service. But these are consumer and pro electronics. Just because I want one for blogging and content creation on the go (and can justify the more expensive hardware given what I do at school, at home, and as a blogger who lives, eats, and breaths with my laptop), can Apple induce spontaneous purchase orders when it comes time for a tech refresh? I don't think so. Talk back below if you disagree.