Since the moment I purchased my MacBook, I've sworn it was the best computer I've ever owned. It's light, durable, elegant, the screen is bright and crisp, the built-in iLife software works brilliantly, and OS 10.5 is stable and fast. What's not to like, right?
Well, there's this recession going on. I consider myself very lucky to have a couple of decent-paying jobs (tech director and blogger) and to have been able to spend some serious money on hardware and software upgrades in our schools before the economy completely tanked. It's very clear, with guidance from the state and an Obama stimulus package with unclear benefits to schools (just how do we get on the list for retooling to meet 21st Century needs?) that for at least the next two years, we need to make every dollar stretch.
Apple makes some great products, but they are not exactly key to getting the most bang for your buck. As more teachers and students have a chance to play with the Acer Aspire One netbook that I've been floating around, most find, even if they don't care for the form factor, that it does everything they need it to do.
I, for one, have become reacquainted with Linux and its incredible flexibility on a wide variety of hardware. Linux allows me to have a "real computer" inside some very inexpensive hardware, whether netbooks or extremely cheap desktops. Even if Apple starts dumping their remaining white MacBooks on educational institutions, we're still going to be looking at $800 a pop. Their more interesting products climb quickly.
The iPod touch (of which I'm still a big fan because the touch interface is so bloody good) is the same price as some netbooks. Although I can think of many ways to integrate the Touch or the iPhone into educational settings, it's a heck of a lot easier to hand a student a small, light computer with an actual keyboard and a 7-9" screen to read. Not only is it the same price, but I can manage it, reimage it, authenticate it, etc.
Apple is losing its luster for me. I'll always feel warm and fuzzy inside walking into an Apple Store, but the other night we were talking about how to meet the computing needs of our family of six. Three out of four kids are using computers all the time for school now (and are far more likely to pop onto a computer than watch TV, a trend that I welcome happily). My youngest rarely "needs" a computer for school, but can easily make use of one (and is frequently bumped from a computer by his older brothers who actually need them to type papers, create presentations, conduct research, etc.).
So when my oldest suggested that he take my Mac (he needs something lighter than the 17" beast, but just couldn't get his head around the netbook form factor), I was more than happy to accept and will be headed out to buy myself a netbook to replace it. Sure, the new MacBook Pros are cool, but as my "living in the cloud" experiment goes brilliantly, I just can't see spending over $2000 on a laptop.
The 17" beast, running Ubuntu, of course, can become the main family computer/server with an external hard drive and can handle all of our video and photo editing tasks. True, video editing in Ubuntu isn't nearly as elegant as it is with iMovie. iMovie basically hands you movies (another reason to give my Mac to my oldest, a big film/multmedia/theater buff). But it will get the job done without much fuss.
I no longer need a Mac at home and I'm struggling to see it in the schools, either. For our last refresh in several of our elementary schools and the middle school, we stuck with Macs since an Apple infrastructure and a fair amount of software and staff expertise was already in place. As I try to engineer additional refreshes over the next few years, though, I'd rather spend the money on interactive classroom appliances and moving us closer to 1:1 instead of on Macs, no matter how easy/pretty/elegant the interface.
I have an Apple rep coming out to meet with me next week. I'm happy to see him because he's a nice guy and our support for the existing systems still flows through him. He's going to be very hard pressed to convince me that Apple has a future in education, though. When no netbook materialized at MacWorld, they lost me.
Make it cheap, make it open, and make every one of my dollars enhance student learning. I just don't think that as the economy slides further towards depression, many of us are going to still have Macs in our schools (outside of certain niches) a few years from now. What do you think? Talk back below.