A number of readers of a previous post (Macs - Why bother?) questioned why my current Mac users were actually asking to switch to PCs. I acknowledge that this is, in fact, somewhat out of the norm, so I started doing some digging and here's what I came up with.
Some of the users, of course, are still using OS 9. Even Mac fans don't particularly like OS 9. The only good thing to be said about these machines is that they are still running reliably after too many years. So we'll discount my OS 9 users. What about the folks who are using newer Emacs and run OS X? After talking with them, I found a few answers. A small number (2 to be exact) actually had PCs at home, were relatively savvy, and simply preferred the Windows interface and the wide variety of readily (and cheaply) available applications.
Most others used a PC at home instead of a Mac and were therefore more familiar and comfortable with the interface. OS X just looks different. Which of course gets at a key issue for many of my users, whether they have Macs or PCs on their desks. These folks still aren't that comfortable with computers, let alone something that looks different from their Windows ME desktops on their kitchen tables. These people represent as many as 75-80% of the users in my district, with a definite skew towards teachers of younger grades, where we have a large installed base of Macs.
Many users who fall into this category of the vaguely technophobic use computers because they must, not because it seems natural to do so. Many of our students might prefer one interface over another for any number of reasons (including familiarity), but few are as befuddled by a new windowing environment or lack of a Start button as my Mac-disliking middle-aged teachers.
This, of course, was one of many reasons that Linux was short-lived in my test lab. Aside from legacy hardware compatibility issues, teachers use the computer labs to get things done. Most often, they are leading the students through an activity, assisting with research, etc. When confronted with an unfamiliar interface, all too many simply panic and call for Mr. Dawson. Windows is at least familiar and they know where to find Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word (unless the icons disappear from the desktop); Windows is simply so ubiquitous, even the most technophobic can't help but be familiar with it.
However, upgrading to Vista, switching to OpenOffice, or even switching print servers presents a major obstacle for these users. As a case-in-point, I migrated from a dying print server the other day and provided all teachers and staff with instructions for connecting to the new print queues. I even gave them pictures. It was, in fact, a work of desktop publishing IT support art. A remarkable number of teachers were absolutely overwhelmed by the idea of adding a printer.
So it's no wonder that these users don't like their Macs. However, with training, they could probably be convinced to like BSD. Or DOS. Or whatever. Training is a key that is all too often overlooked in a variety of environments. Nobody wants to make the time or pay for the donuts, but without training, users will never be able to exploit the computing power we give them, regardless of our OS choice.