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Busman's Holiday
One Way Apple Loses Educational Market Share
by Steve Wood
December 14, 1998

  

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With the recent bad news about Apple Education losing the Colorado Springs School District 11 account, I dusted off this column that was written, but not posted, way back in October. It may serve to answer some questions other than price about why Apple continues to lose education market share.

If you've read many of my previous columns, you already know that I'm a career public school teacher. I currently teach in a small rural elementary school that adjoins the junior-senior high. That's the whole school system!

When our sleepy corner of Indiana woke up to the computer revolution a few years ago, our elementary went almost totally Macintosh, with the junior and senior high school going Windows several years later. Much haggling went on over which platform each would use, and I really don't know how the decisions were made.

The elementary already had a few Macs and a bunch of Apple II's. A computer lab, initially with 12 PowerMac 6100's, was established. The school later received an Apple Grant that provided another lab of 25 LC 5200's, and some machines for the principal's buddies. Not being on that list, I felt fortunate to retain the LC III which I required come to my room when I took the learning disabilities job. Up to that point, I had been consigned to doing four 90 minute "shows" daily of 6th grade social studies and science.

As time went on, the E-RATE program and some truly "creative use" of Chapter 1 funds provided more classroom computers. The goal was for each teacher to have a computer in their elementary classroom. The catch was that there wasn't all that much money. The principal proudly proclaimed to the school board that the goal had been met and each teacher had a Macintosh.

It was true. The buddies had 6100's, 7100's, and LC 5200's. The principal got a new 8100. The non-buddies got SE's! Later, the situation was rectified with each teacher, other than a certain mouthy columnist, getting a new machine hand-picked by the same administrator who had pulled the above slick one. The machines chosen were all of the all-in-one LC5400-5500 line. I got left out because I'd gone directly to the school board a year earlier, pointing out that special educators and their students deserved the latest and the best. The board agreed and coughed up $30,000 for new machines for the special ed teachers. The administrator never forgave me. But, I chose a 7200, as it was the best, most expandable machine available for reasonable money at the time. While truly deserving of Dan Knight's Low-End Mac "honor" of being a "Road Apple," it has proved itself again recently with the addition of a OrangeMicro PC card to run a necessary Windows only program.

Where does Apple and marketshare come in to all of this?

Well, exit the evil administrator, who later ran for school board, hell-bent on revenge...and lost! Enter a new elementary administrator with the novel idea that kids should go to school to learn. If technology helps, he's for it, and if not, forget it!

Then enter a new systems person who lives and breathes NT, and who doesn't really know the MacOS, much less love it. Ask him to keep in repair a bunch of 5200-5500's. Mind you, these machines are truly demon possessed. Chooser settings regularly vanish after frequent crashes. Motherboards fail regularly. Hard drives lose their minds (data). Cache cards revolt. Video doesn't. I see dead Macs on a cart at least twice weekly heading to the local Macintosh hospital and morgue.

This is the guy whom the school board asks, "What should we buy?" Apple Computer has provided him with overwhelming ammunition to convince an already WinTel leaning school board that Macs are junk, Apple is going out of business, and we should train 5-12 year olds on the system they'll be using in the job market. Please, please, hold the raucous laughter. I know Windows 95/98/2000 probably won't be the OS of choice 6-12 years from now. Neither will the current MacOS. But remember, this is west central rural Indiana. Our county has one, count 'em, one elevator (not counting grain elevators). Wal-Mart is the cultural center of the county.

The saddest part of all of this is that the NT techie is partially correct. Many of the Macs mentioned above are just a notch above junk. Had the 5200 series not been plagued by technical problems, it still would have been a dog by design limitation. And it was the PowerMac successor to the nearly bulletproof 68040 Performa/LC570 series. The 5400-5500's were really a big improvement, but had real problems with bad motherboards, drives and cache cards. I was recently trying (successfully so far) to save a 200 Mhz 5400. It sat beside my PM7200/75 (which actually clocks at 81 Mhz). The 7200 is visibly faster. The 7200 does have a level 2 cache, a ton of RAM, and System 8.1 that the 5400 lacks. But really, a 120 Mhz difference in speed should account for something.

Sadly, many of the returned/repaired machines really didn't need a hardware overhaul. Some of you who've had to put up with those machines know that some of the difficulties are fixed just by running a good utility and then letting Drive Setup update the disk with the latest drivers. Others require a hard drive reformat plus the latest drivers. And...others seem to need serious work "under the hood."

When dollars are discussed in the board room, the NT techie talks of 300 Mhz Pentium II's for $1000 each with a monitor. When you talk iMac, it's $1300 without a floppy (still critical in elementary education). Apple, of course, in its infinite wisdom, pulled the Artemis All-In-One from its education price list in October. This was a machine I'd give serious body parts to possess.

When you talk total cost of operation, the techie points to the steady stream of Macs going in for intensive surgery as opposed to a lesser number of WinTel clones going in. Add to that the charm and personality of the techie, which has charmed our local high school hackers from attacking the system, and you've got a great argument. (Incidentally, the techie brought the hackers "inside," putting their knowledge to positive use in the school system. The techie doesn't have a teachers' license, but he's a wise teacher.)

Recently, an article appeared in the local weekly newspaper saying the unusable Macintoshes in grades 5 and 6 were going to be replaced with new WinTel boxes. When I began to poke around amongst the teachers involved, they had this crazy idea that maybe they should be able to choose the operating system they preferred. No one had bothered to ask. When I approached our favorite techie, he said they were free to keep their Macs...with no replacement!

I expect the next round of computers purchased at the elementary will be WinTel boxes. Apple has equipped the opposing camp with some strong arguments. While Apple extended the warranty on the 5200's to 7 years, the legacy of these machines, along with the 5400's, says to our community that Macs are junk. This argument overlooks the 3 SE's, one LC III, and the PM7200 still performing admirably in my classroom with just a little TLC. Other vintage machines around the building perform as well, or could with a dose of Norton Utilities, TechTool Pro, and a little extra RAM.

I'm not sure what more Apple could really do to correct the 5200-5400 situation. I've suggested Apple let schools upgrade through system 7.6.1 without any fee which would really help some of those machines. But that is really band-aid surgery. The sidelining/cancellation of the All-in-One Mac for education (Artemis) is a major blow to schools such as mine. That machine could have been the perfect successor to our weary 5200's and 5400's. No announcement of the cancellation was made. It was just done. And the iMac simply doesn't fit our needs.

Steve Jobs may have another home run up his sleeve to announce for the education market. The new Mac portable could be it. Apple isn't saying anything now about the disappearance of the AIO from its education pricelists. Neither is our Apple Computer Account Executive, who currently hasn't answered my most recent email for over a week.

At this point, we really need something we can use added to the Education pricelist. The All-in-One was perfect for that niche. The ball's in your court, Apple. Do you want to continue to lose schools and school systems, or do you have the product we need?

Send your feedback to Steve Wood

Anchors were added to this column on 1/3/99 so that another column on MTN might refer to this one. No content changes were made.
Links were updated and the column was reposted to the new MATH DITTOS 2 site 6/18/2000
©1998 Steven L. Wood