View from the
When Panther, Mac OS X 10.3, bursts upon the scene this Friday, raves and some criticisms will fill the Mac web about what Apple has done well and not so well. As with any major upgrade, Panther boasts a slew of new features and speed improvements and will undoubtedly contain its own set of new bugs that will require an update or two to iron out.
Just a week or so ago, Apple released its fourth quarter financial figures, revealing a profitable quarter overall, but with some terribly disappointing numbers for the education sector. While higher education numbers were pretty solid, K-12 sales were down 15%. Apple CFO Fred Anderson was quoted as saying, "Apple believes one-to-one deployments are the future of education sales."
While Mr. Anderson, and presumably Apple CEO Steve Jobs, may believe in the future of supplying laptops to every student or every student at specific grade levels as take-home units, the current reality of educational funding in most states may indicate otherwise. Schools across the country are struggling just to keep the doors open (and repaired), let alone jump into major technology initiatives.
Still, the news of major sales to school units continues. Beginning with the Henrico County sale in 2001, Apple Education scored big again when it secured the contract for supplying all 7th and 8th graders in Maine with iBooks last year. This month The Daily Reflector reported "a $3.2 million pilot program in Greene County is placing a laptop computer in the hands of every student in grades 6-12."
The current big deal is Michigan's anticipated "technology order that just may be the biggest single purchase of computers ever -- 130,000 laptops, enough to give one to every sixth-grade student in the state." Both Apple and Dell are hot to be the supplier that may reap a total sale of $156 million over the next four years.
Bryan Chaffin of The Mac Observer recently wrote of "Fred Anderson's 'more than a hundred' unpublicized one-on-one school deals." It appears that Apple is following a strategy as espoused by Anderson of "the big sale." But Apple Education has also shown a new willingness to sharpen its pencil for smaller sales, as I found out two years ago when the technology grant fairy finally visited my school (See iBooks for Backwash Elementary.).
With all the big and smaller sales, why do Apple Education's sales figures continue to remain sluggish? I dealt with this question in some depth last year in Straight Talk About the Education Market. Possibly even more revealing was a rare, follow-up "the readers speak" column, More Straight Talk About the Education Market. Both columns contained serious issues brought up by devoted Mac users in the classroom.
Many of those issues have been adequately addressed by Apple and Apple Education. Some, such as the built-in negativity toward Macs by many IT people, are a tough nut to crack. Other issues still remain. And that finally brings us to today's missive, Where Apple Education Got It Right...and Wrong.
OS X Matures
Beginning with the X for Teachers giveaway, Apple and Apple Education began to really get some things right with the operating system for Macs. With a retail price tag of $129 and an education price of $69, the Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) upgrade was priced well beyond many school's ability to upgrade their newer Macs. Earlier versions of OS X had severe limitations on what older software could still be run under OS X's classic box.
Apple first got Jaguar into many educators' hands with the OS giveaway. Along the way with OS 10.2 updates, the classic box got some serious attention to compatibility with older software, particularly with programs running from CD-ROMs. Teachers found that they could indeed finally boot to OS X without sacrificing many of their treasured OS 9 educational applications.
However, Apple Education never did clean up their volume licensing agreement pricing to make upgrading to Jaguar economically feasible for many schools. My school's iBooks got the upgrade due only to teachers' willingness to let us order the free upgrade for them and donate it back to us to install on the iBooks!
While Apple can't be directly credited for third-party software developments, they have continued to improve their free developers tools. As OS X has matured, so have the offerings from third-party vendors. School software, however, still lags terribly behind the general software market in native, OS X software. Two of my school's critical application sets, Don Johnston's Co:Writer 4000 and Lexia Learning System's Early Reading, Phonics Based Reading, and Reading S.O.S. still must run in the classic box. With Co:Writer, this requires a classic word processor as well, as Co:Writer 4.1 still can't cross the OS 9-X clipboard divide.
The return of dual-boot machines to Apple's lineup has also helped Mac educators. With so many applications not functioning well under X at various times, the ability to boot to OS 9 for a time was critical to educators. As OS X continues to mature and as applications are slowly rewritten to run natively under X, the boot factor will continue to become less of an issue. Apple just got in too big a hurry on this one. Fortunately, they responded to the pleas of educators (and others). But...don't look for any dual-boot G5's. It's not going to happen.
Panther Pricing -- Again
When the Mac OS X 10.3 upgrade (Panther) ships this Friday, a sizable portion of the potential market for the much anticipated upgrade will be on the sidelines, waiting for a better deal. I made reference to the lack of an affordable upgrade path for schools a few weeks ago in the column Worms, Fall Break, Panther, and Desktop Photos. As with the initial educational pricing of the OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) upgrade, Panther begins at $69 per copy for 1-9 computers. Volume licensing kicks in at 10-99 copies for $59 each, $49 for 100-999 copies, and $39 per license for 1000 or more computers.
Not limiting his comments to just the school community's problems with Panther pricing, Dan addressed Apple's lack of any upgrade path for previous OS X purchasers:
Dan wrapped up his comments on the pricing of Panther with a pretty good argument for some improved pricing schemes:
While I put in my order for a single personal copy of Panther the day of the announcement, several educators have written during the past week, saying they're going to do just what Dan suggested above -- skip this upgrade. Many have no choice. It would cost $1475 to upgrade the 25 Macs in my classroom. Since I've become Mr. Cellophane at school when it comes to suggestions such as teaching assistants to help us avoid the six figure "denial of services" lawsuit that's just waiting out there for us, I know better than to even mention an operating system upgrade.
Having dumped on Apple for their self-destructive educational pricing structure for operating system upgrades, let me say that this still is supposed to be a fairly positive column about some of the good things I see happening with Apple and Apple Education!
Apple Education added a number of new offerings to its mobile computing line last November. While the standard iBook Wireless Mobile Lab and the Mobile Digital Media Studio continue to be offered, Apple Education introduced five new Curriculum Mobile Labs:
The big change with the curriculum lab kits is that they include what appears to be some very good OS X native subject software to go with the Apple computer hardware of the old iBook Wireless Lab. You can even configure your own lab with different combinations of laptops (iBooks and/or PowerBooks), software, and peripherals (See the Build Your Own Mobile Lab page.)
I've only tested the Destination Reading software from the Early Language bundle, but if the other products are as solid as Destination Reading, they're going to be positive additions to classroom teachers' array of tools. The inclusion of at least one really good nuts and bolts academic offering is a pleasant reprieve from the usual digital video pitch. I really don't care a whit about teaching my kids how to make a movie unless it can help them learn their letter-sound combinations, blend those sounds into words, and read those words with comprehension so they can escape the cycles of poverty, ignorance, and low expectations that trap so many of them. While there are folks doing wonderful instructional things with digital video, many teachers are sick to death of Apple trying to foist the digital hub into schools as a critical educational initiative when what we need is basic instructional support. It would appear Apple Education got the message.
The End of Premium Pricing?
Not a chance!
Apple will probably always premium price any new hot product introduction. They just can't seem to help themselves from fleecing the Mac faithful who always have to have the "latest and greatest." A big part of Apple Education's current sales problems go back to the introductory premium pricing of the current form factor of iBooks in May, 2001. Apple just had to have that extra profit margin, but blew a chance to sweep a good portion of the educational laptop market.
The good news over the last year or so for educators who prefer Macs is that Apple finally realized that they had to have some entry-level machines that at least came close to comparable name brand PC offerings. The base eMac ($699) and iBook ($949) are both equipped to compete in today's educational market. Both models have experienced some problems along the way, but the display problems of the eMac seem to be a thing of the past, while the anticipated redesign of the iBook will hopefully address the persistent trackpad and power supply problems experienced by some.
To me, the eMac is the real bargain in Mac computing today. I can't walk past one without taking a few minutes to play with it. They look terrific, don't take up a lot of desktop space, are quick and responsive, and carry a reasonable price. If Apple puts the G5 chip in the eMac and prices it aggressively, they could find themselves back into the CRT all-in-one market for schools in a very big way.
Apple is going to have to overcome its usual corporate greed when it releases the anticipated new iBooks. It has to come in with a truly competitively priced entry-level iBook to remain viable in the education market. The current $949 pricetag for a 12" screen laptop is beginning to become suspect when compared to some other name brand laptops that have a considerably better feel to them. I recently set up a 14" Compaq laptop for the granddaughter of one of our teachers. It was faster than the current iBooks and had a far superior feel to both the trackpad and keyboard of the current iBooks. And...it was $150 cheaper. Ouch!
The current iMac really doesn't seem to be a factor in education circles. I definitely like the machine. I got totally lost for half an hour one day playing with one at the Indianapolis Apple Store. While an excellent machine, it's base price ($1199) and form factor don't seem to fit the needs of many schools.
The real killer for Apple and Apple Education is the array of low-cost retail offerings constantly available from anywhere and everywhere, including even Wal-Mart. If a teacher has a low-cost PC at home, they're not too likely to strongly object to a PC on their desk at work. As Jeff Adkins advocated some time ago, "Try to get Macs into teacher's homes. That will help them want to have the same thing at work. Deeper personal teacher discounts might mean more sales."
Over the years there's been a lot of talk about education specific Macintosh models. While available to the general public as well, the eMac and iBook were obviously originally designed for school use and give Apple a good one-two punch in the education sector. Can you imagine what a $699 G5 eMac or a $899 14" iBook would do for Apple's education sales?
You've gotta have at least a little grin when it comes to application offerings from Apple. Final Cut Express, iCal, iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes, Keynote, Safari, etc. tell you Apple has been hard at work on quality application software. Many of the titles are freebies. Others have carried excellent price incentives for educators at various times.
It remains a mystery why AppleWorks 6 with all its updates remains the poor stepchild of Apple software. It's usable, but in some ways comparable to Microsoft's terrible Word 6 offering a few years ago. The education-only Windows version of AppleWorks 6 is worse. Apple needs to apply some of the same programming magic it's used with its digital hub software to AppleWorks.
While Apple Education hasn't positively responded to the many pleas of Mac education advocates to get back into schools with samples to look at, touch, feel, and maybe even lick (if they ever bring back the fruit-flavored color schemes of the CRT iMac), the ever-expanding number of Apple Stores increases the odds of one being close to home or at least in the path of your travels. Our nearest Apple Store is two hours away in Indianapolis, but I try to stop by whenever I visit the "big city." I usually try to stop in just after the store opens so I can play around with their toys without getting in the way of the paying customers.
Unfortunately, not a lot of teachers are going to go out of their way to visit their closest Apple Store. An annual "traveling Apple Store" visit could provide a lot of exposure for Apple Education that it simply won't get any other way. This is one of those items that has been suggested over and over. Apparently, Apple just doesn't see it as worth the effort. That's a shame, as it could be Apple Education's final undoing.
I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for the opening of the Graysville, Indiana (Population 200) Apple Store.
With phrases like "The world's fastest personal computer" and "The best Windows app ever," the Apple hype machine continues to run on overdrive. The big difference now is that with the new G5 computers, Apple's hype might just be true. (We'll kindly omit any more reference to "best Windows app ever" until Apple figures out and fixes what in iTunes 4.1 is wasting people's Windows 2000 Professional installations.)
It's been suggested here and elsewhere repeatedly that Apple should release older software for free download as it did with OS 7.5.3. One of the best advertisements of Apple products is old Mac hardware still running well. A choice of operating systems helps Mac users do just that. Apple has ignored all such requests.
In contrast, the Microsoft Fresh Start for Donated Computers program allows schools to install system software on all donated machines up to Pentium II models. The software allowed includes everything up to, but not including XP! While the program only covers "donated computers," it goes a lot further than anything Apple is offering.
I still regularly receive emails of horror stories of users dealing with Apple's "Customer Service." Most of the stories revolve around folks who can't get their Mac fixed appropriately, long delays in repairs, or Apple seemingly trying to find ways not to fix things properly under warranty. This doesn't even begin to address the problems folks face once their iBook or PowerBook goes out of warranty. Service prices for Apple parts and service are still an embarrassment to all Mac users.
We recently had a spate of broken tips on power supplies on our classroom iBooks. It appears that when the first tip broke off in an iBook, any other power supply inserted into the laptop with the broken off tip also broke off. A total of six power supplies and two iBooks were involved before we got it stopped.
Our techie first had difficulty even getting Apple to recognize that we did indeed have Apple Care contracts covering the units. Then came the veiled threat that Apple probably would not repair under warranty any more power supplies or iBooks with similar problems, calling the issue "vandalism," which isn't covered under the contract.
The issue was quickly resolved with a few emails and a quick response from our excellent Apple rep. While we both spoke of it as a "misunderstanding," the whole deal smelled of Apple trying to get out of fixing a weakness of the iBook that was intensified by the particular population I teach. I wonder what the outcome might have been if I'd not been an occasional web columnist.
Apple must stand behind their products and not hassle folks in the warranty service process. Beyond the warranty period, Apple still needs to get their price structure for repairs into the affordable category. The criticism by the PC crowd that Macs are too expensive to repair is an entirely valid criticism. Apple has done nothing to correct this situation and it stands as a major argument against using Macs in the classroom or anywhere else.
A Few More Thoughts About Getting to Mac-Hostile Techies
Over the last few years I've referred to our school's technology coordinator as "the Evil NT Techie." He's actually a buddy of mine and sorta likes the name. We've done our share of OS bashing back and forth over the years, but a surprising change has happened in the last two years. When we purchased our twenty-four iBooks, and six QuickSilver towers for teachers who chose a new Mac, he decided he needed a Mac to administrate the whole deal. He found enough in the budget for a then top-of-the-line Dual 1 GHz QuickSilver tower for himself.
Both the techie and I frequently test the "job availability" situation. During a recent talk, I asked the hypothetical question, "If you left, what hardware would you like to take with you?" Without hesitation, the techie responded, "Of all the computers and servers here, I'd choose the G4 tower!"
What made the difference in the one person most instrumental to our school going from a PC junior and senior high school and an all-Mac elementary to a nearly all PC system? Clearly, Mac OS X won him over. "The power of UNIX" ads aren't all hype. The techie is well into Linux, so playing around under the hood (terminal app) of OS X is no biggie to him. He appreciates the OS X graphical interface that also allows going to the root and tweaking things a bit. He also isn't ready to begin reversing himself and switch the school back to Macs.
Getting a Mac into his hands for regular use worked the magic that now has him saying nice things about Macintoshes. Apple really needs to find a way to get their hardware and software into the hands of the power brokers in school technology choice so there actually is some type of choice allowed. Witness the recent travesty in the St. Petersburg (FL) schools where a school superintendent made the decision to abandon Macs without benefit of staff or community input.
Why isn't our techie ready to go to Macs in a bigger way than we are now? He still is responsible for service of all machines in the system. Dealing with Apple and Apple Service has not been a positive experience for him in the past. Any time we talk of service, he reminds me of the high price of Apple Service and of Apple proprietary parts. He doesn't miss a chance to point out the possible advantages of OS X running on x86 hardware! A whole lot of his argument would simply go away if Apple got its service parts priced comparably to PC parts.
But the big point here is getting a good Mac into the hands of the potential decision makers for an appreciable period of time. I don't have an easy answer for Apple on this one. They certainly can't give every school techie and school superintendent a new Dual 2 GHz G5 Power Mac with a 23" Apple Cinema HD Display. I still have to believe that getting back into the schools regularly with the "Apple horse and pony show" wouldn't hurt. I know that when I'm in a conference and a "9" or a "10" comes in and sits across from me, I have to say to myself in the back of my mind, "Eye contact, Steve, keep EYE contact." The G5 is certainly the current "9" or "10" of the tech world. Apple has to get their foot back in the door of school systems so folks can see that Apple Computer and Apple Education have some really classy hardware and software that can compete step for step with any comparable PC offering.
Odd thoughts while shaving between paragraphs:
Our recent experience with broken iBooks and power supplies brought home to me the responsibility and necessity of frequently teaching and reviewing laptop care with my students. I'd gotten a bit lax in that area. Having taught a K-6 learning disabilities resource room for the past several years, I often relied on the older kids to instruct the newcomers. Moving to a K-3 class this year, I don't have my "seasoned veterans" to help the younger ones.
I got busy and did several mini-lessons on the use of our laptops, including getting them in and out of our custom laptop cart. I also again began to strictly enforce the rule about a laptop going only into its assigned slot. With each new student placed, I'll need to instruct them on the use and care of their laptop.
In the past, we had more students than we had laptops, so a lot of sharing went on. It necessitated having many files on the server that really could have gone on the laptop's hard drive if a student was assured of using the same iBook each time. This year our students have an assigned iBook. This adds a bit of accountability for the condition of the laptop to the students. It also allows me to personalize the settings of the iBook to the particular student's needs. For example, several of my non-reading first graders have the Co:Writer application set to speak the letter name of each letter (or key) typed. (If I could get the program to pronounce the letter sound, that would be even better. That's probably a pretty advanced programming challenge for someone. Marc Moini took a good stab at this task a year or so ago with his A-N-I-M-A-L-S application.)
Only after we got the service issue resolved did I order two new backup power supplies and an Airport Extreme base station. The power supplies can stand in if we have to send in any more units for repair, but are really more for use off the cart when I'm cloning iBooks. The Airport base station is an attempt to get better connectivity for our iBooks, as we still have wireless connection problems with our third-party receivers.
I couldn't help but put in the reference above to Mr. Cellophane. We got our youngest daughter the DVD of Chicago for her birthday recently, and I got hooked on the song, Mr. Cellophane. This evening, my sweetie brought home the Chicago Soundtrack, and I was listening to it as I wrote.
course, when iTunes finished Chicago, it rolled
right onto the next listing, which was Boston's Corporate
America. Annie and I were well lubricated and
about dead center at Deer Creek (Oh, yeah, it's
been renamed for a wireless phone company!) in
Indianapolis last July for the Corporate America
Tour concert. While it was a good show, Boston
wasn't nearly as sharp as they were when my sons
and I caught the Living for You Tour (Walk On)
concert in 1995 (It was the Deer Creek Music Center
then.)! Of course, I'm not as sharp as I was eight
My Current Hardware Setup
When the G5's were announced last spring, I got a quick email from fellow special educator Joe Taylor. I'd told Joe for a year or so that I was going to skip the G4's and wait for the G5. When I saw the prices of the G5's, even the ones after Apple cut education prices a few weeks later, I decided to upgrade my old G3 minitower instead of going for the new G5 (for now). While I was running a 533 MHz G3 upgrade card in my G3 minitower, I do a good bit of photo editing that could benefit from the G4's altivec engine. So...I finally popped for a Sonnet Encore 1 GHz G4 card. While it wasn't much fun to set up and all the upgrades probably totaled something close to a new barebones eMac, I'm thrilled with the responsiveness of this 5 1/2 year old machine. Beyond the upgrade card, it also has the ATI MacEdition 7000 graphics card, a Seagate 80 GB hard drive booting from a Sonnet ATA-66 card. The stock CD-ROM remains, augmented by a Lite-On 52-32-52 CDRW with a system hack from Accelerate Your Mac! that allows it to be fully supported under OS X for burning. I run just one internal drive these days in deference to the heat production of the G4 chip, but have a USB/Firewire card hooked into a 120 GB external Firewire drive for backups and extra data not necessary on the main drive. I also now use USB compact flash cards and readers instead of zip disks for small file storage and transfers. A 256 MB compact flash card in its case fits easily in a shirt pocket!
What happened with the old OWC 533 MHz G3 card might be of interest to some. I'd been using my backup G3 minitower as my upstairs fileserver for setting up student take-home units. It received the "hot" G3 upgrade card. The unit also serves as the recording unit for SpellTutor spelling tests and for revising some MATH DITTOS 2 shareware files that behave poorly with AppleWorks 6 and OS 9 or X (serious, serious formatting problems). Rather than rewrite the whole MATH DITTOS 2 series, I went retro and installed Mac OS 8.1, AppleWorks 5, and Adobe Acrobat Pro 4.0.5 on a spare drive.
Running a fairly "clean" installation of Mac OS 8.1 on a 533 MHz machine is quite an experience. Without all of the usual classic system enhancing add-ons I usually run and with the upgrade chip, the machine is an absolute screamer! (Well, a 533 MHz screamer, anyway.)
Finally, somewhere along the line, Apple, with all of its so-so upgrades to a really mediocre AppleWorks 6 application and systemwide font smoothing and such, totally wiped out the MATH DITTOS 2 series base documents. I got caught with some of the documents still in ClarisWorks 4 format and some in ClarisWorks/AppleWorks 5 format. When the system changes occurred and with AppleWorks 6, there were unrepairable formatting changes in the documents. I simply could find no way to fix the existing stuff in either AppleWorks 5 or 6 running OS 9 or X. Totally rewriting the series is the only long term answer. If I do so, it will be done in InDesign or Quark. For now, my retro setup works well. I can use all of my old files and lock them into PDF documents before moving them to my main Mac and PC (running OS X and XP Professional, respectively) for final assembly, password protection and compression for uploading.
Had I been a member of a beta test team for either the Apple OS or AppleWorks (as I was before Apple decided to dump their external beta testers...producing disasters such as AppleWorks 6 and the Mac OS X 10.2.8 first update), I might have been able to give some valuable input that would have saved me and others like me hours of frustration, ending in dumping a paid Apple application. It's a shame Apple chose to dismantle the excellent team of Claris beta testers and the Apple OS external test team.
Ads shown on this site do not represent an endorsement or warranty of any kind of products or companies shown.
Send your feedback to Steve Wood
©2003 Steven L. Wood