I work in a College of Education and our students go on to become teachers, so we get Apple sales reps visiting every year and I met with a couple yesterday. Apple Computers tries hard to own the K-12 market, but I don’t have any figures to show how successful they are. We have three computer labs in our building and two are filled with Macintosh computers, with the assumption that teacher education students need to train on the type of computers they will see in their future jobs. Actually, the PC lab is the most used.
My day job involves programming, web development, server management and computer support. I’ve been working with computers since 1971, and I began working with Apple II computers in 1978 and Macintosh computers in 1984. I admire Apple. The Macintosh is a fantastic computer, but I just don’t know if it belongs in the school systems.
Every time I meet Apple reps I feel like I’m talking to two clean cut Mormons that have come to my door to sell their religion. Apple people believe in their Macintosh and feel all kids should have one. Apple Computers got a beachhead in the school systems with the Apple II machines and it was natural that teachers wanted Macintoshes when they came out. The trouble is students leaving K-12 schools end up in colleges and businesses where Windows reign supreme.
Despite Apple’s excellent computers, the exposure to kids to Macintoshes throughout their school life, the overwhelmingly cool marketing campaigns, Apple has only gained about 1/20th of the market. Why is that? Macs cost too much. I mention that to the Apple reps yesterday and they pooh-pooh that belief, but it’s true. Several times in my life I was determined to buy a Mac but after pricing them at the Apple Store, and even considering my education discount, I always faced too much sticker shock and walk out. I then go elsewhere and buy a Windows machine for half as much money.
The last time this happened I wanted to buy an iMac, but only the $1799 version was practical because of memory, DVD burner and 20″ screen. I left the story and bought a HP with more memory and hard drive space for $498, and then bought an excellent Samsung 22″ LCD monitor for $222 and was completely happy.
Which makes me wonder why cash strapped school systems buy Apple computers? And now with the economy the way it is, really, why do they buy Apple computers? If schools bought parts, taught their students to build computers, and accepted Linux, they could have 3-4 times as many computers for their money, or just save a lot of money. Isn’t the idea of going to school to learn? Wouldn’t building computers and using open source software inspire a lot more learning than getting the easy to use expensive computers?
When the Apple II came out schools justified expending enormous amounts of money on computers because students would learn about programming and computer literacy. They don’t universally teach programming in schools anymore, and computer literacy is a moot point since most tykes pick up computer skills before they start school. Hell, if I ran a school I’m not sure I would have computers in the schools at all, but that’s a different rant.
Another issue about computers in schools is compatibility. If 95% of society uses one kind of computer, why have kids study on the one that gets 5% of the market? Of course, I wonder why 100% of everyone isn’t using the same kind of computer. Can you imagine what our society would be like if Sony TVs got some stations and Samsung TVs got different stations? Or if Fords had to drive on different roads than Toyotas. Or if you bought a toaster and it only worked with wheat bread. Or if you have a telephone that only got calls from telephones of the same brand? I could go on and on with the examples, but I’m sure you get my point.
But if my point is made, why should Windows be the universal computer OS, even if it has already gained 95% of the market share? We’re pretty close to having 100% hardware standardized on Intel chips and its clones, and it’s just the finicky OS that’s giving everyone fits. You’d think the open source folks and Linux would have won the war by now, but they haven’t. The momentum is with Windows. It’s a shame we can’t (inter)nationalize Windows 7 and take it away from Microsoft and make it open source and give it free to the world.
And what’s so technologically hard about building a computer OS that everyone can write programs for, that wouldn’t crash, that wouldn’t get infected by viruses and malware, that would be easy and elegant to use, and be universal across all the countries of the world. I mean, Unicode has already been invented, why not UniOS?
When I saw the Apple reps yesterday I told them I would find Apple more acceptable if their OS was sold to run on any Intel box like Windows and Linux. I just can’t get behind endorsing one company as a universal standard. Hey, Bill Gates, make Windows 7 open source. Windows is less elite than Apple because it runs on computers made by anybody, but it still can’t be a world-wide universal standard if it’s sold by one company.
I think schools should buy components and build computers that can run any OS that the students want to put on them. Make Windows 7 and OS X open source and let them compete with Linux. Let the OSes battle it out for 10 years and then let’s pick the UniOS for the world standard starting in 2020.
JWH – 3/12/9
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