My daughter attends an elementary school in Montgomery County, Md., where Windows PCs are booting (pardon the bad computer jargon pun) Macs out the door. Her school is due for an upgrade next year.
Montgomery County is supposed to have one of the better school systems in the Washington, D.C. area, because of the tax base of cities like Bethesda, Chevy Chase, or Rockville. Wherever the school system spends its money, computers haven’t been a priority. My daughter’s school runs aged beige (that means pre-1998) Macs and first-generation (that means 1998) iMacs; a few 1999 version G3 towers are around, too. It’s my understanding that many of the computers were purchased through a Macs for schools program—one of those deals where folks turned in receipts to a local supermarket. So, much for the tax base.
These aged Macs, cute as they still are, lack fundamental capabilities found on newer computers. Windows users, for reference, think of that six-year-old PC wheezing under the weight of newer software. But Apple’s so-called innovations exacerbate the situation, as newer hardware and software often is not compatible with older stuff. A friend of mine put together a video yearbook last year, a process complicated by the computers’ 8.5 version of Mac OS and incompatibilities with newer hardware.
During his Macworld keynote last week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs bragged about how the Mac OS X transition was complete because 40 percent of users had switched to the operating system. I’d like to see the reasoning explained to my daughter’s school teachers and the other 60 percent of Mac users on version 9 or earlier.
Microsoft, for all its faults, takes compatibility seriously. That’s one reason Windows 95 delivered so poorly on Microsoft’s promise of a robust, stable operating system: Backward comptability with DOS and Windows 3.11. Apple tends to “innovate” right past older Macs.
I remember, oh about 2000, when I had three different Apple LCD (flat-panel) monitors, all released within a year of the others, that used different connectors. Next to mice and keyboars, monitors are one of the most compatible class of peripherals. Not these. One used VGA, another DVI and the third Apple’s proprietary ADC. Because of the different connectors, I couldn’t freely move monitors around the Macs in my office.
So, I have to wonder how much Apple has “innovated” right out of the education market, where Dell (that’s a four-letter curse word for Jobs and Co.) has increased presence. Considering that my local library system uses Dell PCs, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in my daughter’s school next year.
For an in-the-trenches look at Apple, Macs, and education, check out this posting, “Reflections on Four Mac-less Months” by Brooklyn educator Noah Kravitz (He’s a musician, too, but I don’t know that he’s related to Lenny) [Editor, Oct. 9, 2014: Link no longer works and removed].