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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | MAC SMART / CHARLES PILLER

Don't Expect Apple to Drop Out of Schools

June 03, 1996|CHARLES PILLER

Microsoft recently offered steep discounts on Windows 95 to schools and predicted that by the end of the year, Intel-based computers would finally dominate K-12 education. Is another Apple stronghold about to be crushed?

You may prefer the Macintosh, but as a responsible parent or teacher, should you switch your children or students to Windows to stay in sync with most of the rest of the computing world? Here's the evidence:

Until the last few years, most schools sprinkled token IBM PCs amid a sea of Apple machines. In an inspired bit of marketing, Apple dominated education by giving schools and students price breaks and offering a wide range of teaching resources. Apple sowed a social benefit--viable computer-based learning for resource-strapped schools--and reaped a new generation of buyers.

But given that PC companies gradually exploited the same methods with considerable success, are the schools now turning to Windows?

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To understand the answer, first consider this anomaly in the fast-moving world of computer hardware: The Apple II, which Apple stopped improving more than a decade ago, is still the most common computer in schools, variously estimated at holding a phenomenal one-quarter to one-third share of the K-12 market last year.

Last time I checked, most voters and politicians still viewed increased school spending with fear and loathing. Skepticism seems warranted about claims that those Apple IIs will disappear any time soon.

What about Macs? The market research firm Quality Education Data reports that in the 1993-94 and 1994-95 school years, Macs and PCs increased in equal numbers. Yet the rate of growth varied dramatically: Macs shot up by 113%, to about a 20% overall share, while PCs grew at only a 41% rate, to make up about 36% of the school market.

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To be sure, this sizzling Mac growth rate has already cooled. But CCA Consulting and THE Journal both predict that this year schools will spend more than 40% of their computer budgets on Macs.

So maybe I began with the wrong premise. Given Apple's overall market share of less than 10% these days, why do schools persist in buying Macs at more than four times that rate?

Unlike games or business software, where Windows titles hold a staggering edge in sheer numbers if not quality, Macs have held their own in education.

And a more compelling factor ensures the Macintosh presence in schools: teachers. Whereas most kids of the video game era use computers easily, teachers are more often intimidated by technology. The Mac's ease-of-use edge--particularly plug-and-play hardware add-ons such as CD-ROM drives, and relatively painless networking--can turn a few hours into productive activity instead of an exercise in teeth gnashing over error messages.

When Windows 95 was released, Microsoft set up the most impressive display of support logistics since D-Day, and new users still clogged the phones with installation and compatibility questions.

So, not surprisingly, tech support isn't part of the deal when schools buy Windows 95 for $20 (instead of the usual $105). For support, they'll pay $2.50 per minute or $30 per "incident," in Microsoft speak.

For these kinds of reasons, I see the Mac coexisting with PCs in the schools indefinitely. But what if I'm wrong and Windows rapidly squeezes the Mac to the margins? (After all, as CCA surveys confirm, most school administrators, who usually make the buying decisions, use Windows.) Will kids who use Macs suffer? I doubt it.

Bear in mind that today's operating systems--Windows or Mac--are nearly irrelevant to your kids' future. The navigation tools of today, from organizing folders to surfing the Web, will seem quaintly archaic long before my 8-year-old son graduates from high school.

So don't worry about Mac-using students being left behind. Instead, help them view the computer as a tool to explore their world flexibly, not as an end in itself.

Charles Piller, senior editor at Macworld magazine, can be reached via e-mail at cpiller@macworld.com

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The Top 10

Reference Titles

For March 1996

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Average Rank Title Publisher retail price 1 MS Encarta 96 Microsoft $47 2 Street Finder Rand McNally 45 3 Tripmaker 1996 Rand McNally 38 4 Compton's Interactive Compton's Encyclopedia 96 New Media 39 5 The New Testament Microstar 5 6 Bible Explorer Expert Software 11 7 Map n Go Delorme Mapping 33 8 Street Atlas 3.0 Delorme Mapping 75 9 1996 Grolier Grolier Electronic Multimedia Encyclopedia Publishing 38 10 MS Automap Street Microsoft 46

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Source: SofTrends

Researched by JENNIFER OLDHAM / Los Angeles Times

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