This won't surprise anyone who has stepped foot inside a university or college recently, but Apple's recent rebound has done nothing to prevent the rapid and seemingly unstoppable rise of Windows machines in higher education. Once an Apple stronghold, the education market has seen a remarkable change over the past few years as the availability of new software running only on Windows has changed the minds of the few hold-outs. The list of schools dropping support for the Mac reads like a who's-who of higher education.
Yale University, for example, acting on the advice of students, parents, and faculty has declined to guarantee support for the Macintosh after "June 2000."
"A lot of the time, you get what your parents have at their offices," says John Bucher, director of information technology at Oberlin College. "People are still pretty much convinced that the availability of software is just not there for the Macs."
And at colleges that still recommend the use of a Macintosh, parents are questioning whether their children will be employable after they graduate. More and more students are arriving at school with a cheap Pentium II-based computer, which still undercut the relatively cheap iMac by $200-500 while providing faster speeds, better expandability, and that all-encompassing problem for Macintosh users: The complete gamut of software availability. While many PC programs do eventually find themselves ported to the Mac, Mac versions trail Windows versions by months, if at all.
"Slick new apps that used to begin life on the Mac...are now being created for the PC \[first\], with Apple porting an afterthought," says Malcolm Carey, director of academic computing at the University of Maine. The iMac, he says, hurts, rather than helps the Macintosh higher education market. "I don't see the serious software that a college needs emerging from iMac-targeted \[that is, home user-targeted\] development."
Apple Computer says that the move towards Web-based protocols means that new applications will run in any Web browser, regardless of what the operating system is.
"You're going to see us making announcements that show us making a movement on \[the Web protocol\] front," said Apple spokesman John Santoro. Such a comment obscures the real reason people use a Macintosh, however: Ease of use and a nice user interface. If Web-based protocols do win out, Windows is positioned to maintain--and even expand on--its lead over the Mac. Few would argue about Windows being the premier Web client with its bundled Internet Explorer. Even the Windows version of Netscape Communicator gets far more attention from Netscape's developers than the Mac version. They know where their audience is.
"It's \[about\] the accounting, project-management, and modeling software that students are more likely to see as they go to graduate school or join a firm, and a lot of what's available runs on Windows-based machines," says Tom Makofske, director of information services at Colorado College.
Sure, there are Macintosh stalwarts in education, as there will always be. But the Macintosh community could always rely on strong numbers in education, and that market is clearly slipping from its grasp.
"Apple has done an excellent job of trying to accommodate cross-platform users, for instance, by making sure diskettes written on a Pentium can be opened and read by the Apple," says Makofske, apparently forgetting that Apple's new iMac--which the company is targeting at his students--doesn't come with the floppy drive that would make that possible.
And a final nail in the coffin may be Apple itself: The company has always had manufacturing problems and often produces too many of the wrong computers and not enough of the right ones. One might think that changes made by Steve Jobs this year would have alleviated the problem, but there's no sign of that. For example, the University of Chicago, a preferred Apple customer, ordered six $7000 PowerBooks in June and has yet to receive them.
And who placed the order? Apple luminary and industry gadfly Don Crabb, who writes Macintosh columns for various ZDNet publications. Crabb writes that the University of Chicago gets "preferential treatment when it comes to machines on allocation." He also reports that this is not an isolated incident. You can find out more about the problems with Apple from Crabb himself.
And as Crabb notes, if they had ordered Dell Computers, they would have gotten them in only two days