Mac Lab Report

Sites Like Low End Mac More Important than Ever When OS 9 Dies

- 2002.10.10

Apple may or may not recover the lost market share it once had in education. I think that might be a function of the disgust with Redmond's blackmail tactics for site licensing more than anything Apple itself does. One of the reasons I think this is true is that Apple doesn't go after the real education market; it goes after the glitz education market.

The glitz market is your Maine iBook contracts, your digital movie studios, your websites linked to Antarctic research stations with streaming media that has to be used in the library because that's where the T1 line is. Stuff that shows up on Apple's Hot News. Stuff that the pundits write about on Cnet or eWeek.

It looks good. It smells good. For those kids who get access to it, it might even be good.

But for millions upon millions more, the only exposure to the real function of computers - as tools to get the job done - is through that lone teacher or small school that "gets it" and by hook or by crook hammers together a lab full of computers or a cart full of iBooks or solicits donations in such numbers and with such low standards that for every usable computer you get you have three junkers in the back. For folks like these, it is not a question of migration to OS X. It's a question of migration to OS 9. Or even 8. Or, God help us, 7.

When you're struggling with a hodgepodge of equipment, upgrades are driven by the slowest ship in the fleet. It's the Lowest Common Denominator, baby, not the highest. If you're like myself, your district is firmly planted in OS 9, and X is just an experiment. And there's that one piece of software that just doesn't work right, so OS 9 is where it's at.

Now Apple has announced that computers sold in 2003 will not be able to boot into OS 9. Not long after, I venture to say, Apple will remove the Classic layer from OS X altogether, leaving mixed networks still theoretically functional, but at the cost of purchasing brand new software for the X side. I'd say, given the pace of recent events, you'll be hearing that shoe drop sometime in '05 or maybe '06.

Then the folks who crib together these makeshift networks will have to look elsewhere for technical information, specifications, product reviews, and so on, Apple is already positioning OS X software as easier to find on the "Made 4 Mac" pages, and there will come a day when OS 9 software is declared end of life and removed from the list altogether.

Just as today you can find more information about System 6 on hobbyist sites than on the Apple site, someday in the not too distant future you'll be able to say the same thing about OS 9.

Don't get me wrong. My school is well-equipped. It is still stuck in OS 9, but that'll eventually change. But for every school like mine, I know there are a dozen still struggling to make that LC surf the Net, trying to get a little more mileage out of that crappy 5200, trying to make that Performa recognize its ethernet card. And none of these machines will ever be asked to run OS X. Ever.

Am I a Luddite, refusing to upgrade or consider the new features that OS X has to offer? No. I've installed OS X three times now, and the more I use it, the more I like it.

What I am is a realist. I have three 500 MHz iMacs that I have to surrender to new teachers in our overcrowded school. Beyond that, I'll have some 300 MHz Blue and White Towers, some AIO Macs at 233 MHz, and then it goes downhill until the old 7200/90s I have near the window.

I would like to go all OS X, but I can't - and it's not entirely my fault, either, is it?

I think somebody from Apple education needs to go visit a school that isn't already thoroughly imbued with newer Macs. Somebody high up, if you catch my drift.

It's a good thing there are websites like Low End Mac to help you through these times, because Apple sure isn't making the effort. Because of all those smaller schools and underfunded labs that keep things running until money comes along to buy new Apple hardware, you'd think Apple would be just a touch more appreciative of the little websites that support its current users and future customers.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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