Mac Lab Report

How a Revised Cube Could Save Apple Education

- 2002.12.05

Apple has always targeted the higher end of the consumer market, not caring to compete at lower levels within that space or in education because of the lower profit margins. What someone needs to do is print out this statement and slip it under Steve Jobs' door for me:

People who don't have a lot of money in America often get jobs that let them have more money in the future.

If you ask me, there was just one reason that the Cube failed in the market and had to be removed: It was too expensive. (This isn't just another article about Apple's overpriced lineup Power Mac G4 Cubein general. Bear with me for a bit.) The problem with the Cube was that as a computer without a monitor included, it was more expensive than an iMac, which had a monitor.

Advanced users, perhaps, would choose to purchase their own monitor or flat panel display; but then again, an advanced user would want more expansion ports and drive bays, and could get a tower for not much more money.

Therefore the Cube was not targeted at a real market segment, and it faded into obscurity.

What's needed to open up the ed market again is a new, revised Cube, one not aimed at the high end "style" market, but at the low-end (nudge nudge, wink wink) market. Built in a Cube case, or perhaps something similar. Perhaps a flat-panel iMac case with no arm and no flat panel?

Consider the following lineup. Prices are education prices - consumers would pay $50-150 more. The USB ports are "real" ports; we are not counting ports provided by the USB keyboard. Speaking of which, the keyboard and mouse should be included, as usual.

Entry level/lab machine:

  • 700 MHz G3 processor (same as iBook)
  • 256 MB RAM
  • SVGA video-out port
  • No proprietary Apple video port
  • 10Base-T ethernet
  • AirPort available, card not included
  • CD-ROM drive
  • 2 USB and 1 FireWire port
  • OS X and OS 9.2 included, buyer can specify which is the boot OS
  • Opaque case
  • Price: $300 (I am totally serious here. No kidding.)

Teacher machine

  • 700 G4 processor
  • 512 MB RAM
  • SVGA video-out port
  • Includes proprietary Apple video port
  • 10/100Base-T ethernet
  • AirPort available, card not included
  • Combo drive
  • 2 USB and 1 FireWire port
  • OS X and OS 9.2 included, buyer can specify which is the boot OS
  • Price: $450

"High End" Workstation

  • 800 G4 processor
  • 512 MB RAM
  • SVGA video-out port
  • Includes proprietary Apple video port
  • 10/100Base-T ethernet
  • AirPort available, card included
  • Combo drive, SuperDrive available for extra $$
  • 4 USB and 2 FireWire ports
  • OS X and OS 9.2 included, buyer can specify which is the boot OS
  • Price: $700

Note the "high end" workstation is just shy of an eMac in price - but the low-end eMac has a monitor. Also, a minor redesign of the clear case - painting them internally to match the iBook - will disguise any so-called "cracks" which the Cube was known for, despite Apple's lame "mold line" excuses to the contrary. Note also the RAM recommendations. RAM is the cheapest way to support OS X.

The advantages for Apple offering these configurations are:

  1. Apple can use the existing Cube design without starting from scratch.
  2. Apple can finally compete with the Wintel hegemony on price.
  3. Market share. If you're not growing, you're dying. Apple needs to stop the bleeding - now.

The advantages for schools are:

  1. The smallest footprint of any computer (sans monitor). Classrooms are crowded, and small computers will be useful. Old schools are overcrowded; new ones are built too small. Space is money.
  2. When computers die, their monitors often go on to be connected to another computer. You can use that pile of old monitors in the storeroom.
  3. Harder to steal parts if you don't know how to open the machine. We have several gutted Dells with easy-to-remove front panels. Oddly enough, no one's ever stolen a hard drive from our iMacs. Now the Cube is fairly easy to open, but that can be fixed with one Torx screw.

A few other recommendations (sorry to keep harping on some of these, but as a teacher I've learned repetition helps simple lessons sink in):

  • Make an iBook sized external monitor for these Cubes and small computer deployments. A latch on the side lets it hang off the side of the Cube, or an included stand makes it a regular or additional monitor.
  • Include a copy OS X Server for free if 10 or more workstations are purchased simultaneously.
  • Include Remote Desktop for school lab sets (iBook carts, etc.) Make .mac free for teachers.
  • Update Claris Home Page for OS X.

and (drum roll, please)

  • Bring Back HyperCard - use it to build interfaces for iMovie if you need an excuse.

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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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