The Battle in Carteret County

Dan Knight - 2001.08.06

From the Carteret News Times, August 1, 2001. Because the Carteret News Times reuses URLs, this link already points to a different article. We are reproducing the article so we may comment on it.

Mac, PC debate rages

By Cheryl Burke, Staff Writer

BEAUFORT - The debate of whether the county school system should use Macintosh computers or PCs took up two hours of a school board workshop Tuesday.

A group of citizens, most pro-Macintosh, has protested the county school system's choice to replace aging Macs with Dell PCs. They've questioned the cost and efficiency of such a move.

Thomas Colven, a citizen who spoke on behalf of Mac users, said his concerns boiled down to four main issues: that Macs are more user friendly; Macs have fewer problems; Macs aren't as susceptible to computer viruses; and they cost less.

According to Macintosh vs. PCs (Jannette Pippin, Jacksonville Daily News, 2001.08.02), "...bad timing changed things in 1997 as the school system made upgrades in the operating network to accommodate the large investment in computers, and Apple introduced the iMac, said Joe Poletti, the school system's director for technology and media." Curiously, the iMac was not announced until May 1998 and not available for purchase until August 1998, so we don't understand how it could impact Mr. Poletti's decision in 1997.

I am also at a loss how Apple's introduction of the iMac could lead to a RAM shortage for the school system. RAM for the iMac itself was industry standard and readily available.

As for his comment, "Should a $20 Ethernet card go bad, we're talking $500 for a whole new motherboard," there is no separate Ethernet card in the iMac.

However, we concur that adding RAM to the original iMac was a real bear. And if Apple is only offering schools a 90-day warranty, shame on them.

But Joe Poletti, director of technology for the county school system, said he and a technology committee decided to move toward PCs for several reasons. First, when Apple switched to iMacs in 1998 it caused several problems for the school system, including: a RAM shortage; problems with a unified shell design; lack of a floppy drive; and base price warranty was 90-days, with box and drop service.

"To add RAM, tech time to install it, floppy drive, USB to serial adapter, and warranty upgrade would add about $400 to a machine that shipped for $1,300. Should a $20 Ethernet card go bad, we're talking $500 for a whole new motherboard. With all that, we would still have a machine that would have limited function on Novell and no function with CCC (Computer Curriculum Corporation)," said Mr. Poletti.

Mr. Poletti said the iMac episode began "a new leg of the journey for us. Apple was given every chance to remedy the problems that we still have to live with. We have ample documentation of this process."

He summarized what factors went into his final decision as: "What can we get for the most amount of money. Is it doing the job. And can teachers teach."

Mr. Poletti went on to document the many school systems that are also moving away from Macs and toward PCs.

But Francis Shepherd, a system engineer with Apple who has worked with the county school system in the past, said he was unaware of some of the problems that Mr. Poletti listed. He added that he and other Apple representatives had offered solutions that were never acted upon.

Mr. Shepherd said the Apple had been excluded from the bidding process for the last two years, and it was difficult to offer solutions if the lines of communication weren't open.

"You can make specifications to exclude people. But if you exclude the people, you can't have an open dialogue," Mr. Shepherd said.

After a lengthy debate on technical issues of whether PCs or Macs were more cost effective, school board member Mike Hodges said, "It was a committee of 16 people that came up with the recommendation. There were not only educators and technical people, but business people on that committee.

Both Hodges and Poletti both use the "but others are doing it" argument, which every parent should see through. Schools should be teaching our children to think, not simply regurgitate facts on standardized tests, reflect their teachers' biases, and follow the crowd in using Windows. We're supposed to be shaping individuals, not lemmings.

"I think it's important to point out that this is the recommendation for this time. We're not saying that we're abandoning Apple and won't use them in the future. But other school systems are moving the same direction. I'm satisfied that for now it's the right move to make. It's like going to the doctor. You can get a second and third opinion, but at some point you've got to move forward."

Community members attending the meeting were allowed to make comments during the discussion. David Bell said he had a hard time understanding how it could be cost effective to replace Macs with PCs when there were so many Apple computers in the school system.

Mr. Poletti said they looked at replacement time, how the computers perform with the existing infrastructure, time in maintenance, and other factors when determining cost.

Currently the county school system has 3,518 computers: 2,371 are Macs; and 1,147 are PCs.

Excerpts from MacIntosh vs. PC's: Carteret school officials debate computer systems (Jannette Pippin, Jacksonville Daily News, 2001.08.02):

BEAUFORT - There seems to be no definitive end to a computer debate that has had the Carteret County school system talking Mac vs. PC.

But school officials stressed that a move toward PC use doesn't mean a strike against Apple, it's primary computer vendor since 1995. With today's changing technology, it's important to keep that relationship open, school officials said.

The Carteret County school system currently has a technology inventory that includes a total of 3,518 computers; with 2,371 of them being Macs.

The school system made a large investment in technology improvements in 1995 with the passage of a $29 million bond referendum that dedicated $6.25 million for computers and technology. It was also at that time that the school system decided to put Macs in the classrooms.

But bad timing changed things in 1997 as the school system made upgrades in the operating network to accommodate the large investment in computers, and Apple introduced the iMac, said Joe Poletti, the school system's director for technology and media.

We question the wisdom of the the school system ever installing a server system "not totally compatible" with two-thirds of their installed computers. Had they installed Apple servers instead, they would be able to support both Mac and PC users using AppleShare IP or Mac OS X Server. Further, had they invested in iMacs, they would find that with Mac OS X 10.1, which will be available around the start of the school year, the Mac is a very good network player with several network operating systems.

Mr. Poletti, you can move forward with Macs, even G3 models from 1997. I'm not sure you can say the same for 1997 vintage Wintel machines.

A primary factor in the decision to transition to PC's was the finding that Apple servers would have to be installed to support a large Apple inventory, servers that would not be totally compatible with the Novell network operating system that the school system has invested in, Poletti said.

While the existing Macs work well with the network and will continue to be used during their life span, the new Apple computers won't provide for future needs under the school system's existing network, Poletti said.

"There is no problem with the Macs we have. We just can't move forward with them," Poletti said.

"We are keeping the door open for Apple - Compaq, too," Poletti said. "We will continue to support the Macs we have, although we appear to be boxed in and cannot move forward. I'm optimistic about Apple's future and am intrigued by the concept of portable computing, and thus the iBook. But it has to work within the parameters of our infrastructure, and that has to be proven before we dive in."

A concern over the expense that could be associated with a switch to PC's is part of what prompted a citizens group to begin questioning the school system decision. The group, which includes many Mac users, has researched the topic and developed a web site that displays studies supporting the belief that the Mac is better than PCs in the classroom.

The group has argued that the total cost of ownership, which includes factors such as initial purchase price, maintenance costs, and the life span of a computer, is less for the Mac. It is also said the Mac is preferred by teachers, and that students are more productive using it.

The group has continued to ask for an independent evaluation of whether the Mac or PC is best to meet the school system's needs.

Poletti noted in his presentation that there was repeated dialog with Apple to correct problems that continue to exist.

Shepherd responded, saying Apple has made recommendations for helping with some of these problems, but they were never implemented.

School officials indicated after the workshop that a meeting with an independent expert that has been recommended by the citizens group will be held within the next several weeks. The plans are to have Victor Marks of Raleigh, an IBM engineer who is a Windows/PC expert and former teacher and works with a Mac at home, meet with Poletti to assess the situation.

Stonewalling is the bureaucrat's favorite tactic. "We asked for help, but..." The techs may get the hardware they deserve, but the teachers and kids should have the easiest to use computers with the most robust operating system, something Windows has never been noted for.

This reminds me of the cartoon from 1996 where the child complained to his teacher, "Ever since we switched from Macs to Wintel machines, we spend all of our time troubleshooting and can't get any work done."

"Well, you kids said you wanted to know what it's like to work in the real world."

It will be interesting to see how things develop in Carteret County. Here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we faced a similar disaster back in the summer of 1998 - the new school tech guru wanted to invest in machines running Windows 3.1 and NT, neither of which were Y2K ready. He apparently got his way, but when teachers were given a choice for their own personal use this summer, the vast majority chose Macs over Windows PCs.

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