No, Don't Resurrect the Cube for Schools

Dan Knight - 2002.12.06

Yesterday Jeff Adkins explained How a revised Cube could save Apple Education. Sorry, but I have to disagree.

Yes, I agree 100% that Apple needs a much less costly computer so it can compete on price with Dell and the other Wintel clones - but the Cube is the wrong way to do it.

I had a Cube. It was gorgeous. It was fast. And it had some serious design flaws that would make it a very poor choice in schools.

I suspect Adkins has never set up a Cube. It's just the opposite of the iMac. You have the computer, the keyboard, the mouse, a pair of speakers, an external power supply, and a rat's nest of cables converging on the bottom of the Cube. Too many pieces.

The power supply is not small, and I suspect it would sit on the floor rather than the desktop. Oops, I spilled a Coke (or Evian or OJ) into the power supply. Zap!

The speakers are like oversized Clackers (remember those) or Bolos. Unplug them and you've got a pair of dangerous weapons. Not a good idea in a school.

The Cube is relatively stable, but it is a bit top heavy. Imagine one getting knocked off the desktop and crashing to the floor. Shards of plastic everywhere? Probably - a lot of cracks at the very least.

And to really have fun with a Cube owner, pass your hand over the top of the computer. That's where Apple put the power switch, which doesn't require any pressure at all. Shut down.

No, the Cube is absolutely the wrong computer to put in our schools because is was designed for the executive suite, not the classroom.

A Macintosh designed for education - and I sincerely believe this is something Apple must do to survive in the education market - should not have external speakers or an external power supply. It should not be easily tipped, nor should a wave of the hand turn it off.

The ideal education Mac would be a traditional desktop configuration so it can sit beneath and support a 14" or 21" monitor. It needs a single media bay, a single hard drive, one empty socket for a memory upgrade, 10/100 ethernet, state of the art video, and built in speakers. It should be difficult to open without a tool, and the power switch should require some physical effort. The media drive should be hard to break, which might give an edge to slot-loading drives.

There is no need for PCI slots. AirPort compatibility is a good idea, but the lowest cost version should be wired networking only. The hard drive need not be huge or fast - 20 GB if Apple can still buy them. The CPU needn't be a speed demon. If the video supports Quartz Extreme (16 MB VRAM is adequate for that), a 600 MHz G3 could make for a very competent entry level education computer. 256 MB of memory would be perfect - plenty for OS 9 and adequate for OS X.

Don't worry about a DVI connector. As Adkins suggested, a plain old fashioned SVGA port will let schools pull old monitors out of the surplus room and put them back to work. A couple USB ports and a single FireWire port should be adequate. Functionally, it would not be completely unlike a headless iMac or screenless iBook.

Education price? I'm guessing Apple could offer such a machine for no more than $400 in quantity. Then offer improved models: 700 MHz with 32 MB VRAM for $100 more, a 700 MHz G4 and 512 MB RAM for another $100.

Apple could probably base the motherboard on current iBook, iMac, and eMac designs. The case - I see something like the old Quadra 630.

The question remains, Is Apple really serious about conquering the education market, or are they content to only sell to school districts that can afford more expensive computers?

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