Forum Friday – Mac or PC?

Every Friday I like to pull an interesting topic from the forum and share it mull it over a bit so that others might have a chance to read and/or think about it in greater depth. This week, one of the newest members of the forum, NMC96, posted a cry for help and asked for some suggestions about her small private school’s impending computer upgrade. They currently have 15 older Macs, not sure on what kind as they weren’t specified, but in need of replacement.

Our school is raising money to implement a new technology program for our small private school (approx. 150 elementary students). We currently have a mac lab of 15 computers (we take in half a class at a time) and each room has a computer or two (for teacher use). Our macs are old and we’re looking at updating. We thought of the computer lab (with 15 stationary computers) on one side of the school and a cart with 15 or so laptops on the other side of the school that can be brought into the classrooms. We’re considering macs, pcs, and we’ve been approached by a parent to consider Lennox (I’m not familiar with this). We also need to know more about smartboards. I’m a real novice at this. Help!

My first instinct was to go for the Macs. I’m a Mac lover at heart, although only a recent convert as my iBook is only 3 years old (nothing but PCs before that). I also thought that going from older Macs to newer Macs would be a simple and relatively painless process for users in NMC96’s school. The operating system wouldn’t be too much more difficult to get used to, and it would offer a ton of free software that you would otherwise have to pay for on a Windows machine (I’m talking about you, Microsoft Office). I also advised NMC96 to stay away from “Lennox” (which I assumed was Linux) unless they had a highly savvy technical staff and/or volunteers that would maintain their computers for them, as 99.9% of educators I know have trouble enough working in a Windows or Mac environment with full customer support from vendors.

However, AndyAK, our friend from Alaska, advised about searching for used, and possibly donated PCs from local governmental agencies.

I would ask first……which version of the Mac are you running?? OS 9 or OS X? The truth is, switching from 9 to X is about as big a shift as any other platform change. You don’t say where you are, but near any big town, you can probably find decent PC’s as donations. In terms of finding bunches, PC”s are much more likely to show up. Check your state surplus property office as well as any branches of the federal gov, or military. They all give them away on a regular basis. Right now, a “slow” P IV is a fine processor for most school work.

Pretty financially savvy guy, that Andy. He also advised that going from Mac OS9 to OS X was just about as monumental as switching platforms, to which I can’t say anything since I never experienced that switch. But it still brought a little bit of the Mac fanboy defense out of me, as I’m sure that any older PC donated from a local charity or government office would still be more difficult and slow to work with than switching to a newer version of the Mac OS. Of course, I could be completely wrong on this one, but it still begs the hypothetical question; if you could upgrade all of the computers in your district at once, would you go with Mac, or Windows PCs?


  1. This is my 2nd year as the technology teacher at a small independent school and have a primarily pc background but the school is primarily MAC. The switch took a little time to get used to but I now prefer the mac os (we are running OS X). Once we made the switch to OS X from OS9 things have really started to get fun! It has allowed me to explore digital photography, downloading and editing images with pre-schoolers to creating stop motion animation with 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders and designing architectural models with 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.

    I agree that there is a lot of free software that comes with OSX that the PCs did not and it has really helped open up my curriculum and budget.

    It sounds like your set set up is similar to our schools (we have a lab with stationary computers and each classroom has 2-3 computers). We also have laptops throughout the school (macs) but the tech lab also has a set of pc notebooks that are very useful for some of the equipment that I run in the lab (i.e a vinyl plotter, for some reason i always seem to run into driver issues with macs and the plotter). Even though I appreciate and prefer the mac os from a teaching perspective I do think it is important to have the pcs in the school. I have been doing a lot of design and cad work with the students and it has helped working with both even though I have been the primary user of the PC. I know philosophies and budgets heavily influence a schools’ approach to their technology program but upgrading our macs but also having the pc option around has really allowed our curriculum to remain open and versatile.
    Good luck!

  2. We switched our elementary mac lab computers with OS9 to new ones with OSX about a year and a half ago. I have been delighted with the update, especially being able to use the iLife software which comes free on the machines. If you want to do videos, music (Garageband), or podcasts, using iLife is the best way to go. The KidPix for OSX is certainly the best version of the porgram out there. The built in camera and microphone are easy to use. I recently had to start teaching the Kindergarten and first grade classes in a PC lab (due to a fire code issue) and find that things just aren’t as easy and friendly for young children on a PC. And it would be wonderful if you had a SmartBoard to use for lab instruction – I can’t imagine teaching without it!

  3. It’s pretty clear the debate about which is the better platform won’t ever be won…..and that’s fine. People vote their feeling…..but with a school where you’re spending at least 10’s, maybe 100’s, possibly millions of dollars……that’s not really the question.

    I like the Mac. My fist semi-modern computer was DOS. I switched to System 7, and still feel, by all rights, Apple should own the world. No choice of my own, I went from 7 to Win 95, and it sucked, to put it in the language of the transcesant. I now mostly use XP, though I’ve got Vista on a laptop (nicest thing Bill Gates has ever done for Apple). I’ve worked in a dual-platform school for 9 years now – almost 3 as the tech coordinator, and I have staff and students on both machines – about 70 Macs and 300 PC’s……but if anyone asks, I lean them to PC’s. Why, you might ask.

    If you’re going to have a hundred machines, it is easier, cheaper, and there is more free suppport for the Windows system, in my experiance. Forget the donations for the moment, although that is a HUGE issue. The machines are cheaper to buy – period. Software sort of depends, but to basically equip a teacher or student with a working “school level” desktop machine, I would spend around $1100. That would have Office, anti-virus, an Altiris license, 19″ LCD monitor….and that’s about it. It would be fast, upgradeable, should be good for 5 years plus, and when I got ready to buy again, I would not need another monitor. I would be training kids on a system they probably also use at home, and if there’s a meeting here of people managing hundreds of Windows machines, they hold it in a samll theatre. I can replace the mouse and/or keyboard for $15 or less, and I can buy parts at a number of places around town, generally (drives, RAM, power supplies, PCI cards, etc). I can add a web cam for $15, and make movie with it if I want. I buy headsets with microphones for $7.95 that hold up well.

    On the Mac side, I don’t think I can quite match that price…..but we’re probably talking a few hundred dollars more for a decent eMac. Hardware upgrades are difficult (from a mechanical point of view). Parts (other than drives and RAM mostly have to come from Apple, and there are no killer deals. The whole setup is much more stylish…..and you have to like that….but either you spend quite a bit more for things like keyboards and mice, or you break the style. Only the most expensive USB cams work (over $100), maybe, or Firewire cameras (that’s really what you need). A headset with a mike is about $30 (no pin jacks any more) and some of USB sets will let the mike work, only, and others let the speakers work, only, and few let both work. I’ve seen several tech-savvy Mac enthusiasts spend 20 minutes trying to figure out how to turn off the built in speakers while using the USB headsets, without success (this may have been fixed…..I have yet to afford an Intel Mac). When I do upgrade the machine, that beautiful monitor….and it is a nice monitor…..goes with it. Ouch. If I want to meet with everyone in town that manages 500 Mac’s, we can sit in my car.

    It has also been my experiance, lately, that when Apple upgrades the OS substantially, you really NEED the upgrade…..often to “fix” something that was supposed to have been working in the one you have. We’re on XP, and Vista is out, but I don’t see us changing for years….years…..but my server will continue to service and work nicely with all my XP and Win2K clients, and Microsoft is staying true to that.

    None of this is meant to say that the Mac isn’t a nice machine, or a great machine. But when I buy a hundred headsets, it is very meaningful to me that I can get them for $8, as opposed to $30. It’s meaningful to me that one of the analysts at the wastewater utility will take time to help me with management issues, cause they have hundreds of machines as well. It is very meaningful to me to surplus 50 machines, and KEEP the monitors….that’s $10,000.

    So, when people say they “just like the Mac better”, that’s fine…..if you’re spending your own money, but I’m spending my school’s, and one of my goals is to spend as little of it on tech as possible.

    And then there’s the donation thing….I just got 45 Dell Dimensions…P4, 2.6 to 3.2 GHz machines….with the XP Pro license. Free.

    There will be more.

    So, for a lot of the same reasons our buildings are built of the “attractive” concrete blocks, our busses are those really rugged models, and NOT the same ones the tour company uses (I just like those better), and our carpet is kind of thin, kind of drab, and lasts a really long time………I vote PC.

    But that’s just me.

    Video classes have Macs’. iLife is a great set of apps…..nothing ont the Windows side quite compares. And the ads are great. But dollar for dollar…….

  4. There’s an expense to buying equipment and there’s also an expense to supporting pieced together equipment, running around to purchase additional parts, and installing those parts. I think going with donated machines might be penny wise and pound foolish in this regard.

    When you buy the mac everything is there. I haven’t needed any special headphones for any of my macs. Any headsets will do and the mic (and camera) are built in. The iLife suite is built in and dollar for dollar I think it beats anything on the PC side (free and fully functioning = better).

    The idea that you have to update every time the Mac updates its operating software hasn’t really been true since 10.2. You might want to because with each edition they improve upon the prior edition but keeping older editions works too we have a whole lab running 10.3 and we’re doing fine.

    I think you could buy Macs and have a pretty good lab for at least 3-5 years without any upgrades or additional parts.

  5. At my univeristy, I can see so many computer labs changing to Macs. I think Macs are going to be a prodominent part of the future and schools should reflect that. They run smoother than PCs and don’t need to be upgraded nearly as often. Also, as everyone is mentioning about, Macs have so many user friendly programs like iPhoto, or iFlash that help take learning and usage that much further. PCs usually run a little cheaper than Macs but they don’t offer quite as many of these bonus programs and will most likely have to be upgraded a lot sooner.

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