Sucked in by the new

There was an article posted on Digg about a school district in Illinois that was ditching the Mac in favor of Windows. Being someone that uses both, I was pretty interested in the thinking behind this move.

Willard [Eric Willard, the district’s new director of technology, the Platform Transition Task Force] said he decided on the new platform because most people use Microsoft programs in “the real world,” and open source systems provide a way for the district to keep students from downloading items such as music and movies onto the school’s computer hard drives — items that, ultimately, cost the district to delete.

The Courier News :: News :: D300 eyes Mac attack

First of all, “in the real world,” most people use computers to do only a small number of tasks:

  • Writing/editing
  • Calculating
  • Communicating
  • Organizing
  • Browsing

At this point, any computer and/or operating system is going to allow you to do these five things.  And, with the exception of systems running Linux, you can do all of those things (if you wish) using Microsoft software.  You can also do all of these things on pretty low-end hardware.  A few years ago I gave my mother an old P-133 that I had laying around.  That system is probably ten years old but it lets her do everything that she wants or needs a computer to do.

It’s hard to imagine that the computers currently in place are any less capable than the my mother’s; or that the students are doing more than the five basic activities listed above.  Now while the fact that Microsoft is the software of choice in “the real world,” plans are mentioned to use open source; but only to monitor and manage surfing behavior.

The district is also planning on purchasing hand held devices (at $200 each) for students as well (no mention is made of how many students would be receiving one).

Information technology is wonderful stuff; but it needs to be kept in perspective.  This district – like thousands across the country – has invested in making technology part of the educational experience; and that’s a good thing.  They’ve not only invested in the hardware, but also in the software, networks, expertise and shared user familiarity – and those things also have value.

This district – like thousands across the country – needs to consider whether their current technology meets the needs of their students.  Will kids be able to write, calculate, communicate, organize and browse with these computers?  I think the answer is probably yes and will continue to be yes for some time.  (I have a 1998 G-3 “Molar Mac” that’s slow, ugly and clunky – but it does a fine job running the applications from 1998.)

If you’ve got functional systems and software in place, why go through the cost and headache of switching?  There are only a few reasons I can think of – the systems are so old that they can’t perform the five core computer tasks, the systems are so thrashed that upkeep has become too expensive and time consuming or someone’s bought into the hype that newer = better.

I think it’s probably safe to rule out the first reason because there is enough simple (and frankly older) software out there to do the tasks that students need to do.  I accept the possibility of the second (having kids of my own I know the toll they can take on their systems) but it’s hard to imagine that EVERY system in the school district is so compromised.

That leaves option three – newer = better.  It’s a pretty American trait.  shiny is good.  New car smell is good.  Faster is good.  Clean is good.  Etc., etc., etc.  I fall for it too – a new version (of almost anything) becomes the object of my desire.  (I’m sitting writing on a MacBook Pro – a system that I love; but part of me wishes I had the Core 2 . . .)

Newer isn’t always better though.  If what you have does the job, stick with it as long as you can.  In the case of this school district, they have 3,000 Macintosh computers (as compared with 1,500 Windows machines) so the change would be pretty dramatic.  And, while the average age of the Mac systems is eight years, Willard is quoted saying, “We just bought Macs; we can’t throw them out.”

The article also states that “A referendum proposal that voters approved in March allowed for the district to revamp its technology and purchase new Macintosh computers this school year.”  So the voters approved the purchase of new Macs, the district is already predominantly Mac-based, and “real world” Microsoft applications are available for the Mac.  But the new director of IT has decided that the best and wisest step is to ignore the voters, ignore the existing infrastructure and ignore the availability of software that will meet the students’ needs.

I don’t get it myself but I’d love to hear a good explanation.

[tags]Macintosh, Windows, Microsoft, The Courier News, Carpentersville, Community Unit School District 300, Eric Willard[/tags]


2 thoughts on “Sucked in by the new

  1. jasper says:

    * Writing/editing
    * Calculating
    * Communicating
    * Organizing
    * Browsing
    Really? Is it that basic. Your pretty smart.
    Now what do they do when there are mentally disabled children who have programs that can help in there education but only run on the windows platform?
    What if teachers have software games that would help children obtain a better understanding of history, but they are only available on Windows Platform.

    I bet you can see where I’m going with this.
    It’s not that the Mac’s cant do the basics, they do and they do them well. They just don’t have the options available that windows has.

  2. gpc says:

    Well, a few points. First, my son has special needs and attends a therapeutic school where they have only Macintosh computers. So it seems in this case at least, have been able to find the software they need. Second, since Macs can now run Windows, all of the Window’s software IS available on the Mac, as well as all of the Mac-only software. In the end, Macs have MORE options than Windows offers.

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