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Effect on Schools Uncertain In Apple-I.B.M. Joint Deal

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Software developers and educational-technology experts alike are uncertain how a recent agreement between the longtime rivals Apple Computer Inc. and International Business Machines Corporation to jointly develop products might affect precollegiate computing.

"I'm as confused as anybody in America about what this all means," said James Mecklenburger, the executive director of the National School Boards Association's Institute for the Transfer of Technology to Education.

After several weeks of speculation in the national media, Apple and i.b.m. announced last month that they would form a joint venture to create a new generation of software that would operate on computers manufactured by both firms.

Although California-based Apple has long dominated the education market, New York-based ibm in recent years has made broad inroads into the K-12 market by establishing an educational division in Atlanta and releasing a host of new education-related products.

Observers speculated that the agreement could be an initial step toward ending the hardware incompatibility between the two firms' machines that has long frustrated both software developers and purchasers.

Of particular note, observers added, is a portion of the agreement that calls for the firms to jointly create and license software for "multimedia" platforms--computers capable of mixing text, graphics, sound, and video into single presentations.

A wave of multimedia products recently has been sweeping the education market.

Schools Slow To Respond

But spokesmen for both companies were guarded in discussing the implications of the agreement.

"It is really premature to tell what it's going to mean for any sector of the market," said Janet Male, an Apple spokesman. "And [the development] of any new product [is] expected to be two to three years out."

Because of the peculiarities in their purchasing schedules and their generally conservative attitudes toward product innovations, schools do not respond quickly to changes in the market, observers said.

"School districts seem to operate [from] multi-year plans," said Susan Schilling, vice president of development and creative director for the Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation, a leading software firm. "Changes happen in education, but they seem to happen a little more slowly than in the business world."

She noted that schools only now are making large-scale investments in Macintosh computers, powerful machines that have been widely adopted in higher education and in many businesses since their development in the mid-1980's.

But, she added, because moves by Apple and ibm drive software development, "we cannot afford to ignore" the initiative.

Mr. Mecklenburger noted that other computer firms that do not focus on the education market have reached similar agreements.

For now, he added, "no educator should panic about plans they've already made."

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