Windows 95 Raises Stakes in Battle Between Apples, PCs
In the vision of education embodied in the first schools opened this fall under management by the Edison Project, every student will have a computer at home. And that computer will be a Macintosh.
In its choosing machines built by Apple Computer Inc. for its for-profit privatization venture, the Edison Project is not alone. In a computing world dominated by personal computers built by ibm and numerous competitors, Apple machines remain firmly entrenched in the nation's schools.
The Macintosh and other Apple computers are renowned for their simplicity and ease of use--a leading reason for their prevalence in schools, educators say.
Yet Apple's dominance of the education market faces a serious new challenge from the Microsoft Corp.
William H. Gates III, Microsoft's co-founder and chief executive officer, views both schools and homes as fertile markets for its software, particularly Windows 95, the company's new operating system. The extremely complex program guides the computer through its operations.
Although Microsoft sells Macintosh versions of many of its products, Windows 95 cannot be used to run a Macintosh, which uses Apple's proprietary operating system.
That leaves educators around the country with an important decision over the next few years as they begin to replace millions of obsolescent computers. Often, they will be under pressure to choose the ibm-type machines, known as PCs, from the soaring numbers of parents who have bought them for home use.
Microsoft hopes to highlight Windows 95's built-in access to the Internet computer network and other features as reasons for schools to abandon the Macintosh in favor of the PC.
The choices educators make will have far-reaching consequences, not only for teaching, learning, and administration, but also for the companies that hope to sell machines and software in what is characterized as a $4 billion market with strong potential for growth.
The Edison Project conducted three years of market research and an eight-month trial of Macintosh computers before selecting them for its schools and families' home use, said Thomas Boudrot, the technology director for New York City-based Edison. The company began operating four public schools in Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Texas this school year. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1995.)
One of Edison's central tenets is to provide parents with computers to communicate with the schools. Because many parents are unskilled in using computers, ease of use is important.
"My priority is education, not computers," Mr. Boudrot said.
The debut last month of Windows 95 in a worldwide, $300 million publicity blitz didn't change his mind about choosing Macintosh. He controls millions of dollars worth of computer purchases for Edison, which will buy 2,000 Macintosh machines this year alone.
From Mr. Boudrot's point of view, Windows 95 merely makes a PC work more like the Macintosh. "The whole Windows 95 thing was actually a nonevent for me," he said.
And, for the time being, it may be a nonevent for thousands of other educators
Most observers agree that, despite the fanfare surrounding the release of Windows 95, it is unlikely to have any immediate impact on the school market. No matter what type of computer they use, few districts have many machines with the computing power or memory needed to run the program, said Geoffrey Fletcher, the associate commissioner for curriculum, assessment, and professional development for the Texas Education Agency.
"In the short run, [Windows 95] doesn't have a major impact in schools," he said.
And, although evidence of future buying patterns is contradictory, for now it is clear that education remains a strong, and vital, market for Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple.
"Had they not had the education market, Apple would have gone under," said Jeanne Hayes, the president of Quality Education Data, a Colorado-based market-research company. Steady sales to schools helped the company weather some well-publicized financial difficulties in recent years, she added. "You're talking about an incredible amount of customer loyalty."
But Microsoft plans a massive campaign to undermine that loyalty. It will spend millions of dollars on advertising, in training seminars, and over a telephone help line to convince educators that change is in the air.
"We believe that the whole landscape for computing in the K-12 arena has changed," argued Trish May, Microsoft's director of K-12 strategic marketing.
Carole Cotton, of cca Consulting Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., company that has long tracked the K-12 technology market, noted that there are still millions of Apple II computers in schools, even though Apple stopped making the machine in 1990.
Recent data on trends in computer sales to schools are unclear, however, with some studies showing Apples holding the lead while other data point to growth in PC sales.
But Ms. Cotton's research shows that the percentage of districts that identify themselves as either an Apple or a PC district has shifted in favor of the PC. Roughly half of all districts now consider themselves "mixed districts," she said.
Other districts, such as the Tucson, Ariz., schools, have made the PC standard equipment.
"I don't think [Macintoshes] are as relevant a piece of equipment as Apple would have you believe," said Jesse Rodriguez, who heads the district's information-technologies division.
Mr. Rodriguez gave a lecture in the "Back to School" pavilion at the Windows 95 "launch" at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. He argues that students should learn on the computers they will likely use after graduation.
Even Mr. Boudrot concedes that one machine in every Edison school is capable of running both Windows-based and Apple programs in a nod to the realities of the business world.
Microsoft, which has formed a partnership with Compaq Computer Corporation to market to schools, has launched a variety of sales efforts aimed at both the home and school education markets. (See Education Week, April 26, 1995.)
Ms. May, for example, noted that one of Microsoft's ubiquitous advertisements for Windows 95 begins and ends with scenes showing children using computers.
"That was not accidental," Ms. May said. "It's really part of Bill [Gates'] vision that schools will become an integrated part of the broader learning environment that includes the home."