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The myth of education sales numbers

by Eliot Hochberg, September 25, 2001

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I recently read how one of Tennessee’s school superintendents is going to force his districts to change over to Wintel, even though the system is currently 70 percent Macintosh. This disturbs me, but there is something that disturbs me more. It is the way in which Apple is portrayed as the “leader” in education sales by Mac news sites and by Apple itself. Don’t get me wrong – Apple has always (well, almost always) been very focused on getting Macs into schools, and from the beginning, Apple has tried very hard to make all of its products appropriate for school-age children to use and learn on. However, just because Apple leads in education sales doesn’t mean that there aren’t more Wintel users in education.

It is true that, as a company, Apple leads other companies in education sales, by some accounts commanding 35 percent or more of the market. But by those same accounts, Apple’s total penetration, meaning every system sold that is still in use, has never exceeded 45 percent (I have not seen a statement as to whether all of those are Macintosh systems, as opposed to Apple IIs, for example). So, while Apple outsells Dell, Compaq, HP, IBM – you name it – on a company-by-company basis, what’s missing is that Dell, Compaq, HP (okay, Compaq+HP) and IBM all sell Wintel systems. That means that probably 60 percent or more of the systems currently in schools are Wintel machines. This also means that a child who learns how to use, say, a Dell will be able to transfer that knowledge to an IBM, because it uses the same OS. Considering that over 95 percent of the computers out there are Wintel, it’s hard to argue that learning how to use these systems won’t help kids prepare for college or the working world.

Look at another article at MacCentral.com, a respected online Mac news site. In it, the authors Jim Dalrymple and Dennis Sellers state quite clearly, “In June of 2000, Apple claimed dominance in the market citing numbers provided by International Data Corp. That report said that Apple captured 26 percent of the U.S. education market and 14 percent of the worldwide education market.” Clearly, this is not a majority.

The situation gets even stickier when analyzing the claims about whether or not it is easier for children to go from one system to another. On the one hand, some say children need not use the same systems in their schools as they will likely use in the business world. However, sometimes in the same breath, the same people say schools don’t understand why they should change to Wintel when their students already know Macs.

Another argument that is made, and I think rightfully, is that teachers spend their own money on systems at home that must work with those at school. Thus, school systems should take this into consideration. But it must be seen that the same argument could be used in favor of Wintel, namely that since 95 percent of all computers in the world are PCs, it is more likely than not that a student upon graduation will work with a PC. However, if they were using Macs in school, then it’s likely they would have a Mac at home. Certainly, you can make the argument that they could use Virtual PC, but couldn’t you make that argument for teachers as well?

Nonetheless, I do agree from personal experience that Macs cost less to maintain, have more uptime, are easier to use and are, in their newest forms, some of the coolest computer products on the planet. I also believe that kids will understand more about computers if they learn how to use more than one OS. I learned how to use computers by being exposed to many systems, including Mac, DOS, Windows, Unix, Amiga and Commodore 64. In fact, in college I would write my papers on whatever type of computer was handy. I think that was instrumental for me to learn how computers worked, as opposed to how a certain brand of computer worked.

However, writers should be more honest with Mac users and the rest of the computing world. I don’t mean to pick on MacCentral – it was just convenient to find articles there to support my point – but I have seen these kinds of articles in many Mac columns all over the Web. We can all do math, and 35 percent has never been a majority, except maybe in a presidential election (I kid the president). Be honest and tell it like it is. That’s what news is supposed to do.

Eliot Hochberg is a Web developer with over 6 years experience. In addition to musing about education sales, he is the author of MacEdition’s ongoing feature on DVD authoring.

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