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By Charles Haddad If Apple is to retake lost ground in the education market, it's going to need battle-tested veterans such as John Droz Jr. of Emerald Isle, N.C. He's waging guerrilla warfare to reverse a decision by his county school board to dump Macs for PCs.
Droz is no firebrand. Nonetheless, he's up in arms. At a recent meeting of the Carteret County Commission, the retired computer executive argued step-by-step how switching to PCs was penny-wise and pound-foolish. He cited a report by computer-industry consultant International Data Corp. that concluded that PCs cost, on average, about $400 more annually to operate and maintain than Macs. The reason: Macs require less training, are more durable, and are less likely than PCs to gag on digital hair balls and crash. Equally important, Droz argued, teachers find Macs easier to use and understand.
ABSURD NOTION. Droz knows firsthand of what he speaks. He has spent thousands of hours helping students and teachers in his school district use computers. Switching to PCs, Droz warned the county commissioners, would make the difficult job of teaching unnecessarily harder.
The Carteret school board hasn't reversed its decision yet. But hang tough, John. You're not alone. From what I can glean from online articles, bulletin-board postings, and e-mail, Mac enthusiasts are rising up against the decisions of school districts nationwide. They're striking back as education officials, lured by lower-priced PCs, switch platforms.
This is no easy fight. Reversing the decline in Macs will be a daunting task. Apple is struggling with more than just price tags. The larger issue is that school administrators have bought into the ridiculous notion that kids will fail later on in life if they don't know how to operate a Windows PC. That's like saying someone like me could never hope to land a job as a writer because he learned to type on a Remington manual typewriter in high school, rather than on a computer keyboard.
FALLING BEHIND. Nonetheless, school administrators spout such nonsense each time another big district abandons Macs. Such announcements are becoming a weekly occurrence. Just last week the Fulton County School District, the largest school district in metro Atlanta, decided to start purchasing PCs from Dell rather than Macs from Apple.
With losses like that, it's no wonder Apple has fallen to second place with a 16.5% share of the education market behind leader Dell, which has a 21.4% share. If anything, Apple's share of the school market will likely dip further in coming months before it rebounds. But as the song goes, "the darkest hour is just before the dawn."
"It's...the DNA of the company," says Jobs on Apple's commitment to the school market
Indeed, Apple is now fighting back with a vigor I haven't seen in years. Last week, it surprised the industry with the announcement of a radically remodeled iBook, its portable offering to teachers and students. The new iBook looks like the younger sibling of the titanium-sheathed PowerBook released last January. It weighs in at just under 5 pounds and is only 1.3 inches thick. And it's aggressively priced, with models beginning at $1,300.
It's a cool machine. And Apple has already nabbed an order for 23,000 of these babies in a leasing deal with Henrico County Public School District in Richmond, Va. At the press conference announcing the deal, Jobs said of the education market: "We really feel deeply about this. It's in the DNA of the company."
I hope so because Jobs and Apple are in for a tough fight. I can't see how the company can win without the John Drozes of the world. So rise up, ye olde Mac enthusiasts. Help school administrators see they need not herd with Corporate America, turning computer labs into a dreary pasture of beige PCs. Wouldn't kids find school a bit more fun with lime green iBooks that can wirelessly jump aboard the Internet from the classroom or the school yard? I sure think so. Haddad, Atlanta-based correspondent for BusinessWeek, is a long-time Apple Computer buff. Follow his weekly Byte of the Apple column, only on BW Online