High maintenance computing: keeping Macs in school labs

Martin Levins
28 July, 2008
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There’s been a bit of a ruckus lately on the Australian MacEd listserve about upgrading software.

Essentially, the complainant’s beef was that, due to some new iMacs arriving in the school, there was now a mixture of iPhoto 6 and 8 in his labs, and one could not open the others’ photo library. There was also an implication that this wouldn’t happen with Microsoft products, as they can be updated.

The suggestion came: “Hold the option key down when launching iPhoto and you get to choose which library you want to use, and iPhoto 08 will convert the earlier images for its use”.

Good advice, but, of course, this doesn’t allow for backward compatibility with the earlier version.

Apple doesn’t offer upgrade pricing for its software except in the case of a purchase made a few weeks before a new Operating System release — your older OS can usually be upgraded free or for a small fee in this instance. But, let’s think about this in an educational context.

Apple offers educational institutions two options to stay current: one is the Apple Maintenance Program (AMP) for such things as Operating systems, and the other is a direct purchase of the new software at heavily discounted rates. The former is the best move for things like servers (and doesn’t seem to be well known).

For an upfront price of just over $600 you can protect yourself against upgrades of server for a three-year period (actual price will depend on the number of servers you have). Think of it as insurance. This is only a bit more than the cost of Leopard server to education anyway. The problem is that most servers come with the operating system included and paying effectively double looks bad — but consider the cost benefit ratio, especially with Snow Leopard coming out real soon now. An AMP purchase in a few months time should cover Snow Leopard and whatever is next.

In the case of iLife & iWork, there is no upgrade as such, but the site licensing price of $319 for 500 seats works out at less than a dollar an installation which must be one of the cheapest “upgrades” I’ve ever seen — if you need to, organise a casual day for the kids and charge them a gold coin for the privilege and you’ll raise this fairly easily.

Unless you’re mired in a large organisation that stipulates a Standard Operating Environment, of course.

Big organisations such as the NSW Department of Education and Training are used to the Microsoft model of an annual fee for use of their software. This is easy to budget for as the whole of the department is considered a “site” under the terms of their agreement (although the Rudd plan may change the next round of negotiations).

In the NSWDET case, Apple’s procedure doesn’t fit, unless the school organises its mufti day, and has the local expertise to install and update libraries and so forth. The larger the organisation, the less agile it becomes.

There’s a danger here that the Microsoft way is considered the better as all schools receive their software “free” (I’ve heard this often).
Repeat after me: “Nothing is free”, someone, somewhere has paid for it.

However, all of these plans will go for nought if your institution neglects to plan for purchasing such upgrades and the associated time to update. Likewise, as some have complained: “We’re still using OS 9”.

Look at the calendar. It’s over seven years since OS 9 was last shipped. With Rudd monies paying for more computers in all Australian schools, it’s time to move on. Talk with your dealer and/or Apple rep. Unfortunately, this seems to be the preferred direction of information flow; Apple seems to hide not only its light under a bushel, it also hides the bushel.

A straw poll of Mac managers found no one who found out about these options from Apple or their dealer directly. They all found out from mates who heard something from a guy they met on a corner who been speaking to a bloke in the pub …

Stealth marketing, Apple?

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