Goodbye White Macbook

Visit any Penn Manor school building and you can’t help but notice Apple Macbook laptops in the hands of teachers and in scores of classrooms. As part of the PA Classrooms For the Future grant, Penn Manor has purchased nearly a thousand of these workhorse laptops. During the summer of 2011, Apple ceased offering the white 13″ Macbook to the public. For the past several months, the white Macbook has still been available for schools to purchase at a price of approximately $899.

Recently, our Apple sales rep informed us that the Macbook laptop has been discontinued altogether. Apple’s proposed replacement is a more expensive, schools-only MacBook Air for $1000. The “special” school Macbook Air includes a mere 64GB hard drive, 2GB of non-upgradeable RAM, lacks an ethernet network port, and contains no DVD drive. With paltry specs for a thousand dollar laptop, the replacement Air is not a satisfactory long-term solution for our students and teachers.

With no other affordable laptop in Apple’s lineup, schools are now forced to pay more for less of a computer. We could certainly roll over and cough up even more cash for the Air or the Macbook Pros to gain the features our teachers need. However, that is simply not a responsible use of public money. During a time when Pennsylvania schools are facing an unimaginable financial storm, Apple’s corporate move runs counter to common perceptions that the company is education-friendly. As a long time Apple enthusiast, I am immensely disappointed by the company’s disregard for affordable education laptops.

To put the pricing issue in perspective, let’s compare an alternative laptop offering: Lenovo’s ThinkPad Edge E420. The E420 sports a faster i5 processor than the Macbook, double the RAM, a 500GB hard drive, DVD player, ethernet port and a larger 14″ screen. The price: $699.00*.

Given a 250 unit fleet replacement project for district teachers, Apple’s Macbook Air would cost us $75,000 more than better-featured Lenovo PC laptops. When the time comes to consider replacing 750 CFF Macbooks, the Apple premium will cost another $225,000. In terms of value for the money, there is no comparison between the PC laptop and Apple’s MacBook Air.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad Edge is one of many alternatives we could consider. HP, Dell, Acer, Samsung and others have low-cost, high-quality laptops worth review. PC laptops would offer dual boot options for Linux and Windows, giving our teachers even more computing platform choices without compromising on software selections. Paired with free and low-cost open source software, PC laptops running Linux represent a viable, affordable option for student classroom technology needs. Plus, laptop hardware cost savings can be applied to other critical student instructional programs and initiatives.

With a partial teacher laptop fleet upgrade due in 2013, we have time to explore future computing options. However, unless something changes, the purchase of Apple’s premium priced laptops will be increasingly difficult to justify when compared against affordable alternatives. Fundamentally, it is not worth the expense just to have a brand name on the devices used in the district. Education is about the student–not the logo.

*ThinkPad Edge E420 configured via Lenovo website on 3/4/2012. Note that the cost is consumer pricing for a single unit–bulk educational pricing would likely be lower.