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SEPTEMBER 22nd, 1997

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Mac vs. Windows In The Ivy League

Since its inception, Apple Computer has cultivated and maintained a stronghold in both the graphic communications and education markets, and the company's current leaders have made it clear (especially during the past few months of strategic change and upheaval) that they remain committed to supplying innovative hardware and software solutions to these two key environments. Just lately, however, several key players within those two market segments -- particularly educational institutions -- have begun wavering in their commitment to the Macintosh platform.

In June, Yale University's Director of Information Technology Services Daniel Updegrove sent a letter of welcome to incoming Yale undergraduates, addressing possible questions from students about bringing computers from home. The last portion of that letter read:

"If you already own a computer of recent vintage, you can probably defer purchasing a new one at this time, so long as your computer can accommodate an Ethernet interface... and has sufficient processing power and memory to run modern multimedia software such as Netscape Navigator.

"Currently both Windows PC and Apple Macintosh computers are supported at Yale. If you plan to purchase a new computer, however, you are strongly encouraged to select a Windows PC, which was the choice of over 75% of first-year student computer owners in 1996-97. Owing to uncertainties about availability of software for Apple operating systems, the University cannot guarantee support for Macintoshes beyond June 2000."

Considering that many recent and current Mac models ship with on-board Ethernet, or can be easily upgraded with an Ethernet card, I can't help but wonder: was there really a need for Updegrove to include a purchasing recommendation in his letter? The last sentence of the portion of the letter listed above was particularly galling -- indeed, who can guarantee the "availability of software" for any operating system over the course of the next three to five years??

Several online and print media outlets, catching the scent of Apple's blood, picked up the gauntlet and ran with it. In a cheeky opening to an article entitled "Fewer Apples In the Ivy League," BusinessWeek's Dennis Berman wrote, "Bring money and clean sheets -- but not Apple Macintoshes. That's the advice Yale University is giving its 1,310 incoming freshman." That article went on to report that several Ivy League schools, including Princeton, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia, are all reconsidering shifting their focus to Windows-centric computing on their campuses in the future.

In attempting to explain Updegrove's recommendations, Yale Daily News staff reporter Daniel Stone (who clearly needs to do some additional homework before writing about the Mac again) wrote in that publication's September 8 edition, "Yale's recent switch from LocalTalk, which required Macintosh software, to the Ethernet card, which supports both Windows and the Macintosh means there is no longer a substantive advantage to owning a Macintosh at Yale. Students and universities have traditionally favored Macs because of their user-friendly operating system. With the advent of of Microsoft Windows in the late 1980s however, PCs have become equally easy to use."

Stone fleshed out his one-sided account with more quotes, one from Updegrove, who insisted he was compelled to "alert students about the computing situation at Yale," and another from a freshman (the only input from a student in the story) who said Updegrove's letter didn't affect his decision to purchase a new PC system. "I wasn't going to get a Mac anyway," said the student.

Reaction from Mac supporters everywhere, including Yale alumni, has been fiery and immediate. In an open letter to all members of the Yale family, Eric Belsley (editor of the always-excellent Mac Resource Page) wrote, "Daniel Updegrove's infamous letter sends a horrendous message to the entire Yale community....that the function of a student's computer as an ITS (Information Technology Services) client is more important than its role as a learning device; that it is not ITS's responsibility to create a computing environment that accommodates the requirements of the students and faculty, but that those main players should follow the stagehand's lead."

Yale Daily News also published several letters to the editor: "Yale's warning to freshmen to avoid Macs is poorly-thought-through," wrote alumnus Liam Miller. "A decision that sounds like it came from lazy Windows-centric programmers looking for any excuse to push Macs out because they aren't 'real' computers." Another alumnus, John Moore '74, wrote, "(Updegrove's decision) bespeaks of a bald preference for plain utility and ubiquity over the more traditionally Yale-like qualities of personal expansiveness and intellectual freedom; that is, for the dictatorial way vs. the democratic way." He adds, "I know that I am going elsewhere with my donations and bequests, if this policy sticks."

These are apparently common sentiments. A recent posting from a Yale student on Mac OS Rumors reported that Updegrove's recommendations have caused an uproar in the school's Microcomputer Support Center (MCSC) -- support phone lines constantly busy, an abundance of unsold Wintel equipment with backorders on Macintosh hardware, MCSC staff scrambling to learn how to support Wintel machines. Perhaps worst of all, an alumnus (and Mac enthusiast) who was reportedly considering a one million dollar bequest to the MCSC, withdrew his offer after learning of the Updegrove's letter.

What does this bode for Apple? Hopefully, the situation at Yale will serve as a warning that, despite recent deals with Microsoft, Apple must be on the offensive against the Wintel movement in order to retain its core market share, especially with educational institutions.

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