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OCTOBER 14th, 1997

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Macs @ Yale Revisited

A few weeks back, I examined a chain of events (Mac vs. Windows In The Ivy League) affecting the future use of Macs at Yale University, sparked by a June 1997 letter sent by Yale's Director of Information Technology Daniel Updegrove to that school's incoming freshmen.

The situation has "cooled" a bit since then, and there hasn't been much development (nor additional media coverage) since I posted that column. However, this past week, I received an interesting letter from a reputable (but, out of respect for his position, anonymous) source within Yale's Medical School, who attended a meeting between Yale's medical faculty and ITS Director Updegrove. The meeting took place shortly after the infamous letter warning incoming freshman against new Mac purchases was distributed. Here is the balance of that letter:

Dear Mike,

In the summer, the medical school faculty was invited to go to a meeting with Daniel Updegrove, and to speak with him about Macs at Yale. I was excited to hear Updegrove speak, and to hear what reaction the Medical School, a group which brings in about 42% of Yale's yearly income, had to Updegrove's letter sent to incoming freshmen.

The faculty was infuriated, and many of them could not believe that Updegrove had sent the letter to incoming freshmen. A lot of faculty saw it as his way of flushing out all non-faculty Mac users over the next four years. After that time period, he could come back to the professors and tell them that less than 1% of Yale used Macs, and that was reasonable cause to no longer offer service. Many of the Medical School faculty demanded that he write a letter of retraction for his original letter.

In the end, Updegrove said he was glad that they had the meeting. He realized he may have been too quick to get the letter out to students and to tell faculty the Mac could no longer survive at Yale. However, at the end of the meeting, when he said he would summarize his new view on the matter, Updegrove said the exact same things he had started out with. He had not listened to any of the complaints of the faculty. They were all so infuriated with his ignorance, that they all got up and walked out on him. To this date, I don't know of a letter of retraction that Updegrove has written. There has been no word on a change of his plans.

Also, I don't know if Updegrove does this on purpose, or if his IT staff is just a bunch of Mac-illiterate PC users, but while watching some of his staff setting up Macs to interact with the new Oracle database for administrative work at Yale, I noticed that these people had no clue how to set up the Mac to optimize the time it took to boot a program. One front end program had to load around 25MB of libraries in the Mac's Extensions folder before the program could start. The person who set up the system created a folder alias in the Extensions folder to a Windows server that contained all 25MB of libraries. None of the libraries were on the Mac's hard drive, which had at least 1GB left.

It seems that Updegrove need not report to anyone. All the people that pay his check and fund his department are not being listened to. The medical school was in an uproar about this, and because of the amount of money for the school that they generate, I would have thought that he would listen to them. He hasn't as far as I know.

Finally, I wrote a letter of frustration about a month ago to Steve Jobs and told him that there was no other option at Yale than to buy PCs. Unless Apple gave us a strategy concerning their future that would appease our IT, Apple would lose the Mac at Yale. Mr. Jobs responded, to my shock, and his words were very cocky (much like his response to Ric Ford on MacInTouch). He said if we changed our minds, Apple would still be around with some great products. I thanked him for nothing.

Thanks for your time.

An anonymous observer from Yale Medical School

Some folks criticized me the last time I tackled this subject for not taking more of a stance, or including more opinion. To be honest, I was more concerned with providing a well-rounded summary of the events that had transpired up to that point. That kind of synopsis was unavailable at the time, unless you were looking for the one-sided, "Apple is dying" kind of news reporting that is typical of the mainstream online and print news pubs these days.

Lest I be accused of walking the fence this time around, let me make myself perfectly clear. Dan Updegrove's advice to incoming freshmen concerning Macs is completely outrageous and unfair. It is his main responsibility to get students and faculty wired and working together on a university-wide basis, and not to recommend new computer purchases (Windows PCs) based on his erroneous perception of the more popular and viable computing platform ("the choice of over 75% of first year student computer owners in 1996-97" -- Updegrove's stats, not mine).

Macs and Wintel boxes each have their own strengths. There are, however, many students and faculty at Yale that still prefer to use the Mac for their daily computing needs, and won't give up their machines easily. Whether he intended to or not, Updegrove's letter to incoming freshmen includes a subtle, yet very damaging message: "I think Macs suck, and so should you, since Apple is probably going to die."

What really sucks is that this mindset is starting to infiltrate Apple's supposed strongholds, education and publishing. Despite the reply from Steve Jobs that the letter writer above received, I hope that Apple is concerned enough about its core markets to come up with the kind of knock-'em-dead products that will stabilize the number of folks in these computing environments. There are indications and rumors that Jobs and Company have indeed been thinking different (with the possible exception of that warm-fuzzies TV ad). I cautiously hope that he's got Apple on the right track, and that this will show the Daniel Updegroves of the world that the computer maker is merely down, and not out for the count.

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