So, What Exactly Is PowerSchool, And Why Did Apple Buy Them?

by , 9:00 AM EST, March 15th, 2001

Apple announced yesterday that they were purchasing PowerSchool for US$62 million in shares of Apple. The number one question for most Mac users, and Apple investors in particular, is "what the heck is PowerSchool?" PowerSchool is a company that offers Internet based teacher, school, and student data management. All of the functions can be accessed through a browser, making end-user use completely platform independent. PowerSchool itself is run on a server, and the best thing of all is that server has to be a Mac.

PowerSchool offers a host of features, and we took the liberty of providing links for your benefit. This system offers some seriously powerful tools for schools, teachers, students, and parents. According to PowerSchool's Web site:

The hardware requirements for the server are as follows:

The PowerSchool server should be dedicated exclusively to the PowerSchool SIS and be hosted on a Power Mac G3 or G4 computer with at least 256 MB of RAM. Everything needed for networking is provided in the basic Macintosh and the PowerSchool Web Server application.

To operate PowerSchool, a full-time, high-speed (T-1 at 1.5 megabits) Internet connection to the school or district's network is required. All workstations need Internet connections and common Web browsers.

The company's Web site says that a version for Windows NT/2000 will be coming in the Spring of 2001, but our guess is that this is off.

The client hardware requirements are minimal, with PowerSchool supporting some 68k Macs, PowerMacs, as well as Intel's 486 processors and higher. This makes it easy to implement for the community, because no one has to worry about what computer who is using. With the politics involved in managing school systems, this is a *real* benefit. Another very important issue is that schools don't have to buy new computers for their teachers and administrators, allowing them to continue using the hardware they have on hand. For cash-strapped schools, that is literally priceless.

Contrast that with one of PowerSchool's main competitors, Chancery Software's Win School and Mac School, which both use a client-side application approach. This often results in a school system needing to buy all new equipment, as was the case with Observer Justin's high school. According to Justin, his school purchased a whole new fleet of Gateway PCs to run Win School, but the school has had problems with the system.

"There are 4600 students at my school," says Justin, "and every teacher has a new Gateway they bought to be able to run this software." Despite the new PCs, the Win School system has caused consternation among teachers. Justin's impression is that "it's constantly down. They had to print report cards four times because of problems with 'the system.'" He added "They're always working on it."

This is anecdotal evidence to be sure, but PowerSchool's approach is much better from the stand point of the schools. Make sure your server is running as it should, and then it simply becomes an issue of making sure your network is functioning and the client machines can run a browser. Not necessarily trivial, as many Sys Admins will tell you, but much better than having to worry about client-side apps as well.

This is not to say that Win School, or Chancery's Mac offering, Mac School, are not good products (we have not even used them). We are saying that PowerSchool's approach is better from a theoretical stand point.

The Mac Observer Spin:

PowerSchool offers Apple the opportunity to not only make money from sales of the software, Apple can sell schools complete data management solutions. This might just include a G4 server. It could also include an AirPort network and a fleet of iMacs. Being able to offer a complete integrated system that can fit in well with existing hardware is an incredible leg up on the competition, and will get Apple in many doors, or back in many doors, they might otherwise have been denied.

Offering complete solutions is the path that has been taking for the DV market, the CD-RW market, and the DVD authoring market. The education market is bigger than all those other markets combined.

This is one of the best strategic investments the company has made to date, and we applaud Apple's move. If Wall Street really digs into this, they will realize that Apple will be in an excellent position to regain some serious education market share.