State of Maine Awards 36,000-Laptop Contract to Apple [UPDATED]

The state of Maine has announced that Apple won the bid for its next Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI), which will supply more than 36,000 laptops to all seventh and eighth grade students, as well as teachers, librarians, principals and technology coordinators, at over 240 middle schools. The roll-out will start this summer with staff members and move to students at the start of the 2006-2007 school year.

The four-year agreement calls for Apple to supply 12-inch 1.33GHz G4 iBooks with the standard complement of software, summer 2006 training for staff, POP e-mail accounts for all users, technical support, and the StudyWiz environment for collaboration. Additional software includes World Book Encyclopedia, NoteTaker, NeoOffice, GIMP and GIMP GIS, and more, and the schools will be able to upgrade to Mac OS X v10.5 "Leopard" when it becomes available.

Apple will also expand network coverage at the schools as needed and will upgrade all switches and access points to the 802.11g wireless standard, which the company calls AirPort Extreme. The per-seat annual cost is US$289, according to the Web page containing the details of the deal. Assuming 36,000 seats are purchased, the total cost of the deal will come to $10.404 million per year, or $41.616 million over the life of the contract.

Apple was up against CDW-G, which acted as a front for a partnership between Lenovo, Microsoft, Intel, Symantec and other companies, MLTI coordinator of educational technology Jeff Mao told The Mac Observer. Apple won the bidding based on the scoring applied to its proposal, but Mr. Mao added: "It was clear that Apple did better because they understood the educational nature of the project. It wasnit just a hardware buy for us."

Mr. Mao also said that the final cost of the contract with Apple will depend on how many schools opt into the MLTI. During the previous four-year contract with Apple, every middle school in the state was included -- if the same happens this time, more than 36,000 seats will be purchased, but a final number is not available at this time.

While the deal has been agreed to in principal, the final contract must still be negotiated, and the State Legislature will have to approve the final budget, according to Mr. Mao. He noted that the MLTI was originally envisioned as a project covering grades 7 through 12, but Maineis budget crunch a few years ago pushed the high schools out of the picture. However, two years ago about 35 of them were able to opt into the program with their own funds and obtain the same pricing as the middle schools. Mr. Mao said that he hopes a similar option is included in the final contract with Apple this time.

The expected move to include Intel processors in iBooks is not a foreseeable stumbling block, however, according to Mr. Mao. "For the purposes of this project, we had to assume the Intel iBook doesnit exist," he said. "The school year begins at a certain time, so this project canit wait." He added that procurement rules will likely prohibit them from switching the deal from G4 iBooks to Intel iBooks, should the new computers be announced in time to implement them for the upcoming school year. "We have to figure out if thatis allowable," he noted.

The issue was raised during the request for proposal (RFP) process, Mr. Mao said, and most technologically-savvy people in Maine fell into one of two camps: those who wanted to wait and see if the schools could get Intel iBooks, given the expectation that Mac computing will revolve around the new processors two or three years from now; and those who felt that schools didnit need to be on the bleeding edge of technology and take a chance with hardware that isnit tried and true.

"You can debate the merits of both of those points," Mr. Mao said.

Thanks to Macworld UK for the original heads-up concerning this news.

3:10 PM EST, 3/22/06: Updated this article with comments from MLTI coordinator of educational technology Jeff Mao.