Pentium 150 PC, 2 Gb hard disc8-speed CD-Rom drive plussoftware; Pounds 1,099 MJN Education Tel 01282 770044
Practically everything about this machine was praiseworthy: well set up, easy to use, and you can keep the pupils away from doing serious harm to the filing system. The specification is excellent, the price competitive and the software is some of the best that you can buy as far as primary schools are concerned. So what is the difficulty?
I am hesitant because 18 months ago a school try-out with an MJN machine was a disaster. The machine was badly set up, there was no back-up and the software was inappropriate. There have been changes since then, with the company setting up an education section with experienced staff, but it is still early days to assess the firm's commitment to education.
It is also disturbing to hear of schools that have sought a bargain only to find that a few months later the retailer has gone out of business and they are holding worthless warranties or they have bought machines which the supplier is no longer supporting because of the rapid changes in specifications.
There is no suggestion that MJN Education will do either of these things but it did admit that it does not have the educational clout of Research Machines or Xemplar. No one wants to suggest that every machine should be bought through these suppliers, because increased competition is to the advantage of all in education, but anyone working with schools has to understand the nature of the education market with its demands for long-term support, robust construction and tools for the curriculum.
The four main software packages at the heart of the curriculum offerings are: Talking Textease, Junior Pinpoint, My World and First Logo. Spreadsheet, drawing, graphing and desktop publishing software is also included. A batch of CD-Rom titles, including Thinking Things 2 and Thinking Things 3, Compton's Encyclopedia and Compton's World Atlas, complete the line-up. The manufacturer is also launching an Infant PC along similar lines.
So how did it all work? It worked first time, although the setting-up process was accompanied by some stern warnings on screen and on paper that might have deterred the nervous. At the centre of the system is a menu and security access software which enables it to be managed so that pupils can be guided in their choices. All this is installed but managers will have to be reasonably proficient with Windows 95 to do the management with confidence.
The verdict? This is a good machine which is competitive, but I would not recommend this to a school where there is little expertise. For teachers who are confident and adept with Windows 95, it is worth considering. If MJN Education spends more time developing the system and listening to teachers, and proves that it has the kind of back-up that teachers have come to expect from companies like RM and Xemplar, it could undermine the opposition.