Apple turnover;Letter

16th April 1999 at 01:00
After once again skimming through my wife's copy of TES (she is a junior school deputy head) I feel compelled to write on the subject of your bias regarding IT. The TES seems to adopt an ostrich-like stance regarding IT while maintaining the pretence at fairness.

I was struck by the Apple Mac bias. And it is biased to compare Windows PCs with Macs as if they are equal. Yes the Mac is a good machine, yes it looks cool, but 99 per cent of the world uses PCs, 99 per cent of the software is Windows based and Microsoft dominates the industry.

Apple has survived by carefully targeting vertical markets, typically the printing industry, and by handouts from Mr Gates to keep his monopoly only virtual, without all of which Apple would have gone the way of Acorn, Atari, Commodore, SinclairI I suspect Apple is now targeting the education market as it offers a relatively naive body of people who haven't the support of an IT department. Some weeks ago in your magazine the famous "no-one ever got fired for buying IBM" was ridiculed, but I'm afraid in the main this was true. IBM dominate the mainframe computer market and, incidentally, still supply about half of the world's PCs. IBM compatibility in the mainframe world is a de facto standard.

The introduction of the IBM PC in the eighties was a godsend to the IT industry, it established some standards, albeit not based on the best processor, or best operating system.

The Mac is a well designed, powerful machine with a good user interface, and it's probably a better platform for simple home use than a Windows-based machine. But - and it's a big but - teaching Esperanto or Latin because of their grammatical superiority to English would not equip our children for the real world.

Another analogy is that of VHS versus Betamax. Betamax lost, but it was the better system. I'm no fan of Microsoft or its products but they are the de facto standard (please don't use the emulation argument in support of Apple - that's like wanting a dog, then buying a parrot and teaching it to bark!) If I produce work using Microsoft Office products I have a universal product.

Take a look at the IT skills needed in the real world. It's Microsoft office, in the IT world it's Windows, Windows NT (a pig!) Visual Basic etc. The only possible "real" alternative to Wintel is UNIX and Java, and I would not inflict UNIX on schools.

PCs are cheap, very reliable, and have a one-year warranty anyway, by which time they will probably be obsolete! But at least you can upgrade a PC relatively cheaply. I can get a new keyboard for my PC for about pound;15, a mouse for pound;4, even put in a new motherboard and processor. What are the comparable Mac costs?

So why TES's bias? Perhaps it's your advertisers calling the tune, or the fact that outside our schools one other very small enclave of "Macism" is journalism. Or is it some perverse academic dislike of teaching children useful skills?

PS. The suggestion of linking the admin network of a school with its academic one (Online, March 12) is bonkers. The last line of defence in creating a secure system is the physical separation of sensitive networks.

Such a joint network will be "hacked". Many pupils have older siblings at colleges who will show them how any reasonable GNVQ IT student can write a password grabber program!

The problem is that schools can't afford trained network administrators (they earn more than most teachers!) and probably don't operate backup and recovery systems in depth.

James Whitehead Former teacher, now IT professional

If you want to write a letter to TESOnline send it to Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY or email TES_Online@newsint.co.uk

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