The Northern Spy
...but Apples are in
This month's news brings numerous reports on the expanding use of computers in schools--almost all featuring new decisions to use Apple's products. In a move that Canadian school districts would do well to copy, a number of American county school boards, parents, and/or alumni have begun or expanded programs to provide students with iBook computers. Reports indicate that attendance, attention and academic performance are all improved. Some boards have expanded their programs to all students in a particular grade or to entire schools.
Asked why they chose Apple, officials gave the usual answers: lower purchase price, far lower maintenance cost, higher quality, ease of use, availability of software, the total lack of viruses or any other security issues. Given the number of such programs in operation and the thousands of students involved in each, Apples latest incursions into the educational market after so many years of slippage have to be encouraging to both company morale and the bottom line.
Take schools like Bradner, Mt. Lehman, King, Auguston or others of Abbotsford's already excellent elementary schools and give every student, not just lab access to computers, but their own iBook, and watch what happens to their interest, then to numeracy and literacy. Unlike some of the weird fad experiments such as the year 2000-ized classrooms that educational theorists inflicted on us in the past, this is a proven idea with no downside. Perhaps the decades-long declines in reading and mathematical skills could be reversed. Not only that, if we started now with grades six and seven, the Spy would have the pleasure of teaching some of those students at the university before he retires.
Aside: Face it folks. A student who can't or won't read, write, and speak fluent English has no business attending university. Anyone who does not master the elementary Algebra skills taught in Math 12 cannot enter any scientific or technical field and in most cases can resign himself or herself to a life spent performing a series of part-time, low-pay, no-skill McJobs. Computers in elementary school aren't the only possible resolution to the disinterest and diseducation crises the Spy experiences at the conclusion of public school attendance, but they are one partial solution.
Similar things are also happening in higher education. For instance, University of Melbourne’s Trinity College recently dumped Debian Linux running on Intel chips for G5 iMacs, citing the maturity of the system, interopability with required applications such as Word, the slick interface, low maintenance costs, and the ease of use.
The Spy notes that nearly half of his freshman computing students at Trinity Western University arrived last year with Macintosh portables last year (the largest percentage ever), with others switching during the term. This isn't a blip. It's a trend.
Note that a student decision to purchase a Mac is the middle of an important chain. With over a quarter million people a week (yes, you read that correctly) buying iPods, more and more are experiencing Apple quality at the low end. This generates what the press dubs a "halo effect" leading to the computer purchase decision.
The last step in the chain takes place years later when the once student, now corporate executive, makes institutional buying decisions for thousands of desktop units, a longer-term illustration of the Spy's Fourth Law that marketshare lags mindshare, though in this case by more than the general 2-5 years.
Some corporate types aren't waiting. Winn Schwartau, a security expert, columnist for Network World and a long-time WinTel supporter reports that his company has switched entirely to the Macintosh, stating "the WinTel platform represents the greatest violation of the basic tenets of information security and has become a national economic security risk".
Likewise Paul Otellini, the new CEO of Intel, addressing the numerous WinTel security issues at a Wall Street Journal conference had to concede that solutions were years away. Pressed, he suggested users who wanted system security now should buy Apple. Undoubtedly he received a friendly phone call from Bill Gates afterwards.
Apple has apparently decided not to use the name iSlate for its upcoming tablet computer after all. Others appear to have registered both islate.com and itablet.com. Barring last minute glitches, we can expect the as-yet not officially named product itself within the next six months.
iTunes-enabled cellphones are under development at Motorola, and should also be available this calendar year. There is no sight on an iPDA (think an enhanced Palm), and the Spy believes that Apple has not yet made up its corporate mind among the many prototypes created by its research labs.
Electronic ink (think ultra low cost flat screen) is also edging closer to market. The initial application may be for information dissemination in the form of daily news reports and/or school textbooks. The Spy's long-awaited ideal book reader may arrive as a secondary use of this technology.
Hidden among all the good news we often find some strange items. This month brings a revelation of Apple-Intel talks on chip supply and rampant speculation on an impending switch away from IBM as the Macintosh chip supplier. True, Steve Jobs probably grinds his teeth every time he thinks about his May 2003 promise of a 3 GHz G5 chip within a year, one that IBM still has been unable to deliver (2.7 G Hz is the latest, more is a few months off). That said, it makes no sense to switch away from what the Spy believes is the best chip design and implementation yet achieved, one with plenty of remaining R&D life, and instead adopt old technology that is nearing the end of its useful life cycle.
No, the talks are about other things. First, Apple no doubt wants to put some public pressure on IBM to speed things up, to speed things up, so to speak. Yes, both IBM and Intel are near the maximum clock speed that can be squeezed out of microprocessor chips using current manufacturing techniques. But better is still possible, and IBM has clearly fumbled the ball here.
Second, Apple makes a wide variety of other devices besides computers, some of which already use Intel chips. The company needs assured supply, especially when it enters the rapidly expanding PDA market.
Third, many devices contain multiple processors operating in parallel, and Intel makes a variety of chips other than computer microprocessors. Apple needs cheap Intel chips for a variety of device controller subsystems. Architecture of this kind offloads processing tasks from the main processor, freeing it up improve overall CPU efficiency. Given the architectural speed limitations mentioned above, internal (multi core) and external (offloading) parallel processing are probably the only ways to make significant speed gains in the intermediate future.
Time to put a tiger in the tank?
Not unexpectedly, this month's news is also replete with Tiger evaluations. So, is it time to switch from 10.3.9 to 10.4.1? Certainly, if you're a bleeding edge geek who has to have the latest OS for either experimental reasons or bragging rights. Not yet if you realize Tiger is a major rewrite of the OS to achieve 64-bit compatibility, contains several new applications, and is reported to be somewhat incompatible with a number of applications, particularly in the critical disk utility and networking arenas. Many software packages either have already been updated or are being tweaked to take advantage of Tiger's new capabilities, and they, too, may yet need bug fixes.
The Spy has a copy of Tiger mounted on his experimental machine, of course. He'll install it on his production machine at bug fix version 10.4.2 and once more manufacturers of disk and networking utilities catch up. He's too dependent on both to take chances. Wait another six weeks.
--The Northern Spy
Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one of which was named best in the science fiction genre for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.
Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Bowker's Booksurge.
The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com
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The Spy's Laws collected: http://www.thenorthernspy.com/spyslaws.htm
The Fourth Civilization (text): http://www.4civ.com/
Macs in elementary Schools:
Macs in secondary Schools: http://www.macnn.com/articles/05/05/25/mac.high.school.library/
Macs at an Australian University:
Schwartau's column: http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2005/052305schwartau.html?fsrc=rss-security
The Wall Street Journal Conference: http://online.wsj.com/public/article/0,,SB111684809888140520,00.html