Apple Archive

Thinking Different About School Computers

- 2001.09.21

I promised another article about Macs and antique radios, but I have something I really would like to talk about first. I will get back to the topic, but I feel that this should be dealt with first, while my idea still makes sense.

The computer situation at my school has been bothering me for a while. It started with the school not installing modern software on the 5400s and 5500s in the CAD/graphics lab. Each machine had 7.5.5 or 7.6.1 and was constantly giving errors. I stayed after school on several occasions doing clean installs of Mac OS 8 until my school's techs finally installed 8.6 and upgraded each machine to 64 MB of RAM.

The high school had been using 6100/66 DOS Compatibles in the writing/multimedia lab, PowerMac 5400/120 and 5500/225s in the CAD and graphics lab, and Pentium 133, 166, and Pentium Pro 266 MHz PCs in the library.

They replaced the 6100/66 DOS Compatibles with iMac DVs. Some of the 6100s with maxed out RAM went into the CAD lab (two machines). The other 20-some were piled up on one side of the multimedia lab. The Pentium PCs in the library have all been replaced with Dell Dimension 4100 800 MHz PCs with DVD drives.

I heard today that they are going to replace the CAD lab and add a mobile computing lab. (A mobile computing lab is an excellent idea, and the iBook with AirPort would be ideal for this.) While I can't verify that this is completely accurate, it certainly sounds like it could be (and those 5400s do need replacing/upgrading sometime very soon).

First of all, you do not need iMacs to get on the Internet and do word processing! The 6100s would have been fine with some upgrades. Or, better yet, they could have bought iMacs for the CAD/graphics lab where you do need something fast and brought the old 5400's down into the multimedia lab.

Second, do you need an 800 MHz Pentium III processor for the Internet, let alone DVD drives?

Of course 133 MHz Pentium machines running Windows 98 with 16 MB of RAM are going to be slow. Who installed Windows 98 on there anyway? A simple RAM upgrade to 64 or 128 MB would have extended the life of these things for a couple years and saved the school several thousand dollars. In fact, the Pentium Pro machines had 64 MB already installed and were quite speedy at browsing the Internet.

By the way, some of the old PCs are sitting on the other side of the library, disconnected, doing absolutely nothing. There are still a few set up and in use - for what I don't know, because no one ever seems to actually bother with them.

Then of course there are the 6100s sitting there. These are 66 MHz DOS Compatible machines with 16 MB of RAM and 2 GB hard drives. They each have 14" multiple scan monitors with built in speakers, along with keyboards and mice. Just sitting there piled up, disconnected.

Now I will talk about the proposed "replacement" of the CAD/graphics lab. First of all, are the 5400s Power Mac 5200going to sit there in the back like the 6100s and the Pentium PC's? If so, they shouldn't be allowed to replace them - it is a waste of useable technology. Second, if they do replace them, they will need to get Macs (the software they have is all Mac software, and have you ever tried Quark on a PC?), and new Macs come with OS X (yes, I know you can override it, but probably by the time the systems are ordered, 10.1 will load by default), which means they will want to upgrade their software to take advantage of the new operating system. Can you say expensive?

My proposed alternative is either:

  1. G3 upgrade cards for the 54/5500s and the 6100s. And the two 5260s that are in there? They could replace them with two of the surplus 6100s upgraded with G3 cards.
  2. Replace the 54/5500s with the iMacs running OS 9 (please update them to 9.2.1!) from the multimedia lab and buy new iMacs with OS X for the multimedia lab. Of course, before they replace the old computers, they would need to find a useful home for them.

Which I will discuss now.

The other day I talked to a couple teachers from the middle school. They have mentioned that for the past year or so that the computer situation for them hasn't been going all that well. One teacher got an old LC 580 that doesn't work. Another teacher had her three 80386 PCs taken from her because they were "too old" to use, even though they suited her class perfectly for typing. One of them belonged to her personally. They traded her something else for them - and they didn't even show her how to set it up.

There a few options that the high school could look at. Here are a couple of my ideas

Give some of the teachers in the middle school who still have old LC 580s a PowerMac 6100 or 5400 or two? The school could sell anything left over in a fundraiser for something else they need. I know 6100s are only worth about $25 these days, but 15 or 20 of them could land them almost $500. The 5400s are worth about $100-$150 each, and there are about 15 of those, so that could get them $1,500 or more. That's $2,000 total. While it may not buy a lot in technology, it might help to pay for school supplies (teachers end up spending their own money!). Yes, they would be taking a loss (when they bought them, $2,000 probably would just about buy two machines), but they need to get them out if they aren't going to use them. They've also got some LC 575s and Pentium PCs, which are worth somewhere between $20 and $75 each.

My other idea? It still involves giving the middle school some 5400s and 6100s, but how about donating the rest of the machines to other schools that don't have technology? In my town, almost everyone has a computer. The schools here can afford modern computers, but there are those towns that don't have them.

Or they could combine the ideas. Give a few machines to the middle school, donate half of the leftovers, and sell the rest in a fundraiser.

I don't know the details, but there may be something preventing the school from selling/giving away these older machines. However, if the school isn't going to use them (and it sure seems like they aren't), why keep them around?

I would be more than willing to help carry out either of these ideas in my school. If anyone has any other ideas of what they could do with these older machines, please contact me. I would love to hear about your idea. In the meantime, it looks like there isn't much that can be done until the new machines arrive.

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