Does Going Windows Save Schools Money?

Dan Knight - 2003.10.19

There are some insurmountable arguments in the educational debate over Macs vs. Windows.

Yes, more businesses use Windows than use Macs. The same is true of home users; Windows is the dominant OS. That doesn't mean that it's better than the Mac OS, only that more people choose it. Yet many believe that market dominance is sufficient reason to choose Windows over the Mac OS.

I wonder if they think McDonald's is the best place to take a date, since millions more choose it than the gourmet restaurant down the road....

You can't fight the facts of market share, but just maybe you can show that the market share argument has nothing to do with choosing the best solution.

But the most commonly heard argument from IT types, who seem more concerned with job security than the needs of students or teachers, is that going to a single platform (cough, Windows, cough) will save money.

In the era of tight education budgets, the lower entry costs of Windows PCs are a very attractive argument in their own right. Why buy a $700 eMac (education price) when you can buy a Dell for a couple hundred dollars less? Why train school IT personnel on Macs and Windows when you can save time and money by abandoning one platform?

It's called being penny wise and pound foolish.

Study after study has found that despite a higher initial cost, the Macintosh has a lower total cost of ownership over the life of the computer. This includes the cost of the computer, cost of repairs, and cost of support. Macs cost more, last longer, and require less in support costs.

Yet district after district is buying the lie that abandoning Macs and going 100% Windows will save them money.

Hogwash. In the era of tight budgets, schools should look to the better long term value instead of simply trying to buy the most computers for this year's budget dollar. Look ahead a few years, school boards - the very thing you have to do when planning new construction, building renovations, and bond issues.

It's time to unmask the lie. Windows PCs are not the best choices for our schools. They do not save money except in the initial outlay of cash. In the long term, they cost more to support than Macs.

I challenge any school system to demonstrate long-term cost savings by either switching from an all-Mac policy to dual platforms or from dual platforms to Windows PCs as their sole platform.

I challenge those on school boards, those who teach, and concerned parents to ask their school systems the following questions:

  1. How many computer systems have been used in the classroom in our school or district over each of the past 10 years. How many were Macs? Windows PCs? Apple IIs?
  2. How much has our school or district invested in new computers for classroom use during each of the past 10 years. (Computers, not printers or networking hardware.) How much was spent on Macs? On Windows PCs?
  3. What has our school or district's IT budget been for each of the past 10 years? How many IT positions have been eliminated by adding Windows or abandoning the Mac?
  4. How much time has the IT department spent fighting Windows viruses over the past year? How much money has the school or district spent on antivirus software? And how much time has been spent fighting viruses on Macs?
  5. What is the average number of repairs per year for all of the Macs in use? For Windows PCs? What is the average cost per repair for Macs? For Windows PCs? (Be sure to include hourly wages for IT workers if they performed the repairs.)
  6. How many hours per year does each IT staffer invest in training to support Windows PCs? Macs?
  7. Factoring for inflation, how much money has adding Windows PC to the mix or abandoning the Mac saved the school or district?
  8. Take the total IT budget for each year and divide it by the total number of classroom computers being used. Factor for inflation. Are costs going up or down as Windows predominates?
  9. Do you think IT might have a vested interest in a computing platform that provides greater job security?

Put the pressure on. Try to unearth any evidence that any school anywhere has saved any money by adopting Windows PCs after the initial savings based on a lower purchase price.

I think we'll soon discover that nobody can provide any evidence for the argument that adding Windows or dropping the Mac saves any money at all. Let me know what you learn. Maybe we'll generate the kind of hard numbers that will make school boards and administrators wake up and smell the coffee.

I'll post articles here as I receive feedback from the field.

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