Issue 1

Enjoying the best of both worlds

Worried about combining Macs and PCs on the same network? Peter Griffin finds there’s much to be said for ‘getting over it’ and match-making computing’s two main rival platforms.

The Apple Mac has been making its mark in New Zealand schools since the humble Apple IIe started appearing in classrooms in the 1980s, serving up now classic programs like Word Perfect and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Twenty years on, the education sector’s love affair with the Mac has reached a new level – there are some 25,000 in schools and integrating them into networks dominated by computers of the Windows variety is proving to be a full-time job for a handful of ICT providers.

Many schools are running shared networks of Macs and PCs, and even using virtualisation software such as Parallels to run Windows programs on Macs. While PCs still dominate for basic word processing tasks and back-end office administration, Macs have a monopoly when it comes to creative applications. Al Ritchie, the central North Island account manager for ICT support specialist Edtech, says he has seen the growth in demand for Macs increase over a number of years as schools sought out the “serious grunt in the graphics and music fields” that they offered.

“You typically have more schools using PCs for office-type functions but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way,” he pointed out. “You can do it all on Macs.

“We rely more heavily on the Windows Server for things like domains and mail. A Mac server is used as well for issuing profiles.”

Ritchie explains most schools are running networks offering 100Mbps local network Ethernet connections with shared printing and storage resources accessed by Macs and PCs. By and large, he believes, the major issues of running a hybrid ‘MacLAN’ system in schools have been ironed out.

“I’m in the small majority of IT people that believes it makes sense to have both PC and Mac platforms in schools. Both are largely capable of doing most things,” he adds.

While Ritchie has dealt with a wide range of technology issues at the schools he services, the biggest challenge he faced was not to do with technology, but funding restraints.

“In the education space, we’re always aware of the limited budgets of schools. It’s something we owe to schools to constantly test and develop systems so they get good value for money.”

At Waikato Diocesan School for Girls in Hamilton, Macs outnumber Windows PCs 177 to 100. IT support manager Leslie Turfrey was with the school when it introduced Macs nine years ago and watched on as students took to them for the first time.

“The kids move between PCs and Macs really fluently,” she said. “Some of the staff had more issues adapting.”

A shared fibre optic network of computers connected via Ethernet supports the Macs and PCs. A Windows server hosts the bulk of user content, mail and printing applications, while a separate Mac server is used for assigning profiles to the Macs on the network, as well as network-wide software upgrades. Turfrey says the Macs have become invaluable in particular areas of the curriculum where the girls were encouraged to work with multimedia.

The standard Apple iLife suite of Garageband, which is used to make music or podcasts, iPhoto for working with images and iMovie, for editing videos, are popular with students and don’t require any extra licensing costs as they are bundled with the Apple operating system. Clickview, an educational video software package can be delivered across both Macs and PCs. However, PCs run most of the school’s administration tools, as well as a host of applications aimed at students, such as the MYOB accounting package. Photoshop, Corel Draw, and InDesign are also commonly used by students in the classrooms.

“There are still a few compatibility issues with Macs”, said Turfrey. “Our most annoying issue is with Windows Vista and Office 2007. It saves documents as docx files and we can’t open them on the Macs.”

Macs are less prevalent at Our Lady Star of the Sea School, a decile 10 primary school in Howick, Auckland. The school’s shared network has been limited by the fact that the computers connect wirelessly over an 802.11g network, explains information facilitator Lynette Bryce. Being wireless means teachers wanting to enter information into the Classroom Manager and Student Manager software suites run by the school, had to do so in the library at a fixed network connection (although that will change when a fibre network is installed over the holiday break).

The school runs two separate network servers – an HP server running Windows Server 2003 for most of the file hosting and sharing activity and a Mac server for managing profiles. It’s the multimedia applications that get the most use in the classrooms.

“IPhoto is superb,” said Bryce. “The children made ibooks from camp at the beginning of the year.”

The school’s special needs children also make use of the Macs.

“They can bring in a picture and write a sentence about it.” Bryce says the increasing use of Web-based educational materials, such as those available through Te Kete Ipurangi, a Government online portal providing educational resources for teachers and students, means the barrier between PCs and Macs is breaking down.

Overall, Turfrey believes the shared networking is well worth maintaining to give the students the best of both worlds when it comes to educational software. The use of PCs for general word processing and mathematical and accounting applications meant students were leaving school trained in the tools they would likely encounter in the workforce. Running a shared network was not without its challenges for the American born IT manager.

“But I can’t really think of any issue that hasn’t come up but that with a little thought, we haven’t overcome,” she added.

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Categories: Issue 1