Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Thoughts on Macs and Netbooks

I absolutely love using Apple computers, Apple mobile devices, and Apple software. Netbooks have really challenged my thinking about 1:1 computing in schools in the past year or so, however, and I am definitely not alone.

Yesterday at an Oklahoma City AT&T store, I had a chance to get my hands on a Dell Inspiron Mini 10 for the first time. (Those are actually my wife’s hands on an Acer netbook in the photo below, however. The Dell is on the right.) I know, I should have checked these out at NECC 2009, but I honestly never set foot into the vendor hall at the conference. Apple wasn’t there (again) so what was the point in going?!

Netbooks at the AT&T store in Oklahoma City

Wow. I have no question that student laptop computers should be this size, be at least this powerful, and cost this little. Yet as a Mac lover, of course, I’m torn. The MacBook Air is light, beautiful, and I really like it’s reduced starting pricepoint ($1500 US) — but that’s still $1200 more than the entry-level Dell Inspiron Mini 10 ($300) or HP Mini 1000 ($280). For student laptop initiatives, no one is using the Macbook Air– the $1000 white Macbook is the choice for many. That’s still $700 more at retail price. Educational and consortium pricing can be less, but the financial differences here are still HUGE.

The only other Netbook I’ve really liked with a similarly sized keyboard (92% of full-size also) is the HP Mini 1000 Netbook, which I blogged about at COSN09 in March.

I’m also confused by Dell. Why won’t Dell discount its Inspiron Minis that ship with Ubuntu… Starting cost is still $300 with or without WinXP Home. What gives?! Is this an attempt by Dell’s pricing gurus to not financially incentivize open source operating system alternatives to Windoze? (Gasp!) Several others in my Twitter community seem to suspect similar things.

Why doesn't Dell charge less for Ubuntu-loaded netbooks?

Given my love of all things Apple, it should not be a surprise that I love the Twitter-orchestrated YouTube video, “Why we use a Mac.” I definitely use Macs for all those reasons too.

The video above was coordinated and put together by a 13 year old student, btw, using Twitter. (Charlie Gordon) Hat tip to Colin Harris for the link, via Christina Warren.

I wonder how many examples of 13 year old digital creativity we can find online at this point which were entirely netbook created?

Not many, I’d wager. But that may change with time. Nice work, Charlie and friends. I’m betting you didn’t learn all those digital literacy and collaboration skills in schools, did you?!

Given the choice AND the funding, would you recommend the purchase of Mac laptops or netbooks (of some flavor) for your own school district? Would it surprise you to learn that at least 18 Maine school districts are now going with netbooks? Hat tip to Maine educator Alice Barr for telling me about this at NECC.

The hardware computing landscape is changing in big ways, and netbooks are a major catalyst along with mobile devices.

How long until I purchase one of the netbooks linked above so I can be a personal, “digital witness” to their capabilities? Hopefully soon. Would the September release of an Apple Tablet / Jumbo iTouch change my mind? Probably not. But I’d certainly want to buy one as soon as possible to make up my own mind about their potential ability to compete with netbooks! A big key in that answer will be PRICE.

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12 responses to “Thoughts on Macs and Netbooks”

  1. Vdub144 Avatar

    OK, so I’m a fanboy of VW – but only OLD AIRCOOLED VWs. Seriously.

    The “right tool for the right job” often is the one that does just what it needs to do, without going “over the top.” In my school, a majority (95%? 51%?) of computing is basically “looking something up on the web” or “writing in a word processor.”

    The occasional video gets edited. Teachers who fought hard to learn Dreamweaver don’t want to give it up for the simplicity of WordPress. And a few other tools come and go especially when it comes to doing grading, testing, foodservice, etc. But most of the time its a browser and a word processor.

    Google Docs may even make the word processor obsolete at some point.

    So why would I pay more for a Mac? Smooth transitions and a glossier interface? Better security, perhaps.

    Enter the Netbook – no optical drive, long battery life & ultra portable. Can it get online & word process? You bet! And as thin-client-esque and application service provider type services become increasingly robust I’m pretty sure the “creative” side of kids will come out on what I really think will be sub-$200 netbooks.

    Take that a step further with iPhone and Windows Mobile powered devices. Lots of computing power in your pocket and portable personal internet connections, but limited by screen size. How will creative apps translate to these devices? What about bluetooth enabled workstations that include a screen & keyboard (or an interface more appropriate to the task at hand?), connecting to the computing device in the student’s pocket?

    RSS separated content and format – maybe the netbook is an intermediate step in separating computing from the interface?

    Will the Apple/MS/Linux debate even matter if the GUI sits with the human interface device, instead of the processing & personal storage?

    Don’t forget – all of this stuff is disposable. Its not good to get TOO attached. Tomorrow, it will all be different.

  2. Scott Parks Avatar

    Howe Schools is facing this problem as well and we have decided to do a limited roll out of Asus eee PC’s. We will be pursuing our 1 to 1 laptop initiative at our H.S of 154 students utilizing these Netbooks. This is difficult for us as we too love our Macs and will continue our 1 to 1 Elementary initiative with the Mac platform. The economics vs. limited or no access of our H.S. students to our Web 2.0 strategies is worth exploring this solution. We can’t afford to go backward so we will introduce these Netbooks to our students this August.

  3. Joshua Williams Avatar

    I, too, have felt torn at times by the netbook phenomenon. I bought a HP Mini 1000 (with Windows XP) for my wife this year to see how it worked in the hands of a classroom teacher. For the last few months she’s used it at home and school, putting it through it’s paces, and here’s what we’ve learned:

    The hardware is good. Not great by any means, but useable. It’s small size lends itself to a certain amount of durability, but it’s still a plastic case. The keyboard is flakey at times, and the wireless radio is, at times, maddeningly inconsistent with it’s connection.

    The usability is adequate, but overall mostly limited by the operating system. Windows XP runs fine on the Atom CPU and 1 GB of RAM, but the OS was NEVER meant to be used on a 10″ screen (and it shows). This is the biggest problem, and its genesis underscores the biggest flaw of the netbook: It will never be an Apple.

    My MacBook Pro is beautiful, durable, and powerful. Its operating system is elegant, reliable, stable, fast, and oh, so useable. But the SYNERGY of Apple controlling both the hardware and software, designing each for the other, is what I value most. I was reminded of this recently when I became the Director of Technology at Sperry and had to wait over a week for a new (Mac) laptop to arrive. The NEW HP laptop (with the latest hardware and software) simply left me feeling frustrated and unproductive.

    Is my MacBook Pro expensive compared to a netbook? Absolutely! Is it worth the extra cost? Absolutely! I can’t afford to use a discount computer.

    What about netbooks for student use? The cost proposition is tempting, to be sure. At 1/3 the price of a MacBook, I could afford extras to deploy as they break (and they will). I just can’t get past the idea right now that I want my students and teachers to experience the value proposition of OS X and Apple hardware. The productive efficiency, creative capability, and unfailing stability and security are so difficult for me to get past.

    I have HIGH hopes for an Apple touchscreen tablet device in a 10″ form factor. Such a device, running a flavour of OS X, with hardware quality that meets Apple standards, could be an unbelievable game changer in the education space! Imagine textbooks reinvented to go far beyond text to include error correction, interactive graphics and videos, annotation and note sharing, and teacher-embeddable annotations and links to related content. Imagine rural students connected when they get home by a special arrangement with a 3G provider such as AT&T or Verizon. Imagine students yawning at the thought of “high-stakes tests” because they’re accustomed to interactive, formative assessments with meaningful feedback from teachers. Imagine iMovie and GarageBand in the hands of every student. I’ve been imagining these things lately, and I’m convinced its not a matter of of, but when.

  4. Craig Mollerstuen Avatar
    Craig Mollerstuen

    >The hardware computing landscape is changing in big ways, and netbooks are a major catalyst along with mobile devices.

    I see in this discussion the interplay between hardware (computer) and the software (operating system).

    When I teach technology to business students I also teach about the interplay between computing and telecommunications systems. In this case, it is the netbook and the net.

    Thinking ahead to widespread deployment of computers to students and the limits of WiFi, I’m already wondering how we’re going to deploy computers to students and get them to work on the WLANs. There are many complex and interesting challenges ahead of us.

  5. Oliver Quinlan Avatar
    Oliver Quinlan

    Just thought I would throw in there that I am writing this from a Dell Mini 9 running OS X Leopard.. So there are options out there… It adds significantly to the cost (copy of Leopard and technical persons time for the install), but it is doable and works very smoothly.

    On another note, I think it is important for pupils to experience a variety of OSs, as that helps them to develop transferable skills rather than just “windows” or “mac” skills. It makes people less phased by unfamiliar interfaces and more aware of the merits of different systems. In my classroom next year we will have Macs, a windows PC abs ubuntu netbooks and I think this will be a valuable thing.

  6. romanca Avatar

    “I’m also confused by Dell. Why won’t Dell discount its Inspiron Minis that ship with Ubuntu… Starting cost is still $300 with or without WinXP Home. What gives?! Is this an attempt by Dell’s pricing gurus to not financially incentivize open source operating system alternatives to Windoze? (Gasp!) ….”

    Easy to answer, no conspiration theory here. The price of WinXP is 15USD per computer. The cost of supporting the customers is covered by Dell. This 15USD pricetag is what Dell consider to be additional cost of supporting customers buying Ubuntu based netbook over WinXP based netbook.

  7. J.D. Williams Avatar has had deals on the lower model refurbished HP Mini Notes every couple of weeks.

    I have been very close to buying two of them for my classroom the last few times I’ve seen the deal. I have one of the higher end models from when they first came out and two EEE’s in my classroom for students to use. I want more of them, but have been buying them myself. I keep mentioning them to my principal and he seems receptive so hopefully I’ve planted a bit of a seed.

  8. Jenny Ashby Avatar
    Jenny Ashby

    We have Lenovo netbooks for our grade 6 students. There are 5 grade 5’s who use the classroom Macbooks. The netbooks are constantly a problem with security issues disabling them and things just not running quickly.

    The students using the Macbooks are finished the task and ask, “What is next?” All the problem solving is with the netbooks. Many teachers would go crazy and give up. A classroom of netbooks for many is hell. Windows is just so clunky.

    The macbooks are open and easy to use. You are not constantly stoppped with security issues and permissions options. The Macbooks are so far in front of the netbooks. When we began the year we were very open to seeing just how the netbooks would fare. Now we believe we would not go down the netbook track again.

    Technician support is expensive and needed.

  9. Kern Kelley Avatar

    Hi Wes, I’m involved in one of the Maine districts that compared both netbooks and Macs balancing price and features. I wonder how an Apple tablet (if it becomes a reality) might split the difference.

  10. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    I have definitely been wondering the same thing, Kern. I think the price point will be a key part of the answer, but not the complete answer. I saw these articles on Mashable and CNN about the rumored Mac tablet/jumbo iTouch on 27 and 29 July as well that were tantalizing:

  11. Paul Luke Avatar

    Interesting comments so far. I had an ACER Tablet PC (110i) for 3 years- a kind of older style netbook I’d like to call it. I loved it and gave it a real hammering. However, the 10 inch screen and the smaller cramped style keyboard finally got to me – I had to lean forward often just to see what I was working on and ended up with a lot of neck pain. To be quite honest I just got tired of win XP. So I bought a Mac – MBP – and fell in love, more-so with OSX the software. My productivity and ability just to self-learn and ‘do things’ improved off the scale. I am finding more and more colleagues new to Apple are enjoying the simplicity, functionality and user friendliness of OSX – these teachers have been given Macbooks – they are now creating videos / burning DVDs, making podcasts, composing music – their learning curves are steep. They are also buying iPhones – they are excited! Why weren’t they doing this on the Win XP machines in the previous 3 years? Since more Macs have become available at school, students are doing similar. They love the integration of applications in the iLife suite. They love creating media – isn’t that what the real rich learning is all about – creating, collaborating, critiquing etc. Like many, I’m waiting for the touch screen tablet mac. And just finally – when I tire of ‘all things Apple’ I’ll be looking out for the next innovation to capture my imagination and attention – can’t see this happening for a while.

  12. […] of my thoughts regarding netbooks, 1:1 computing, and Mac tablet / jumbo iTouch rumors in the post, “Thoughts on Macs and Netbooks.” My decision to order and start using a netbook for at least SOME of my computing needs flows from […]