One man's trash...

If you needed even more fodder on the differences between Macs and PCs, look no further than two very different public reactions to a pair of hardware giveaways.

You’ve probably already heard about the effort to get rid of some aging iBooks in Henrico County. That’s the Virginia school district that inked a deal with Apple back in 2001 to supply its students with laptops. When the school district opted to dump Apple earlier this year in favor of getting its laptops from Dell, officials took some of the four-year-old iBooks and offered them to local residents for $50.

The sell-off created a mob scene, quite literally —residents showed up at a local race track where the machines were to be sold off, hours before the gates opened. When the sale finally began, there was a stampede as people jockeyed for a place in line. Punches and lawn furniture were thrown, and people were hurt as they were trampled upon by others. There was a report of one woman soiling herself rather than losing her place in line; another person even drove into the crowd with a car. Complete bedlam, apparently.

As the director for general services for Henrico County mused to reporters after the fact, it was strange that people should have had such a response to laptop computers that have seen four years of hard use and abuse at the hands of school-kids—“computers with less than desirable attributes” is how he put it. But we all know what sort of fierce loyalty Apple engenders in some people, and, well, $50 for a working laptop that’s still useful is a steal.

By comparison, Pittsburgh Public School officials have shut down a program to distribute thousands of five- to seven-year-old Dell PCs to local residents that were refurbished at taxpayer expense for city school children, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . They’re not stopping the program because of irrational exuberance on the part of the recipients, but because of irregularities involved in the school district’s inventory and accounting procedures.

Apparently several dozen of the computers ended up on eBay, and local officials are trying to figure out how that happened. Problem is, no one at the schools can tell them, since the systems haven’t been very well accounted for since they’ve been taken out of commission. Thousands of the Dell PCs are boxed up and ready to go, but until school officials can get a better handle on the inventory, they’re not going anywhere.

What does this have to do with the Henrico iBook stampede? Nothing on the surface, but one comment from Richard Fellers, the school district’s chief of operations, caught my eye:

“In our minds, we were pretty much giving away garbage,” Fellers said.

Four years from now, maybe Henrico County residents will feel the same way about the machines that replaced those iBooks, and there won’t be another stampede.

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