(For those new to the column, Forward Migration is our term for companies moving from Wintel machines to Macs — or at least adding or increasing the number of Macs they use. A Forward Migration Kit is an overview of Mac OS products for a particular occupation, such as photography, optometry, etc.)
The University of Cincinnati’s College of Design Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP), a five-year co-op undergraduate program with approximately 3,000 students, is in its third year of student owned computer requirement. This year the School of Architecture dropped Wintel systems in favor of the Titanium PowerBook G4. There are over 300 Ti-Bookers this quarter and most are PC-converts, according to Mark Harris Director of the Computer Graphics Center.
In 1999, the college adopted a five-year plan to phase out low-end student labs in favor of student owned computing. The rationale was simple: the economics and price/performance of consumer computers made them more affordable than ever before. Coupled with the increased rate of obsolescence for higher-end tasks, the concept of “oceans of plastic” in college labs became a losing proposition, Harris told MacCentral. Money not invested into disposable labs meant more resources for higher-end technologies, such as digital video, rapid prototyping and advanced visualization facilities, he added.
“Because of the college’s studio-style atmosphere and the six-month-in-class and six-month co-op arrangement, the mobility of laptops was an appealing concept,” Harris said. “Requiring laptops for incoming freshman each fall meant existing college lab resources could be slowly phased out, and curriculum could be carefully redesigned for student computing and our emerging technologies.”
The college’s user base was 65 percent Wintel and 35 percent Macs. The graphic and digital design programs were traditionally Mac-based; PCs were the platform of choice for electronic art, architecture and urban planning. While many programs of study have technology preferences based on key applications, some decisions about platform conformity came from instructor bias, Harris said. But knowing the world is a multi-platform environment, Mac supporters never openly criticized the issue of platform choice. Besides, the college was capable of supporting both.
“My area is responsible for support of users computing covering the areas of network connectivity, wireless and OS-based troubleshooting,” Harris said. “Already entering the third year of our five-year plan, my support crew consists of two help desk staffers for nearly 1,500 users. We began to notice a troubling trend: the diverse makeup of varying manufacture’s equipment was creating inconsistencies. While there was only one choice for the Mac — a bronze PowerBook — PC users came to us with a dizzying array of hardware: Sony, Gateway, Dell, IBM, etc.”
While minimum CPU, memory and video specs were established, there was a terrible level of inconsistency with network cards and operating systems, he said. Since students connect in class during group studios sessions, collaboration was key and NIC issues made this problematic. Instructors would often waste one-third of their class time just making sure everyone was connected to a class server, Harris said. Making matters even worse: various flavors of the Microsoft operating system had varying levels of success in connecting to the network.
Harris said that getting the hardware into the hands of students for the first day of class was surprisingly problematic: with no central point of purchase, users bought their equipment from a variety of sources and many times paid full retail instead of student pricing. Incoming students often waited until the first day of class to see what their peers had; as a result, many classes took several weeks to get up to speed.
Last summer, the School of Architecture (a historically Wintel crowd, and about one-third of the college’s student body) inquired as to the ability of the Mac to eliminate many of the problems that plagued the PC users. Working closely with their Apple rep, a standard configuration was created, built around a 400MHz Titanium with 256MB or RAM, 10GB drive and Airport card. They also included a Kensington lock to remind students to be conscious of security.
“The Titanium offered everything: mobility, large screen, fast, wireless capable, lightweight and affordability,” Harris said. “The choice to embrace form*Z as the CAD program of choice over AutoCAD eliminated the need to use the Windows operating system. Other apps, such as Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Microsoft Office were a simple shift in platform.”
To avoid the inconsistencies associated with the purchase options, a standard configuration was presented to all incoming freshman. With a deposit required by mid-summer and balance due when the computers arrived at the College Bookstore later in the summer, all users were ready to go the first day of class. With one simple stroke, 125 Architecture freshmen were now equipped with identically prepared PowerBooks, ready for the first day of class. Software was pre-installed, as were network preferences.
“The end result: minimal setup time for instructors for class,” Harris said. “Consistent hardware with no connectivity woes. All students had computers on the first day of class. Cutting edge technology such as wireless and Desktop power at the laptop level. Not a single loss due to theft (although a few keyboards suffered at the hands of beverage-spilling users).”
During an end-of-quarter feedback session, architecture students were asked to relate the experience of their first three months with the new PowerBooks. Thanks to the consistent hardware platform and the more stable Mac OS, tech support issues were easy to diagnose, Harris said. Hardware failures and warranty service was dealt with in a timely fashion, he added.
“The Mac’s ‘look and feel’ took no getting used to,” Harris said. “The sleek, silver form factors were a welcome sight in an ocean of bulky, black laptops. Aside from some fulfillment issues with our Bookstore, their biggest gripe: no games were pre-installed, and the hard drive capacity was inadequate for their MP3 collections.”
The most interesting find: when asked if they would trade their Mac in for a PC is given the chance, not one user would, he added. And this coming from a historically PC-centric industry, where most users’ previous experience with computers in high school and around the home was with Wintel-based products.
“We plan to continue the Macintosh required buy once again this year, and have attracted the attention of other programs of study such as electronic arts, industrial design and fashion design,” Harris said. “The port of Maya to the Mac has our Wintel-based 3D Studio MAX users looking more curiously at the sleek silver laptops and the increased stability of Virtual PC will allow AutoCAD to run when necessary (which isn’t very often, as form*Z is showing that it’s quite capable). We plan to add recommendations for printers, scanners and removable media as well.”
“Even my Wintel-centric support staff agree that the Mac OS is better equipped to deal with peripherals (such as FireWire) than its Windows counterpart,” Harris said.
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