Dear Squeak and Blat,
My campus is insisting that our music department switch to Wintel machines from the Mac. We are reluctant to switch largely because of tradition but is there any real reason that we should not do this?
Well, Winny, you are not alone. Squeak and Blat have heard of this at a few institutions recently. This has fueled the usual Mac vs Wintel debates that have ragged on for years. Such debates are usually tiresome and never really too interesting to read. The "mine is bigger and better than yours" exchanges really waste a lot of energy that might be used for more profitable things like innovative music teaching.
I won't fuel these debates by arguing for one platform over another. I have been a Mac user all my life and feel the platform continues to be a wonderful way to be productive as a scholar, teacher, Internet surfer and musician. I have become reasonably comfortable with Wintel because of the work that Squeak and I do together for our publisher and for the clinics and workshops we do. I can see the advantages of its huge installation base and software selection which will only grow more rich with each passing day. I suspect that your administration sees this presence as a basis for being efficient in its support and long-range planning for computers on campus with no major consideration for individual disciplines and personal preferences. I suspect too that some administrators have been influenced by reports of Apple's demise as a company which, by now, should be clear is not happening as dooms day predictors projected as recently as a year ago.
First of all, it must be said that we have come to a time in the technology world where both platforms can support exciting and powerful music technology. The Mac has had the longest tradition in music and sound and can has earned the bragging rights for some of the first music software. But today, in nearly all categories of software, the two platforms have equally exciting and powerful music software and hardware options. Most major applications are "cross-platform" (Finale, Vision, Music Ace, Making Music, etc.) and both hardware platforms have developed in similar ways technically. On the basis of software availability and hardware support for producing and recording music, there is no reason to hold out for just a Mac presence.
Now, if your Department has had a long tradition with the Mac platform and there is strong feeling about staying with it, there simply is no real reason to switch except for the heavy handedness of your administration. Good software continues to be developed for the Mac and will continue in the foreseeable future. Microsoft has made a major commitment to the platform and the major music software companies continue to develop for it.
However, if you MUST make the switch, don't forget that this will be costly in time and money for your Department and you need to request funds beyond just the cost of new hardware. Here are three points to keep in mind. Squeak may have more to say about this.
1. Investment in Training. If many professional faculty in a Department are required to switch to a new platform, the institution must be willing to provide the kind of training necessary to make this change. You might want to inquire whether there is any provision for this. Working with the Windows operating system is not fundamentally different from Macintosh, but it is different enough to confuse the average user.
2. Software transferability. If you make the switch, you will need to transfer application files to the Windows world. This is not an impossible task, but you will need to budget for some software that will make the transfer easier (e.g.
Windows computers do not recognize Mac disk formats without the addition of software to make this happen. You also will need to invest in new software applications. If you have site agreements for music and non-music software, you will need to invest in new software agreements for the Windows platform.
3. Service. Most computer professionals agree that Windows machines require a more aggressive approach to support. Each platform has its share of technical issues for sure, but do be prepared for some help needed with opertaing system configuration (especially when you move to a new version of the system) and networking issues with the Wintel computer.
Finally, Blat is going to mount his high horse and talk a little about academic freedom. It seems to me that it very unfair to impose a dictum on faculty for such a change. It would be one thing if a computer platform was being discontinued or if represented an increasingly poor record of innovation. Neither is true for the Mac platform, in fact quite the reverse. On moral grounds, there is very little basis for such a power move. What is next? Perhaps a central committee will soon adopt a policy on APA vs. Turabian for writing papers. Perhaps a policy about playing only tonal music on concerts might be in order.
One last wonderment: What if the engineers and scientists on campus were told they had to throw away their UNIX boxes? Anyone care to take bets on that? Thump! That was Blat falling off his horse and is now looking for his mouthpiece.
Blat falling off his high horse? I thought those fellows from Maine feel from the yardarm of sailing ships or jumped from lighthouses!
BAN MAC! LONG LIVE WINTEL, MICROSOFT, AND BILL GATES! That's sure gets the old blood of Mac fans boiling doesn't it?! You could always get a group of professors going by bringing up the issues of semester-versus-quarter system, or foreign language requirements. Put these on the agenda and you could be guaranteed of a debate going for weeks and weeks. Now, just put a single-platform computer policy on the agenda, and the flurry of debate will be no match for these traditional topics. The debates will bring out the oratorical prowess of a true academic!
I personally switched to using the Wintel platform several years ago when it became apparent that this was going to be the dominant platform and that music and graphics software developers were taking this operating system seriously. I had been an Apple/Mac user since 1978, and my college had been Apple/Mac since that time-a long time! Yes, I know what Blat is mumbling under the drippings from his spit valve: "He crossed over to the dark side!"
I did so, for one key reason. Since I oversee computing for my college of fine arts, I wanted to research the least line of resistance for migrating from Mac to Windows applications. The long range plan was to get a balance of Wintel and Macs in our college and in our music and fine arts labs, so that our students would know how to work on both platforms comfortably. I was looking for a common set of applications that we could use from music, to multimedia, to graphics, to administrative software, that would look the same and share the same files regardless of whether the platform was a Mac or a Wintel machine.
This is the policy I support and would argue vehemently for if such a BAN MACS policy were instigated on our campus. In our fine arts college we now have a mix of Wintels and Macs in both the labs and for faculty and staff workstations. The software mix is shown in the table below. You can see that most of the applications are matched across platform.
A key piece of software that will greatly enhance the exchange of files between the two platforms is Conversions Plus for the Windows computers. This is DataViz's comparable software to their Mac counterpart that enables reading Mac software on Windows. There is also software available that enables Wintel computers to be active participants on Mac networks with AppleTalk sharing files and printers; it is called CopsTalk .
Now, I take issue with Blat's statement that Wintel machines need more TLC to keep running. Having worked with both, my Windows computer is as stable as a scrub-oak tree on the Oklahoma prairie, and it seems to recover from the equivalent, dreaded Mac "cherry bomb" better than my Mac does (called a protection fault error in Windows jargon). Sorting out extensions, preferences and controls panels on a Mac can be just a daunting as .dll files and Windows system folders. I find some of the system utilities for managing Windows OS, like Norton and McAfee utilities, far superior to any Mac utilities for troubleshooting OS headaches.
Here are six arguments that this Okie clarinet player would use to wax eloquently against a single-platform policy while commandeering the podium at the campus technology meeting:
1. Students come to campus with both Macs and Wintel; there is a need to support a bilingual computing culture.
2. The music, graphics, printing, and multimedia world, above all other professions, make significant use of Macs as well as Wintel computers; arts students, more so than any others, need to learn how to work on both platforms.
3. The academic world is heavily into such platforms and operating systems as Linux, SGI, Hewlett-Packard, PalmPilots, as well as Unix, as Blat noted. Single-platform policy should not be an excuse for an anti-Mac attack.
4. Calculate the cost of replacing Macs with Wintel down to the last cable you will need to buy: software replacement for multiple lab copies (price out multiple copies of Director, Finale, and Premiere for some price shell shock!), training and staff support, more training and staff support, new computers, new printers, new networking, more training, and document conversion downtime. Just think of all those mailing lists, class handouts, and email boxes that will need to be converted. And, did I forget to mention training?
5. Software applications and what professionals need to do their work should be the emphasis, not the hardware platform. With each passing year, hardware becomes more and more standardized. Macs and Wintels have a PCI bus, USB and Firewire ports, IP networking, similar memory and hard drives, SVGA and XGA video, and the like. The whole debate will come to a screeching halt when you will soon buy a PC platform that has selectable OS: Mac, Windows, or Linux!
6. College students who drive VW Beetles will want to match the color of their computer to their new Bug (orange, lime, Barbie pink, …..). Diversity reigns!
Go for it!