Boot Camp could boost Apple in education arena

Apple's Boot Camp could be a boon to the company's presence in the education market. Once the almost exclusive domain of Apple and the Mac, technology in education has been steadily shifting towards Windows-based PCs for several years -- particularly in colleges and at the high school level of K-12 education.

The reason most often given: Students will need to work with Windows PCs after graduation and should therefore be educated using them. The ability for schools (at any grade level) to create truly cross-platform labs and classrooms could be a huge win for Apple.

Educational IT staff will no longer need to choose between the typical Windows computers used in most businesses and the user- and kid-friendly Macs that were once so prevalent in schools. And for schools with an existing investment in Macs, this opens up new options of what can be taught to students of any age. Boot Camp, released last week in a low-key manner by Apple, allows the company's latest Intel-based hardware to run Windows XP natively.

The beta software is a free download and will be included in Apple's upcoming Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard operating system. Opening the door to schools (and other organizations) to be able to buy a single computer that can run Mac OS X or Windows is only part of the advantage.

Apple has pushed Mac OS X Server as a cross-platform network solution. Its Open Directory architecture can easily support Windows clients for both access to resources and for authentication by hosting a Windows domain. Moreover, Open Directory's power lies in that it can be used to enforce Mac OS X's managed preferences and it can host Windows profiles, allowing some management of the Windows environment as well.

Open Directory also makes it painless to provide users with a single home directory in which to store files -- regardless of which platform they use. This directory is transparently available to Mac OS X network users, who may never even realize that their desktop and other folders are actually residing on a server. Although not as transparent on the Windows side, this directory is mapped automatically as a network drive and provides users access to the exact same storage space.

This ease of network storage is actually a very useful feature for Boot Camp Macs because of the limitation of being able to see the Mac OS X partition (and all data stored on it) when the Mac is booted into Windows XP. If Apple makes this ease-of-use connection with educational IT staff, particularly for major upgrades at schools and for new labs, it could regain a lot of the market share that it has lost in recent years.

And this is not only from the workstation perspective, but also from the server and infrastructure perspective. For IT staff, it provides the capability of a single platform server infrastructure while providing a powerful cross-platform network (all with Apple products). Thus, Boot Camp could completely reinvigorate Apple's presence in education, which could in turn lead to more consumer sales as many parents still tend to buy kids the same types of computers that they use in school.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and IT consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network design and troubleshooting. He is the co-author of Essential Mac OS X Panther Server Administration and the author of Troubleshooting, Maintaining, and Repairing Macs. He is a regular contributor to Inform IT and is the mobile technology correspondent for Suite 101. For more information, visi RyanFaas.com.

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