Rumors of the demise of the school field’s traditional favorite computer maker apparently are greatly exaggerated, but so perhaps are reports that Apple Computer Inc. is out of the emergency room and moving smartly down the road to full recovery.

Apple posted a $47 million quarterly profit. That came as a big relief to those K-12 decision makers who’ve lurched awake at 2 a.m. worrying that their beloved old Macs would be good for nothing but door stops if Apple’s troubles went on much longer.

Shares of Apple Computer Inc. stock jumped 22 percent, to $19.44, the day after the once-and-interim CEO Steve Jobs announced the company would post a FY 98 first quarter profit of $47 million on revenues of more than $1.6 billion. The company said it sold 635,000 units in the three-month period.

The profit—considered modest in an industry where one man’s personal wealth puts him nearly even with the gross domestic product of Singapore—is the company’s first quarter in the black in two years. Since its last profitable quarter in 1996, Apple has lost more than $1 billion.

To outsiders, empires in the high-tech market seem to be made and lost nearly overnight.

“That’s true,” said John Santoro, company spokesman for Apple’s education division. “But we’re not doing that”—losing money—”anymore.”

Does the gain signal a return to sustained profitability for the one-time education hardware leader?

Survival is Jobs One

“[First-quarter results] attest to our revenue stabilizing,” said Santoro. “We’ve gotten the costs of making the computers down, and we’re doing build-to-order. It all comes from Steve Jobs,” he added.

“We are thrilled that our new plans are beginning to work,” Jobs told reporters earlier this year. “While there is still lots of work to do, Apple is clearly coming back as a major player.”

Mark Delp, director of technology implementation for Henrico County (Va.) Public Schools, is pleased with Apple’s return to stability. Henrico has something of an investment in the company. A PowerMac 7200 sits in each of the district’s classrooms, and although the computers are dual-platform, teachers use the Windows operating system “only a minuscule amount,” Delp said. This is mainly because the teachers all have been trained on Mac systems.

And Delp just bought a slew of Apple’s speedy new G3 computers for his guidance offices. “Asked if they would like dual platform or a good fast Mac, they chose Mac,” Delp explained.

Apple sold twice as many of the G3 computers as it anticipated during the first 51 days of the quarter, according to the company.

Avoiding undue panic

To switch to a Windows-based environment now, Delp worried, “would cause undue panic on teachers’ parts—just as they are beginning to get comfortable.”

“We’ve hung with Mac because of the educational software available and the support that Apple has provided—it’s stronger than any other brand for educational support,” said Delp.

Did rumors of the company’s imminent demise make him nervous?

“Yes—but not so much as to make us abandon them,” Delp said.

Macintosh computers command up to 55 percent of the education market’s installed base, according to Quality Education Data. The Denver-based education market research company expects that up to 45 percent of new computer purchases will continue to be Macs through 1998.

Rededicated to K-12

Apple says it has rededicated itself to education. The company has beefed up its K-12 sales force and come out with new, all-in-one models designed for school settings. The super-streamlined 5500, for example, comes “with two plugs in the back: one for power, one for the network,” said Santoro.

Many administrators and teachers are committed to the platform. The ease of setup, low-cost maintenance, and efficient system integration are what Mac boosters cite as reasons for the platform’s popularity in schools. According to Santoro, the “plug-and-play” design of Mac computers is meant to be simple enough for teachers to use the computers in their classrooms without much technical training or support.

Santoro also credits the speed and ease of certain functions—such as math processing or digital image manipulation—for the Mac OS’s continuing popularity. “In the context of a 40-minute class, [speed] makes a huge difference,” Santoro said. “Any time spent figuring out how to [use a computer] is a waste of time.”

Think Different

The company’s “Think Different” campaign might not appeal to teachers with a working knowledge of grammar, but something seems to be working.

“We want teachers to ‘think different,’ to think ‘out of the box,'” Santoro said. “We want to prepare students for a life of learning.”

The computer maker’s return-to-profit announcement was made at January’s MacWorld Expo trade show in San Francisco after a bumpy 1997:

• In March of last year, layoffs paralyzed the Apple work force just when the company needed creativity and leadership.

• In April, Apple posted second-quarter losses of $708 million, nearly matching its record losses of 1996.

• In June, it severed ties with its advertising agency. • And in July, CEO Gil Amelio departed from the company.

That’s when Jobs, one of Apple’s original co-founders, stepped in to reign as interim CEO.

Shortly after he made that move, industry analysts began saying Jobs’ indomitable presence was hurting the company, driving away strong candidates for the regular CEO job.

But that, of course, was then.

Since Jobs’ back-in-the-black announcement, his detractors have been much quieter.

Apple Computer Inc.

http://www.apple.com

The Bill Gates Net Worth Page

http://web.quuxuum.org/~evan/bgnw.html

Quality Education Data

http://www.qeddata.com

Henrico County Public Schools

http://www.co.henrico.va.us/schools/