Technology directors in school districts from coast to coast got a bad surprise from Apple Computer on Sept. 1. The company announced it no longer will support a long list of products it now calls “technologically obsolete,” including Apple IIe, Macintosh II, and Macintosh SE computers.

The unsupported products have been removed from Apple’s service parts database and automated ordering systems, the company said. If you need a replacement part for one of these models, which Apple marketed aggressively to the school field, you’re now on your own.

The company’s move may affect thousands of schools. Just with Apple IIs alone, more than a million machines still are in use in K-12 schools, according to the Denver research firm Quality Education Data (QED).

Technologically obsolete?

“The thing you have to realize is, you can’t assume that parts for any computer will be available forever,” said John Santoro, public relations manager for Apple’s education division.

By law, Santoro said, the company is required to support its products for at least seven years–and Apple has a history of supporting its products for much longer than its competitors, he added. The products listed by Apple as “technologically obsolete” all were discontinued prior to 1991, Santoro said.

“As prices on computers continue to drop, profit margins are becoming very thin,” Santoro said. “That puts us, and any other computer company, in a situation where we have to be really good about our expenses. So going beyond the seven years is something we have to look at in that light. Is it worth it for us to go out to a chip maker and pay to have more chips made for these products, when we may or may not even use them?”

Think ‘replacement’?

Apple’s decision has left many educators scrambling to form contingency plans for when their older machines break down.

“It’s disappointing that Apple is no longer going to support these products,” said Kathy Scott, service center manager for the University Place School District in Tacoma, Wash., which services its own computers. “I can understand their decision–Apple’s not going to service these machines forever. But I think it’s caught a lot of schools off-guard.”

Kerry Johnson, tech service manager for the Des Moines Independent Community School District, agreed. “I can see some districts that are using this equipment suffering a heavy impact if they’re not prepared for the expense of retiring these machines,” Johnson said.

The Des Moines district is the largest in Iowa, with 32,000 students occupying 64 buildings. Ninety percent of the district’s 7,000 computers are Macs, Johnson said, and about 1,000 of those are older models that would be affected by Apple’s decision.

The older models are still useful for teaching word processing and keyboarding skills to younger students, Johnson said. “If we can’t afford to retire these machines, we’ll have to go through a third-party vendor to repair them,” he said.

Third-party repair

One such third-party repair company is SynapTECH, located in Eugene, Ore. SynapTECH specializes in repairing out-of-warranty Macs, using a large supply of new and refurbished stock parts from Apple.

“Apple wants schools to ‘think different’ and go out and buy all new [PowerMac] G3s, but many schools can’t afford that,” said Caroline Craven, director of marketing and communications for SynapTECH. “As schools transition from the old technology to the new, that’s where we come in.”

SynapTECH doesn’t service printers or monitors, but will exchange defective parts of older computers–including circuit boards and hard drives–for working solutions, Craven said. The company then repairs the broken parts (whenever possible) and adds them to its existing stock.

“Most schools we deal with are slowly upgrading their systems,” Craven said. “Until they can afford enough new computers for the whole district, the older machines get filtered down to the elementary schools. We want to reassure schools that there are cost-effective solutions that will keep their computers running until they have the budget to upgrade.”

Still, Johnson said, how long third-party vendors such as SynapTECH will have parts in stock and be able to service the unsupported machines remains a question. “If they don’t have the part, it’s DOA [dead on arrival],” he said.

“Computers aren’t brick and mortar,” Johnson continued. “They do become obsolete. School boards will have to ask themselves–do they have the funding to replace these machines when they fail?”

The latest numbers from Quality Education Data show that Apple continues to dominate in schools with 47 percent of the installed base. About 12 percent of all computers in schools are Apple IIs (including the GS), while 35 percent are newer Mac models, QED said.

Unsupported products

Apple 3.5 Drive

Apple CD Products

Apple Data Modem 2400

Apple Desktop Bus Keyboard

Apple Desktop Bus Mouse

Apple Extended Keyboard

Apple II/Apple II Plus

Apple IIc

Apple IIc Plus

Apple IIe

Apple IIGS

Apple Macintosh Portrait Display

Apple Monochrome Monitor

Apple PC 5.25 Drive

Apple Personal LaserWriter LS

Apple Personal LaserWriter LS/L

Apple Personal LaserWriter NTR

Apple Personal LaserWriter SC & NT

Apple Personal Modem

Apple Tape Backup 40SC

AppleColor Composite Monitor IIe & IIc

AppleColor High-Res RGB Monitor

AppleFax Modem

ColorMonitor IIe & IIc

DuoDisk

ImageWriter LQ

ImageWriter LQ, Cut Sheet Feeder

LaserWriter – LaserWriter Plus

LaserWriter II SC/NT/NTX

LaserWriter IIf/IIg

LocalTalk

Macintosh 12″0 Monochrome Display

Macintosh 12″0 RGB Monitor

Macintosh 128K/512K/512Ke

Macintosh Classic/Classic II

Macintosh /16″0 Color Display

Macintosh Disk Drive

Macintosh II

Macintosh IIcx

Macintosh IIfx

Macintosh IIx

Macintosh Plus

Macintosh Portable

Macintosh SE

Macintosh SE/30

Monitor II

Monitor IIc

PowerBook 100

PowerBook 150

PowerBook 140/145/145B/170

UniDisk – Apple 5.25 Drive

UniDisk 3.5

Apple Computer
http://www.apple.com

Quality Education Data
http://www.qeddata.com

University Place School District
http://www.upsd.wednet.edu

Des Moines Independent Community School District
http://www.des-moines.k12.ia.us

SynapTECH
http://www.synaptech.com