Through a new program called “X [Ten] for Teachers,” Apple Computer is giving away a free copy of its Mac OS X version 10.2 operating system, also known as “Jaguar,” to every K-12 teacher in the country who requests one.

Apple says the move is intended to give Mac-using educators an easy way to upgrade to the quicker, more versatile Jaguar OS. But some see the announcement as an attempt to revive Apple’s standing in the education market, once a mainstay of the company.

The pledge marks the end of a three-year lull in charitable donations from the company to educators, touched off in 1999 by the discontinuation of its $30 million Education Grants program. The Oct. 17 announcement came just one day after the company released its fourth quarter results, in which poor education sales contributed to a worse-than-expected $45 million net loss.

“Apple wants to make it as easy as possible for teachers to make the move to OS X. With features that can assist in the teaching, learning, schooling, and everything around the classroom, Jaguar is a huge winner for education,” said an Apple spokesman. Teachers who request the free OS also will receive Apple’s iPhoto, iMovie, and iTunes applications, each of which lets educators integrate the use of digital media into classroom presentations and technology projects.

Other functions include a new eMail application that automatically filters out and flags junk mail; an address book to organize school, student, and parent contacts; a Universal Access feature that provides additional functions for disabled users; and a new compatibility environment called “Classic,” which lets educators run older Mac OS 9 applications seamlessly across the new Jaguar system.

Recognizing that the onslaught of new features might prove to be too much for less tech-savvy educators, the company also will include a free training CD, so educators won’t waste time tripping over Jaguar’s technological nuts and bolts. “Getting Jaguar and a training CD for free makes it easy for teachers to move to Mac OS X, so they can spend more time using technology in the classroom and less time making it all work,” said John Couch, Apple’s vice president of education.

Whether the company is looking to help its customers or simply to help itself, at least one educator says Apple already has done more for education than any other player in the field. “Other companies aren’t even in the ballgame,” said Larry Anderson, a long-time Mac enthusiast, who is founder and director of the National Center for Technology Planning. Anderson said ongoing initiatives like Apple’s Distinguished Educator program have successfully helped promote the integration of technology into the classroom.

Educators who wish to take advantage of Apple’s “X for Teachers” program have until Dec. 31. The OS X software is configured to run on virtually all Apple models introduced after May 1998, assuming the machines have at least 128 megabytes of memory available, Apple said.

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