In a reversal of a recent trend, Wilkes University in Pennsylvania has become one of the first college campuses in the country to begin a university-wide switch from Windows-based PCs to Apple Inc.’s new Intel-based Macintosh computers.

Over the next three years, Wilkes will become an all-Mac campus–providing faculty and students with access to Mac-only offerings, such as iLife and Mac OS X, as well as Windows applications through the use of software "virtualization" technology and Apple’s forthcoming Boot Camp software, which will let Mac users run Microsoft’s Windows operating system on their computers.

Macintosh computers traditionally have been less susceptible to viruses and other security concerns than Windows PCs, but they also generally have cost more than PCs with comparable features. In addition, there is a wider selection of software written for Windows-based computers, which have become the machines of choice for many in the business world. For these reasons, a growing number of schools and districts have been phasing out Macs and moving toward Windows PCs in recent years, abandoning a platform that has its roots in education.

Wilkes University‘s decision could signal the beginning of a shift in this trend. The school’s plan was aided by Apple’s recent decision to use Intel microprocessors in its Macintosh computers, which enables users to run Windows on Apple machines because PCs and Macs now share the same components.

The move to standardize on Apple computers could save Wilkes University more than $150,000 while letting students and faculty continue to run Windows applications, school officials claim.

The ability of the new Macs to run Windows "means we still have access to any Windows programs," said Scott Byers, vice president for finance and general counsel at Wilkes University. "We’re making working and learning more efficient. It’s the best of both worlds."

Nearly all Wilkes University computer labs already are equipped with the new Macintosh computers, and the school expects to replenish its computer network with Macs over the next three years. The switch to an all-Mac campus is a $1.4 million investment in campus technology.

Before the move, Windows-based computers made up the majority of machines in the school’s computer labs and administrative offices. University officials said about 15 percent of campus computers were Macs.

As of press time, more than 500 Macs had been installed, and the university plans to install a total of 1,450 Apple computers on campus in the next few years.

Switching from Windows to Macs will enable the school to have about 250 fewer computers on campus, Byers said, because a combination of Macintosh and Windows computers no longer will be necessary.

"This is an aggressive technology refresh plan that will present students and staff with access to the latest technology," said Byers. "We’re also creating a virtually virus-free IT network."

"The opportunity to learn both operating systems in one machine is immeasurable," added Chris Vida, founder of Vida Works Advertising, Marketing and Design.

Last spring, Apple introduced a test version of Boot Camp, a program that lets Mac users run Windows on their Macintosh computers as long as they already own a copy of Windows. Apple executives say they plan to incorporate Boot Camp into the next version of the Macintosh operating system, Mac OS X v10.6.4.

Users also can turn to other software, such as Parallels Desktop for Mac, that will allow them to run Mac OS X and Windows on an Apple computer simultaneously. In addition, CodeWeavers Inc. has created Wine, software that lets users run Windows applications on a Mac without requiring them to install the Microsoft operating system.