The Mac operating system has made gains on Windows since 2003.

Survey: Mac use growing on campus

The Mac operating system has made gains on Windows since 2003, particularly on college campuses.

Mac use in higher education jumped 18 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to a survey of North American colleges and universities—but supporting the popular Apple products alongside Windows devices in a cross-platform environment is still a nuisance for many campus technology officials.

The survey of 125 institutions, conducted by digital collaboration company Group Logic, says Mac use on campus is not expected to plateau any time soon: Campus technology leaders expect Mac use to rise by another 20 percent over the next five years.

Thirty percent of college students and one in four faculty members are Mac users, according to the survey. With Mac use on the rise, about 60 percent of college IT officials said the satisfaction of Mac users “had improved over the past year,” despite some problems with cross-platform integration.

If a college hasn’t properly integrated both Windows and Macintosh systems, students and faculty might have trouble accessing printers or files between PCs and Macs.

Anders Lofgren, Group Logic’s vice president of product management, said “institutions that use built-in system tools to integrate their Mac and Windows environments still find that performance and security remain significant concerns.”

The survey results show that campus technology departments have dealt with a steady stream of questions and concerns from on-campus Mac users having trouble connecting to printers or sharing files. Four in 10 college IT officials surveyed said they receive requests from students who need help transferring files using a Mac computer “often” or “nearly every day.”

“There was a time when our industry was talking mostly about future adoption when it came to Macs, but that time has passed,” Lofgren said.

Kenneth Stafford, chief information officer at Kansas State University, said he’s noticed about half of his university’s students use Mac laptops, and at his previous job as vice chancellor of technology at the University of Denver, 65 percent of incoming students owned Macs.

The migration from PCs to Macs, Stafford said, was largely a reaction to the shortcomings of the Windows Vista operating system released in 2007. Stafford said students, faculty, and staff had consistent problems printing documents, for example, when Vista was first launched.

“[Vista] was a huge maintenance nightmare for the help desk,” he said. “Those years with Vista—they were a real problem.”

Stafford said his Mac laptop’s eMail system and calendar integrate with Kansas State’s Windows operating system. Students who run into integration problems, he said, can use programs such as Apple’s BootPicker, which allows users to choose an operating system.

Other Mac-Windows integration software includes Parallels and Fusion — a desktop virtualization tool, Stafford said.

Reid Lewis, president and co-founder of Virginia-based Group Logic, said campus technology help desks can be bombarded with requests from Mac-using students having trouble with the simplest tasks, like logging into the school network.

If a campus lacks basic Mac-Windows integration, Lewis said, Mac users won’t get alerts telling them their password has expired and they need to create a new one to log into the college’s network.

Other popular Mac features, such as Spotlight — a desktop program that allows for simple computer-wide searches — aren’t usable on Windows operating systems.

“Apple likes to do things their own way. They think they know better, and often they do,” Lewis said. “But the problem is, they can’t tell Microsoft what to do.”

Group Logic’s research is the latest confirmation that Mac use is growing on campuses nationwide. Research firm Student Monitor released a report in August showing that 27 percent of student-owned laptops were Macs, making it the top individual brand in higher education.

Twenty-four percent of student laptops are made by Dell, and 15 percent are made by Hewlett Packard, according to the Student Monitor research.

And like the Group Logic survey, Student Monitor’s results indicated that a sharp increase in Mac use is on the way in higher education. Nearly half of student respondents planning to buy a laptop said they planned on purchasing a Mac.

In 2005, only 14 percent of college students said they would buy a Mac laptop, and about half said they would purchase a Dell, according to Student Monitor.

The most-used operating system on campuses remains Windows, although the popularity of the Mac operating system has steadily increased in recent years. In 2003, more than 2,500 institutions used Windows, while about 200 used the Mac operating system, according to the Student Monitor report.

By 2008, more than 1,100 colleges and universities were using the Mac operating system—compared with about 2,000 using Windows—and in 2009, the gap closed even more. About 1,400 institutions used the Mac operating system last year, and 1,700 used Windows.

Lewis said campus IT administrators should expect a steady increase in Mac use among students for the next few years, since the product’s popularity is clearly not driven by persuasive ad campaigns alone.

“If [Macs] were cool and not useful, you wouldn’t see the continued growth of it,” Lewis said. “You would see it get to a certain level, then stop. … And that hasn’t happened.”

College students who use iPhones and other Apple products have seen how reliable the company’s technology can be and might be more willing to pay more for a Mac when shopping for a laptop, Stafford said. Mac’s sleek style and popular marketing campaigns, he added, don’t hurt.

“Apple has sort of become a religion for some people,” he said. “Going into an Apple store—it’s definitely an experience.”

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