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Reversal Of Fortune: A Mac Victory At Yale


Apple Macintosh enthusiasts recall the incident as a stinging and unwarranted rebuke. Last summer, Yale University, a long-time Mac outpost, sent a letter to incoming undergraduates "strongly encouraging" them to buy Wintel personal computers on account of "uncertainties about the availability of software" for the Mac. Existing Mac owners seemed in particular peril: Yale said it could not guarantee support for the platform beyond June, 2000.

Now the Mac brigades are fighting back -- and winning. Bowing to campuswide sentiment, the school's Information Technology Services department has revamped its computer-platform policy for the coming academic year. Gone is the Wintel recommendation. And administrators are no longer threatening to revoke Mac technical support. The school is even touting Apple products on its computer-center home page. "This year there is no recommendation," says Yale spokesperson Tom Conroy. "There's a sense that students will make their own informed choices."

For Yale's Mac devotees, that's news sweeter than apple pie. "I'm guardedly saying 'Hey, we won,'" declares William Sacco, a director of the Yale Macintosh User's Group and a Yale staff photographer. "People now feel that they have a choice, and there are a lot of Macs being bought here."

Sacco was less upbeat nearly a year ago, when Yale's technology director, Daniel Updegrove, wrote a now-famous letter cautioning new students against choosing the Mac. At the time, Updegrove said the decision was tied to the deterioration of Macintosh software development: With Apple's share of the PC market down to around 3%, third-party programmers were neglecting the Mac. Moreover, many of the school's administrative tools were Windows-based. Updegrove did not respond to interview requests this time, but Conroy said the new Mac-inclusive policy was spawned by a "dissipation of concerns" over third-party developers. Earlier this month, Apple reported its third straight quarterly profit, and sales of its G3 and PowerBook models have been brisk.

Long before such news from Apple, Yale faculty and students began rallying against the Windows-centric policy. As they saw it, the university should support the PCs of their choice, rather than dictate a policy. Clusters of Mac owners vowed to hold their ground. Yale's Medical school, for instance, restated its allegiance to the Mac, even adding a Mac-only support staffer.

"I think that ITS was unprepared for the displeasure," says Philip Rubin, a former director of the Mac user's group at Yale. He adds that "the market has changed in the last year, and there's more confidence in the Mac."

The real catalysts, however, were Mac boosters among Yale's faculty. Late last year, they marshalled their bureaucratic firepower, working through the Information Technology Services Advisory Committee to rewrite the school's undergraduate computer-platform policy. The document, completed in December, emphasizes that Yale is a "platform-neutral" institution that supports equally all the IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple PCs sold through its campus store "at least until your class graduates."

Speaking of last summer's letter to undergraduates, Jon Morrow, chairperson of the medical school's pathology department, says "it was a silly thing to do." Morrow sat on the advisory committee that drafted the new policy. "There is a clear recognition that the role of information systems at this school is to support the whatever platforms they choose," he adds. He notes that his department maintains some 200 Macs.

From the looks of the home page for Yale's campus computer store, the Macintosh is even getting more promotion than Windows offerings from IBM and HP. A notice titled "Important News!" links visitors to Apple's electronic store for ordering departmental or personal computers.

What many of them are likely buying is the iMac, the curved, transluscent desktop that's being promoted as Apple's savior in the educational market. Earlier this month, Yale techies were invited to a special iMac preview held at the school's elaborate Peabody Auditorium. "It was big-time collaboration," says Sacco, referring to the preparations made by both Apple and Yale officials.

The jury is still out, of course, on how bright a future the Mac can have given its modest market share. Still, Yale's latest decision signals one small victory for the Mac in the Apple vs. Wintel wars.

By Dennis Berman, staff reporter of Business Week Online