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Panic in Henrico County

From the Henrico County, Virginia visitor's page:

One of Henrico's oldest traditions is simple hospitality, a friendly welcome and neighborliness. Whether you're here to stay or only stopping in for a brief trip, we welcome you and hope you enjoy your time here.

That's a mighty neighborly sentiment there. So what happened there Tuesday morning? By that I don't just mean the stampede in which neighbor trampled neighbor for a shot at four-year-old iBooks. (I wouldn't cross the street for a four-year-old iBook even if it cost only $50.) What provokes such mania? Are there really that many Mac users there? Hmm.

It stokes my jaundiced view of human nature to assume that the stampede was caused by “market forces,” i.e, make anything cheap enough and everybody wants it, whether they need it or not. Who doesn't love a bargain?

Then I thought about the numbers. The population of Henrico county is about 382,000. Assuming a market share of 3%, there are about 11,000 Mac users in the county. With estimates of the mob ranging from 4,000 to 12,000, that means that the crowd could have consisted entirely of Mac users who genuinely wanted an Apple laptop. In that case, I'm ashamed that the gentle and benevolent community of Mac users would act in such an un-neighborly fashion. Bah, I bet it was those PC-packin’ “switchers” causing all the trouble.

But seriously, the other bad news is the reason those iBooks went on sale—the county has switched to Dell. How did that happen? In the words of Superintendent Fred Morton, “It was a number of variables, not one single thing.” In the end, however, it was all about the money; Dell simply cut the county a better deal (about 20% less), at least on paper. One other “variable” was software. Everyone wanted Microsoft Office, and for all its faults, I can't blame them, but the iBooks came with AppleWorks. Adding a copy of Office to each iBook would have raised the price another 20%.

I worry that the decision was short-sighted. Except for the lack of Office, everyone was very happy with the iBooks and Apple. They may find that the Dells have a higher hardware failure rate. Both the Apple and Dell proposals included an extra 2% of the total quantity for loaner laptops. The Dell proposal went on to include a promise to stretch that to 5% if necessary. It might be necessary; Dell ought to know their return rate. The other big maintenance headache will be viruses. i hope they aren't underestimating the threat.

There are apparently still a ton of Macs in Henrico schools. The county owns 27,000 iBooks. After selling this batch of 1,000 I don't know how many they have left. They also have almost 5,000 iMacs. It will be interesting to hear a progress report after the Dells are deployed and used side-by-side with the Macs.

Well, whatever. It's their call. Both the school board and a nine-member evaluation committee voted unanimously to accept the Dell proposal. I wish them well. As for that stampede, I hope the next sale runs more smoothly. I like how Frank reported it, “Apple introduces the new iCrush and the iRiot.”

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