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Apple counting on schools

The struggling computer maker hopes its educational market--a traditional stronghold--will give it a third-quarter boost.

Apple Computer (AAPL), coming off a massive $708 million second-quarter loss and talk of a possible takeover, is hoping its educational market will give it a third-quarter boost.

Technology executives with several major school districts said Apple's financial woes will not play a big role in their buying decisions. The takeover possibility, however, prompted mixed responses.

Apple has been fighting to retain its dominant market share in the educational market, one of its key business areas. An earlier survey of schools by International Data Corp/LINK found that 56 percent of new computers purchased for elementary schools during the 1996-97 school year will run Windows software.

As the computer maker comes off its second quarter loss, educators said the repercussions on their buying decisions will likely be minimal.

"Gauging on what happened last year when Apple's financial problems were in the news a lot, I got some calls from the schools wanting to know if they should buy their computers," said Vic Placeres, director of the educational technology branch for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "Some schools were tentative about buying their computers but in the end it didn't seem to affect their buying decisions."

He added that he advises schools to stick with their existing platforms, be they Macintosh or Windows-based, because the support system is already in place.

"If they find it meets their instructional needs, it's better to stay with the same platform," Placeres said.

L.A. Unified, like many other districts across the nation, is increasingly allowing the buying decisions to be made at the school level.

The school district had nearly 51,500 computers as of last October, of which 31,700 are Macintoshes.

Meanwhile, other school districts said the recent talk of an Apple takeover by an investor group led by Oracle (ORCL) chief executive Larry Ellison has them concerned.

"If someone buys the company and starts changing the current structure and timeline for the new operating system, Rhapsody, then we'll be concerned," said Cindy Joffrion, a network specialist for the South Central Houston Independent School District. "We don't care who heads up the company, unless they start to change things."

The district, which recently bought nearly 1,000 Power Macs, said it is looking at buying more for the beginning of next year. But the school's superintendent recently met with an Apple representative in Texas and received assurances on the company's financial condition.

Joffrion said that the next purchase will be PC-compatible Macintoshes, a hedge against the company going under.

But other major districts said the issue does not concern them.

"I think who ever buys the company will continue to support this area. They have such an established base in this market," said Linda Kamzelski, educational technology coordinator for the North Allegheny School District in Pennsylvannia.

She added that the district has been happy with the company's hardware and believes software publishers will continue to support the company. The district has 95 percent Macintosh classroom computers, while its administrative offices are nearly 100 percent Windows.

One educator that veers from that view point is Clifford Cox, deputy superintendent of information services for the Detroit Public Schools.

Although he does consider the financial and takeover issues a major factor in his buying decisions, the issue of support from software developers is of greatest concern.

"I told our schools that I'm a strong believer in the Apple technology and am an Apple user, but that my recommendation is to go with Windows for a number of reasons," Cox said. "The company is losing market share and developers are first developing for Windows. Also, Windows 95 is beginning to look and feel like the Macintosh." Cox in January published his views in the district's "Double Click" technology publication, which was then distributed to the nation's 50 largest school districts, he said.