Glowing Apples abound at Vassar. No matter where you are on campus, a MacBook is almost sure to be near. You can often witness herds of them congregated in the library or the Retreat. Sure, there are a fair amount of PCs to be found, but the percentage of PC ownership at Vassar flops in comparison to that of Macs. In addition, Vassar even has a mini Apple store as part of the Service Desk in the College Center. Why does Vassar appear to be so “Mac-centric,” and how does Vassar’s technological makeup compare to that of the rest of the world?
Prior to entering Vassar, incoming students are encouraged to take the Freshman Technology Survey to help Computing and Information Services structure services and support based on technology trends. The survey asks what devices a student plans to bring to campus, as well as what brands these devices are. The latest edition of the Vassar Factbook contains the results of this survey from the past 10 years; although the percentages have fluctuated, the general relationship between the amount of Macs and the amount of PCs has remained the same. Notably, the percentage of ownership of Macs has increased from 56 percent in the fall of 2005 to 65.2 percent in the fall of 2015, and that of PCs has slightly decreased from 38 percent to 37.4 percent. This follows the trend of positive growth in MacBook sales as a portion of computer sales worldwide.
How much does CIS influence the computer brand makeup of Vassar? Technology Training Coordinator Chad Fust notes that although Vassar has an Apple-certified campus store, a majority of students bring their computers to campus from home, so the store has limited influence on student computer choice. In addition, Director of User Services John Collier says that CIS encourages departments and students to choose the operating system that best meets their need (and provides free Office downloads for both). Moreover, the Service Desk strives to ensure that they can provide equal services for either system. But if this is true, why does Vassar have a Mac repair shop but not a PC repair shop? According to Matt Duncan, a tech employee of computing services, the purpose of a Mac-specific repair shop is to support as many students as possible, since the majority of Vassar students have Macs rather than PCs. Fust adds that, in the past, the store offered non-Apple products, but they have since been cut from the inventory due to a simple lack of sales.
So, if Vassar’s Mac store is not a driving influence, is Vassar’s MacBook dominance simply due to the worldwide trend of Macs over PCs? Fust proposes that it may also be due at least partly to the fact that Vassar is a liberal arts college. Not only does Apple cater its advertisements to students (with a tagline: “It makes the best years of your life even better”), but there is also a general perception that Macs are for artistic types of people. Macs come pre-installed with applications and are geared towards a more user-friendly experience, making them more appealing for those with artistic interests because they are known for running creative software well. On the other hand, PCs offer more of a blank slate, leaving room for more programming and customization; thus, although there is no solidified data, a technical school would likely have greater PC over Mac ownership amongst students.
Fust also noted that the MacBook dominance may be related to the economic status tied to Apple products: Macs are more expensive than PCs are. Fust is not necessarily implying that students buy Apple products to show off, but rather claims that Apple products have essentially become symbols of modernity and advancement. Apple became the World’s Most Valuable Brand in 2013 and has retained the title ever since. The company has name recognition, and there is a prestige around the brand that draws buyers, according to Fust. He noted, “No other company across the board has that reputation for really well-designed stuff that does work really well and has that attention to detail. Regardless of Apple’s reputation of creating premium devices, Fust and Collier concur that you can, for the most part, do the exact same things on a PC that you can on a Mac. Collier summarizes that the difference between the two is more about design and brand recognition than hardware. Morgan Strunsky ’17, a student tech employee at Vassar, admits that he is a PC person: “A PC has basically all the same parts on the inside but is going to be a fraction of the price.” On the other hand, he says, “If you need all of your devices to talk to each other really well, then a Mac product is great.” Similarities between the majority of the hardware explains how even though the employees of computing services have varying degrees of familiarity between Macs and PCs, they are able to do repair and deal with the troubleshooting and software of either with general ease and skill.
However, not all students feel that the CIS offers enough support for its non-Mac users. Matthew Au ’19 said, “Linux and Windows get swept aside all too easily. CIS obviously does help with non- Mac problems, but they focus on Macs.” However, he adds that he does not expect much, given that Vassar’s deal with Apple categorizes the college as a “Mac school.” Such a title creates resentment for students on the other side of the divide. Au remarked, “Declaring an institution a computer-specific type of school is unhelpful, pointless and ludicrous.”
The debate over Macs versus PCs, and how much support should be offered for each, is never-ending, but how lasting will MacBooks’ dominance be on campus? Fust predicts that the trend of Macs over PCs will continue well into the future at Vassar due to Apple’s continuous ability to present themselves as user-friendly and luxurious to students. Collier has a slightly different view. “I’ve been around long enough to see many brands rise and fall. Apple was on equal footing with many computer companies in the ’70s and ’80s but lost its focus and almost went out of business in the late ’90s.” Since then, many marketing and innovative factors have propelled Apple to the top of the chain, but as Collier said, “Who knows how long that will last?”