The case against dual-boot labs

Caveat – I haven’t managed a lab in about 2 years so this is mostly my ponderings and thoughts rather than a state-of-the-art analysis of the setup of dual-boot labs.

Since Macs started supporting Windows via Bootcamp (not even bothering with a link here), everyone at all kinds of schools have been thinking about going all Mac with a Windows boot option.  I have not been a proponent of this idea for a number of reasons.

First, as many articles have mentioned, the OS is becoming increasingly irrelevant.  Throw a browser on some kind of OS, and then run all web apps.  Now, we’re not there yet, but I am comfortable saying that we’re getting there.  I’m also not saying that google apps or something specific is the answer – I have nothing specific in mind.  But there’s a lot of stuff out there that offer options.

My problem with dual-booting is two-fold.  Read on for more of my quasi-diatribe.

The first is that, in my opinion, students themselves generally don’t care about OS, either.  If all the macs are in use, they sit at a PC to use Word.  If the PC’s are in use, they sit at a Mac.  In a few surveys which I have read in relatively large computer lab installations, the primary reason why the labs are used, actually, is because there is software that is only available on those machines, and 99% of the time its a PC-based software (most developers will develop for the PC first, let’s be honest).  So, if you’re going to go one way or the other, then PC’s actually do make more sense.

* By the way – I refuse to get into the whole ‘but PC’s get infected all the time and are harder to manage’ argument.  I was involved (tangentially) in managing something like 400 PC’s spread across probably 90 locations and I know that a logical and simple combination of basic tools and methods kept the machines secured and safe.  And we weren’t in full lockdown mode as is the case at some schools (using DeepFreeze or something like that).

The second issue is boot time.  Right now, you walk up to a machine, possibly wake it up from the screen saver (a 1 second mouse wiggle) and have a login window.  Loading of all the scripts and whatnot that are inevitably utilized as part of large lab management probably gets you to a usable desktop on either OS in about’30-45 seconds on the very long end.  Probably more like 10-15.  I think that is a fair number.

But getting to that login window can take maybe a minute or more.

So now, while it’s great that you can buy all Macs for all your labs and give students the option of booting into one or the other, they have to wait 1.5 minutes or more to get to a usable desktop.  Or one has to start trying to speed up the boot process which is not an easy task.  If Apple continues its long-held habit of hiding changes to just about anything with their OS then any streamlining for Leopard (10.5.x) might not work for the next version.  Or maybe for a particular version of Leopard.

So.  To me, it actually makes the most sense to go one platform, and that all the management efforts go into that one platform.  And, in all honesty, Windows on PC’s seems to be that platform.

Eh.

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