I am wondering what your thoughts are on how PC’s stack up against Mac’s for early education. I know that Mac’s are in many schools but I do not know what the “big” differentiators are for Mac’s that make them well or better suited for early education.
You have asked what is undoubtedly one of the most incendiary questions in the entire computer industry! Historically, Apple has always had a dominant position in the education marketplace, and (generally speaking) as children have gone into the higher grades they see more and more Windows PC systems. By college, Windows far outnumbers Mac, particularly in the gaming community, and once you get into the workforce full time, you’re definitely in the world of Microsoft homogeneity.
Nowadays, however, there are very good applications for both Mac and PC kids, and even the price of the computers are quite comparable in most form factors (and Apple has some splendid child-friendly aesthetic designs too, like the iMac and the easy-hidden Mac Mini).
As a parent, I think that the two biggest questions are: how child-safe is the operating system, and how likely are the systems to get infected or messed up due to kids playing on them. In the former case, there are simplified child-friendly “shells” or interfaces for both operating systems that make it much less likely that your critical work files will be messed up by your little one experimenting with pressing the mouse button 386 times in a row, etc.
The latter is the clincher in my opinion, however. Even if you don’t want to have your children pop onto the Internet, the pervasiveness of viruses and spyware on the Windows platform is a constant problem and will just be exacerbated by having children poke around. You can run antivirus and anti-spyware applications, but in my experience, even the best of them still leave you somewhat exposed and it’s also questionable whether your children will click the right button when presented with a “Sober.X infection detected. Quarantine?” window.
Then there’s the question of applications. Just like for any other age user, children don’t use the computer itself, they use applications on the computer. In this area, again, there’s good equality, with fun games, educational games and academic titles available for both Mac and PC.
From an ease-of-use perspective, as someone who works with both operating systems every day, I have to say that I find the Mac more elegant and easier to use, particularly given the many common interface elements across applications. As with much of fashion, however, there’s a significant element of personal bias in any decision of usability.
That’s my thinking on this topic. I have both Macs and PCs in my house, and when I do let my kids do anything on the computer, it’s always on our Macintosh. They grasp things astonishingly fast, and being able to map mouse movements to cursor movements on a screen seems to be hardwired in this generation too.
Whichever you choose, I will encourage you to use the computer with your child as much as you can, because it can help them see how things work, gives them a real sense of accomplishment, and helps them further identify with you and your actions. (in fact, I actually have a parenting blog too, if you’re interested in talking about computers and parenting. Please pop over to the Attachment Parenting Blog.
Good luck to you!