College kids learn with their laptops

There may be no better testing ground for laptop durability than a place like Appleby College in Oakville, Ont. At the start of its school year in September, the preparatory school issues a machine to each of its approximately 700 students, who range in level from grades seven to 12.

Once issued, the laptops are theirs to use — and occasionally abuse, by way of dropping them, spilling drinks into them and maybe downloading one too many Britney Spears videos onto them. “There’s a wide variety of damage caused by students. The kids are hard on them,” said Mike Hourahine, executive director, information technology for Appleby. “It’s an environment where laptops are everywhere and are in movement all the time.”

But the challenges that Appleby faces when it comes to PCs are not limited to the question of their mere survival; enriching students’ experiences and allowing them to be more efficient through their laptops are other primary considerations.

“It’s the way they access everything. We’re looking for the tablet to enhance what we’re already doing, and it’s allowed us to do things that we couldn’t before,” said Hourahine.

To that end, the college this month signed a two-year, $2-million agreement with Lenovo Canada to be supplied with 880 ThinkPad X41 Tablet PCs for its students, faculty and administrators. Why Lenovo and not any of its competitors, such as Dell or HP?

“The quality of the product was far superior to other products,” said Aron Solomon, assistant headmaster of IT for Appleby. The school, which has used IBM equipment for the past eight years, was also impressed with the professionalism of Lenovo’s approach, Solomon added.

“Part of it is that we had an eight-year history, but actually, (we were impressed with) the way Appleby’s business was treated. I don’t consider Appleby a small customer. IBM/Lenovo treated us really above and beyond anyone else.” Solomon also stated that Appleby reps were impressed with Lenovo’s focus on, and understanding of, the education sector.

The Appleby representatives were part of a media presentation held earlier this month at IBM’s facilities in Research Triangle Park, N.C. The account win comes at a time — nearly two years since Lenovo’s purchase of IBM’s personal computing division — when the company is attempting to get its name and brand deeper into the minds of consumers and enterprise IT buyers.

Among the firm’s goals laid out by Lenovo Canada president Murray Wright at the event were: Cost and expense competitiveness; product line expansion; brand development and demand generation; a commitment to engineering, innovation and quality; and channel growth, especially for sales into the small and medium-business markets.

In a separate deal announced in September, Air Canada enlisted Lenovo’s services to outfit its high-end Maple Leaf Lounges with PCs. Throughout the airline’s 19 lounges, located in 13 cities in Canada as well as Los Angeles, Paris and London, Lenovo laptops will be available for use in workstation areas.

Users concerned about leaving sensitive data on the machines can click an icon depicting a toilet to “flush” such info from the system once they have finished their sushi and are ready to get to the gate.

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