Wilkes University announced Wednesday that it has pulled the plug on PCs in favor of Macs, saying the move — which actually began last year — will save the Pennsylvania liberal arts college more than US$150,000 while still letting students and faculty continue to run Windows applications.

Touted by Apple Inc. as one of the first colleges to mandate a campus-wide shift from Windows PCs to Macs, the Wilkes-Barre, Pa. school wasn’t a bastion of all things Apple before the decision, said Scott Byers, vice president for finance and the head of campus IT. Macs, in fact, were a minority.

Rather than take bids from the usual PC suspects — Dell and HP — as well as Macs, Wilkes decided to go all-Apple because the new Intel-based models and the BootCamp dual-boot software — the Apple Inc. software is still in beta — would let the school reduce the number of machines campus-wide. “This is an aggressive technology refresh,” Byers said.

“We’ll be able to reduce the number by about 250” across the campus, said Byers, because labs and classrooms were typically outfitted with an inefficient PC-Mac mix. A class suitable for 30, for instance, might be equipped with 20 PCs and 20 Macs, “because each class and each department had its own preference for what computers and what software they liked to use,” Byers said.

Now, that class boasts 30 Macs, able to swing both ways at will, courtesy BootCamp.

“We think it will save $150,000 directly, in buying fewer units — even though the Macs cost more per unit than PCs,” he said. The school, which enrolls about 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students, will reduce its inventory from nearly 1,700 computers to around 1,450 after the change-over. Other costs savings, however, will be harder to measure. “By standardizing, the IT department should be more productive,” Byers said.

He also cited the additional security of Mac OS X, school-wide access to Apple’s iLife suite, and Apple’s OS itself as side benefits. “It is, well, the superior OS, isn’t it?” said Byers, who before the switch was a dyed-in-the-wool Windows user.

The key to the change was Apple’s move to the Intel processor in early 2006 and the dual-boot BootCamp application. The university’s management application — which tracks students from application through graduation — is a Windows app, for instance, and couldn’t be abandoned. With BootCamp, such a move isn’t necessary.

Although the $1.4 million three-year switch — which started last year with the purchase of approximately 500 Macs — means Wilkes is all-Apple, students are free to choose any operating system, said Byers. “There’s no Mac mandate.”

Most of them pick one anyway: “This generation seems to prefer Macs,” he added.