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There’s no question but that the form factor and price of
netbooks appeal to a broad range of businesses and consumers. And the K-12
education market is no exception to that, according to Acer, which saw that
market’s uptake of the Acer Aspire One line of netbooks ramp up quickly when
Acer first introduced the line in summer of 2008.

Acer’s subsequent interviews with school administrators pointed to a few
reasons why the products were so popular at schools, the company says. First,
the smaller form factor made netbooks more convenient to transport from one
classroom to another. It also made them fit more easily on students’ desks. And
the price point held great appeal for administrators with tight budgets.

The Acer Aspire One line of notebooks features an
Intel Atom processor, standard hard drives, WLAN and a Webcam. All models are
under 3 pounds.

"When I’ve got $20,000 to spend, I might be able to get 10 MacBooks,"
says Rich Black, a vice president of marketing at Acer. "Or I could get 60
netbooks and I still get the performance I need for a young learner."
That’s the message with which Acer is arming its channel partners. Because although
Apple may have had a long-term stronghold in schools, budget-conscious K-12
administrators simply get more value for the dollar going with a netbook, Black
says.

Combining that message with information about school administrators’ needs and
limitations, Acer in November 2008 launched a program offering a free 30-day
trial of the Acer Aspire One netbooks for schools. At the end of the trial
period, the schools can purchase the product at a deep discount—a starting
price of $329. The offer runs through March 1, and at the end of March Acer
will award to one participating school a free computer lab equipped with Acer products.
The channel partner that worked with the school will receive a trip to the Bahamas.  

Black says about 900 of the 1,200 schools participating in the offer so far have
obtained the products through their Acer channel partners. Acer claims about
13,000 channel partners, although Black says he is unsure how many Acer channel
partners specifically target the education market.

Acer has found that individual schools’ experiences with PCs vary widely. About
30 percent of schools in the United States have 30 PCs in them, and those are most often
multigenerational products, creating a maintenance challenge for schools’ already
strained IT resources.

"One of the examples I use is, right here in Silicon Valley, I was talking to a woman who runs education for
Intel, and her kids go to the same school that Steve Wozniak’s kids went to 10
years ago. Her kids are still using the same systems that Steve Wozniak donated
10 years ago," Black says.

At K-12 schools, if older products are replaced with newer ones, the older
products are passed down to other classrooms or other schools.

"What netbooks are doing is affording schools [a way of giving] young
learners a brand-new piece of equipment," Black says. "In today’s
market, how are you going to provide the most value for the dollar? What a lot
of IT administrators and procurement people are saying is … ‘Let’s provide the
most we can for the dollar.’ They absolutely are coming back to the
netbooks."