Mac management for Windows IT folks

Tools and techniques for adding Macs to your network safely and effectively

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Beyond managed preferences

Just as group policies aren't the only option for defining Windows client settings, neither is Apple's managed preferences architecture and the solutions that leverage it. Like any other platform, Mac OS X relies on various configuration and preferences files to define settings. This means that when deploying Macs using a disk-based imaging solution, you can define preconfigured many aspects of the user experience.

You can also use various file deployment tools (such as Apple's Remote Desktop ($299 for a 10-client management license or $499 for an unlimited license) JAMF Software's Casper Suite (pricing varies depending on your environment and which components you wish to purchase) or the open-source Radmind to push these files out to clients.

For user-specific settings, you can also modify the contents of the home directory template on a Mac. This template is used to create a home directory for any new user. By placing appropriately configured preference or application support files in the /Library folder within the template, you will ensure that any new users will automatically inherit those preferences.

This approach can also work for populating user home folders with documents (such as acceptable-use policies or in-house documentation). The downside is that it won't prevent users from changing the settings you define.

Preventing changes to Macs

If you are working without a full Mac client management solution and want to ensure that your configuration is retained regardless of what users do, you can use Faronics Deep Freeze (begins at $45 per license; maintenance subscriptions and discounts are available for volume purchases and education, government, and nonprofit customers). This software restores Macs to their original configuration on every restart. Faronics also produces a range of related products that can manage Deep Freeze installations throughout a heterogeneous network of Macs and PCs.

Similarly, Radmind lets you monitor managed systems (Mac, Windows, Linux, Solaris and BSD Unix distributions) for changes and optionally reset changes after they are made. As mentioned above, Radmind's flexible architecture can also be used to push out software and files to clients, and it includes the ability to define multiple file sets for increased flexibility and organized administration.

Supporting and managing Macs in a predominantly non-Mac environment is a unique challenge, particularly if you're new to the platform. The good news, though, is that while the machines may be different, the basic strategies for client management are pretty much the same. With the right combination of tools and techniques, you can develop effective processes and solutions that don't take as much effort as you might initially expect.

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Ryan Faas is a frequent Computerworld contributor specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. You can find more information about him at RyanFaas.com.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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