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Downloading older OS installers on incompatible hardware using VMs

February 21, 2017 Leave a comment

A lot of Mac admins need to test software in their environment against both the shipping version of macOS and older versions of OS X. However, getting older OS installers from the Mac App Store (MAS) can be problematic if the Mac you’re using isn’t able to run the older OS as its own operating system. If the Mac you’re using isn’t itself able to run the older OS, a request to download the OS installer from the MAS will result in an error message like the one shown below.

Screen Shot 2017 02 21 at 1 01 14 PM

If you’re in this situation, but also have VMware Fusion or a similar virtualization solution available, there is a way to download the desired older OS installer using a VM running the shipping version of macOS. For more details, see below the jump.

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Categories: Mac OS X, macOS, VMware

Slides from the “Storing our digital lives: Mac filesystems from MFS to APFS” session at MacADUK 2017

February 8, 2017 1 comment

For those who wanted a copy of my filesystem talk at the MacADUK 2017 conference, here are links to the slides in PDF and Keynote format.

PDF – http://tinyurl.com/MacADUK2017pdf

Keynote – http://tinyurl.com/MacADUK2017key

Enabling debug logging for Microsoft AutoUpdate

February 3, 2017 Leave a comment

As part of assisting a colleague with a customer today, I needed to figure out how to enable the debug logging for Microsoft AutoUpdate. For Mac admins with a similar need, please see below the jump for details.

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Entering additional dialpad numbers after connecting to a call when using Skype for Business

January 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Now that Skype for Business has been released for macOS, I’ve been using it as a soft phone solution rather than using an actual phone in my office. I ran into an issue with a conference call today though which forced me to use my cell phone instead of Skype. For more details, see below the jump.

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Using DeployStudio to create full backups of a Mac’s boot drive

January 20, 2017 2 comments

On some occasions, it’s useful to be able to make a full backup of a system on an ad-hoc basis. One example would be making a complete backup of a Mac’s boot drive before sending it in to Apple for a repair, as Apple may swap out or erase the Mac’s existing boot drive as part of the repair process if their tools indicate a drive problem.

When I’ve needed to do this, I’ve used DeployStudio for this task. The reason why is that DeployStudio includes the ability to do the following:

  1. Create an asr-ready disk image from a Mac’s boot drive containing the OS and all other data.
  2. Restore the disk image to an available volume on the same or different Mac, and setting the target volume to be bootable.

These capabilities were originally designed to allow monolithic images to be created from one Mac for distribution to other Macs, but these capabilities also allow DeployStudio to create on-demand backups of a Mac’s boot drive. For more details, see below the jump.

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Imaging will be dead (soon-ish)

January 10, 2017 18 comments

I don’t normally try to foretell the future but there is one change for Mac admins that I’m pretty sure will happen:

The coming of Apple File System (APFS) will mark the end of disk imaging on Macs.

For those not familiar with disk imaging, a disk image is a computer file containing the contents and structure of a disk volume. Mac disk images are applied to hard drives using the Apple Software Restore (asr) command line utility to erase the destination drive and then block-copy the data from the disk image onto the destination drive.

Mac deployment practices have generally fallen into one of three categories:

Monolithic imaging

Monolithic imaging is the practice of building a Mac with the desired operating system, desired software, and desired configuration settings, then creating a disk image which includes all the contents of that Mac’s boot drive, including the operating system, installed software, and settings.

Once that disk image is created, the image is then applied to multiple other Macs to make them just like the original Mac.

Modular imaging

Modular imaging is the practice of creating a disk image that contains only the base OS (as well as necessary OS updates from Apple).

Once that disk image is created, the image is applied to multiple other Macs. Desired software and desired configuration settings are then installed onto the newly-imaged Mac as post-imaging deployment tasks.

Thin imaging

Thin imaging is technically not an imaging practice, as no disk image is involved. Instead, the assumption is that Macs from Apple come with a pre-installed OS and that OS should be used instead of wiping it and replacing it with a new copy from a disk image.

In this scenario, a deployment workflow is run which installs the desired software and desired configuration settings onto the Mac. If a Mac needs to be wiped and re-setup, a fresh copy of the OS is installed via the Recovery environment or similar OS installation process and then the thin imaging deployment workflow is re-run.

Imaging using asr has been around for a long time (I first began using it back in the Mac OS X 10.2.x days) but there have been strong hints that those days are coming to an end. The most visible of these was this tweet from the makers of DeployStudio:

While the makers of DeployStudio don’t speak for Apple, a statement like this matches up with what I’ve heard from other Mac admins who have independently received similar messages as part of their communication with Apple. Apple hasn’t commented publicly one way or the other, so unfortunately I can’t be more specific than that.

If imaging isn’t available, what are the alternatives? Apple has been encouraging the use of Apple’s Device Enrollment Program, which leverages a company, school or institutions’ mobile device management (MDM) service. In this case, you would need to arrange with Apple or an Apple reseller to purchase Macs that are enrolled in your organization’s DEP.

When a DEP-enrolled Mac is started for the first time (or started after an OS reinstall), it is automatically configured to use your organizations’ MDM service and the device checks in with the MDM service. The MDM service then configures the Mac as desired with your organization’s software and configuration settings. A good example of what this process may look like can be seen here.

What if you don’t have DEP, or you don’t have MDM? In that case, you may still be able to leverage a thin imaging deployment workflow, which installs the desired software and desired configuration settings onto the Mac’s existing OS. To get an existing OS though, you would need to install it via the Recovery environment or a similar OS installation process.

Planning for the future

Today, imaging works and our deployment workflows are what they are. What should be done to prepare for the future?

If you’re already using DEP with MDM to set up your Macs:

  1. Congratulations! You’re good to go with a Apple-supported deployment workflow that should work fine for the foreseeable future.

If you’re not using DEP with MDM to set up your Macs:

  1. If DEP is an option for your organization and you have an existing MDM service, investigate using Apple’s DEP service to set up your Macs for deployment. You may find that DEP doesn’t work for you in its current form, but now is the time to find that out and work with Apple to get those parts fixed.
  2. If DEP isn’t an option for your organization (because you aren’t using MDM and/or you aren’t in a country where DEP is supported) and you aren’t using a thin imaging deployment workflow now, I recommend investing the time and effort to start using a thin imaging workflow. In particular, if you are using monolithic imaging to set up your Macs, it is time to stop and transition to an alternate way of deploying Macs before that imaging method abruptly stops working.

When will we know how long imaging has left? My recommendation will be to watch what Apple reveals at this summer’s WWDC 2017 conference and pay particular attention to any device management or APFS developments that are being announced, as those announcements should likely provide the best information.

Building a home office

December 31, 2016 11 comments

As part of starting my new position, I’m transitioning from a job where I’m going to work at an office to a work-from-home position. This has a number of personal benefits for me, but I also knew that I was going to need an office to work out of. Working from my dining room table, or from the sofa, was going to be problematic for me for the following reasons:

  1. I need a transition between work and home – I knew that if I worked from inside my house, I was not going to be able to easily do the mental switch from “I’m at work” to “I’m at home”. “Home” and “Work” was inevitably going to blur into some mishmash that I mentally dubbed “Hork”. That did not sound pleasant, either for me or for my family.
  2. I need quiet – Like a number of homes, mine is occasionally very noisy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, that’s just the way it is. Very likely, there were going to be numerous occasions when I needed quiet when working and what was happening in my home was not quiet at all.
  3. I need room for work-related stuff – Where I worked was also going to be where I was going to use and store my work-related gear. For my own peace of mind, I didn’t want to store my work-related equipment near where my pets and younger members of the family would have access to them.
  4. I need to set up work-related equipment on a permanent basis – For various reasons, I like working on a desktop workstation, with attached displays, keyboard and mouse. I also like not having to constantly disassemble and re-assemble my desktop and its attached peripherals, which means I need a place where I can set them up and trust that they’ll be able to stay there on a long-term basis.

With all of those needs in mind, I decided to go the route of having a purpose-built office constructed for my work needs. For more details, see below the jump.

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Categories: Personal
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