TweetFollow Us on Twitter

MacEnterprise: MCX - No Excuses, Now!

Volume Number: 24
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: MacEnterprise

MacEnterprise: MCX - No Excuses, Now!

New options for managing workstations in OS X Leopard

By Greg Neagle, MacEnterprise.org

Frequently Asked Questions

There is a certain type of question that pops up over and over again on the MacEnterprise mailing list, the radmind-users list, and other lists, forums, and discussion groups where Mac admins hang out. You'll also hear these questions at the Macworld IT track, and at WWDC. The questions go like this: "How do I manage the screen saver so it always asks for a password?" "How can I prevent the OS from asking the user if they want to use a newly connected FireWire/USB disk as a Time Machine backup destination?" "How do I get the Office 2008 Setup Assistant to not pop up for new users?" Or more generally, "How do I manage the user experience on all my machines?" Nine times out of ten, this question can be answered with "Use MCX!".

MCX

For several years, Apple has had a technology for managing workstations and the user experience, often referred to as MCX, or Managed Client for OS X. To take advantage of MCX to manage users, groups, and computers, an administrator uses Apple's Workgroup Manager utility to edit records in a directory service - typically Open Directory, but sometimes Active Directory or third-party LDAPv3 with Apple's schema extensions.

If your organization did not use Open Directory as its central directory service, and was unwilling or unable to extend the schema on its existing directory service, it was difficult to get the benefits of using MCX to manage your Macs and their users.

There were a few options: one, often referred to as the "Magic Triangle", involved binding client Macs to both the organization's central directory services, and to a locally-managed Open Directory server. Mac clients would then receive their user and group info from the central directory, and their client management data from Open Directory.

Another option was for admins to write scripts that replicated some of the behavior provided by MCX - usually by modifying plist files with the defaults command or PlistBuddy.

Far less frequently used was the option to store MCX data in the client's local directory service. This was possible with NetInfo, but the trouble was replicating those settings across multiple machines. You could not simply replicate the NetInfo database across multiple machines; you had to find a way to export the MCX data (and the objects it was attached to), and import this data on other machines.

So when a Mac administrator asked "How do I manage...", and you replied "Use MCX!", they'd often object: "But I don't have an Open Directory server, and my Active Directory admins won't let us extend the schema! So is there another way?" Using MCX data in the local NetInfo was too difficult, so they spent a lot of time writing scripts to manage things, and then pushed those scripts out to every machine.

Leopard changes the equation. Now there is really no excuse at all to not use MCX to manage your machines. If you don't have a central MCX-friendly directory service, you can store the MCX data in the local directory service. More importantly, since this data is stored as simple files, replicating this to other machines is as simple as copying a few files. If you manage multiple OS X machines, you must have a way to copy files to each machine - that might be a software distribution mechanism like Casper or FileWave, a filesystem management utility like radmind, or even something as basic as Apple Remote Desktop or the scp utility.

This method also allows administrators to ease into MCX management: you do not need an Open Directory server or extended schema to get started. Instead, you can start with the local directory service. Once the powers-that-be in your organization can see the benefits of MCX, they may be more inclined to invest in the resources needed to set up a "Magic Triangle" or extend the schema on your existing directory service.

Demo Time

Let's demonstrate what can be done with MCX and the local directory service.

You'll need Workgroup Manager, which is part of Apple's Server Admin Tools 10.5. Get them from your Leopard Server install media, or search Apple's website for "Server Admin Tools".

To work with the local directory service, launch Workgroup Manager on a OS X client machine. When presented with the dialog to connect to a server, type "localhost" as the server name, and enter the name and password of a local admin for the local machine.


You'll see a warning that you are working in a directory node that is not visible to the network. Check Do not show this warning again if you wish, and click OK to dismiss the panel.

For purposes of this demo, we'll manage aspects of the local machine using the guest computer object. Settings for this object apply to all computers that don't have an explicit computer account record in the directory, which makes it work well for this demo. Choose Create Guest Computer from the Server menu in Workgroup Manager. You'll now have a guest object in the Computer view:


Select the guest computer, then click the Preferences icon in the toolbar. We're going to set some options for the Login Window, so click the Login icon in the Preferences overview.


Under the Window tab, click Manage: Always, then make some changes to the managed settings. Below, I've changed the Heading to display the serial number instead of the machine name, added a message to the Login Window, and changed the Style to show only name and password fields (instead of the default list of users).


Click Apply Now to save your changes.

Now log out and you should see the Login Window display the changes. If you don't, a restart should get them to kick in.


Even more interesting: log back in and open System Preferences, select the Accounts preference pane, and choose Login Options. If you followed my example and set the Login Window to show name and password text fields, you'll see that option set in the preference pane, and grayed out so you cannot change it.


This is a huge advantage of using MCX instead of scripts that write to various plists - in many cases, the OS updates the user interface to reflect your management settings.

We've used Workgroup Manager to manage certain preferences for this machine, and stored the MCX record in the local directory service. But what exactly does that mean? To find out, login as an admin and open the Terminal application. You'll need root privileges, so type sudo -s and press return, entering your own password when prompted (your account will typically need to be admin level to work. If not, login with an admin-level account).

Now change to the local directory service directory, and list its contents:

root# cd /private/var/db/dslocal/nodes/Default
root# ls
aliases        computergroups config         machines       users
computer_lists computers      groups         networks

The guest computer object we created, since it's a computer object, is stored in the "computers" directory:

root# cd computers
root# ls
guest.plist 

Let's examine guest.plist:

root# cat guest.plist

And you'll see a standard OS X plist, which is too long and boring to list here. But you don't really need to deal with the internal structure at all - to replicate these MCX settings on another machine, you need only copy this file to the same location on another machine (and most likely restart the other machine, or restart DirectoryService to get it to notice your changes). If you have a way to push out files to your managed machines, you can now push out MCX settings the same way.

Future Directions

The demonstration isn't very flexible: since all the managed settings are stored in guest.plist, it's hard to mix and match settings. Next time, we'll look at some MCX management strategies using Leopard's new ComputerGroups that allow you to mix and match management policies.


Greg Neagle is a member of the steering committee of the Mac OS X Enterprise Project (macenterprise.org) and is a senior systems engineer at a large animation studio. Greg has been working with the Mac since 1984, and with OS X since its release. He can be reached at gregneagle@mac.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Stacks 3.5.5 - New way to create pages i...
Stacks is a new way to create pages in RapidWeaver. It's a plugin designed to combine drag-and-drop simplicity with the power of fluid layout. Features Fluid Layout: Stacks lets you build pages... Read more
Yasu 4.0.5 - System maintenance app.
Yasu was created with system administrators who service large groups of workstations in mind, Yasu (Yet Another System Utility) was made to do a specific group of maintenance tasks quickly within a... Read more
Things 3.2 - Elegant personal task manag...
Things is a task management solution that helps to organize your tasks in an elegant and intuitive way. Things combines powerful features with simplicity through the use of tags and its intelligent... Read more
iMazing 2.4.2 - Complete iOS device mana...
iMazing (was DiskAid) is the ultimate iOS device manager with capabilities far beyond what iTunes offers. With iMazing and your iOS device (iPhone, iPad, or iPod), you can: Copy music to and from... Read more
Google Chrome 61.0.3163.100 - Modern and...
Google Chrome is a Web browser by Google, created to be a modern platform for Web pages and applications. It utilizes very fast loading of Web pages and has a V8 engine, which is a custom built... Read more
Quicken 4.6.4 - Complete personal financ...
Quicken makes managing your money easier than ever. Whether paying bills, upgrading from Windows, enjoying more reliable downloads, or getting expert product help, Quicken's new and improved features... Read more
Google Chrome 61.0.3163.100 - Modern and...
Google Chrome is a Web browser by Google, created to be a modern platform for Web pages and applications. It utilizes very fast loading of Web pages and has a V8 engine, which is a custom built... Read more
iMazing 2.4.2 - Complete iOS device mana...
iMazing (was DiskAid) is the ultimate iOS device manager with capabilities far beyond what iTunes offers. With iMazing and your iOS device (iPhone, iPad, or iPod), you can: Copy music to and from... Read more
Quicken 4.6.4 - Complete personal financ...
Quicken makes managing your money easier than ever. Whether paying bills, upgrading from Windows, enjoying more reliable downloads, or getting expert product help, Quicken's new and improved features... Read more
Yasu 4.0.5 - System maintenance app.
Yasu was created with system administrators who service large groups of workstations in mind, Yasu (Yet Another System Utility) was made to do a specific group of maintenance tasks quickly within a... Read more

The best visual novels on mobile
Narrative games have been around for ages, but only now have they been creeping into the mainstream spotlight. These games tell some of the industry's finest stories, and they break new ground in terms of gameplay and mechanics regularly. Here are... | Read more »
The best new games we played this week -...
It's pretty much been one big release after another. We were privy to a bunch of surprises this week, with a lot of games we'd been waiting for quite some time dropping unexpectedly. We hope you're free this weekend, because there is a lot for... | Read more »
Stormbound: Kingdom Wars guide - how to...
Stormbound: Kingdom Wars is an excellent new RTS turned card battler out now on iOS and Android. Lovers of strategy will get a lot of enjoyment out of Stormbound's chess-like mechanics, and it's cardbased units are perfect for anyone who loves the... | Read more »
The best AR apps and games on iOS right...
iOS 11 has officially launched, and with it comes Apple's ARKit, a helpful framework that makes it easier than ever for developers to create mobile AR experiences. To celebrate the occassion, we're featuring some of the best AR apps and games on... | Read more »
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of...
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice 1.00.00 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.00.00 (iTunes) Description: ************************************************※IMPORTANT※・Please read the “When... | Read more »
Kpressor (Utilities)
Kpressor 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Utilities Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: The ultimate ZIP compression application for iPhone and iPad. - Full integration of iOS 11 with support for multitasking.-... | Read more »
Find out how you can save £35 and win a...
Nothing raises excitement like a good competition, and we’re thrilled to announce our latest contest. We’ll be sending one lucky reader and a friend to the Summoners War World Arena Championship at Le Comedia in Paris on October 7th. It’s the... | Read more »
Another Lost Phone: Laura's Story...
Another Lost Phone: Laura's Story 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Another Lost Phone is a game about exploring the social life of a young woman whose phone you have just... | Read more »
The Witness (Games)
The Witness 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $9.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: You wake up, alone, on a strange island full of puzzles that will challenge and surprise you. You don't remember who you are, and... | Read more »
Egg, Inc. guide - how to build your gold...
Egg, Inc.'s been around for some time now, but don't you believe for one second that this quirky clicker game has gone out of style. The game keeps popping up on Reddit and other community forums thanks to the outlandish gameplay (plus, the... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Sunday sale: 13-inch 3.1GHz MacBook Pros for...
Amazon has 2017 13″ 3.1GHz MacBook Pros on sale today for up to $150 off MSRP, each including free shipping: – 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Space Gray MacBook Pro (MPXV2LL/A): $1649.99 $150 off MSRP – 13″ 3.1GHz... Read more
Looking for a 2017 12″ Retina MacBook? Save $...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2017 12″ Retina MacBooks available for $200-$240 off the cost of new models. Apple will include a standard one-year warranty with each MacBook, and shipping is free.... Read more
Apple Offering Up To $455 Credit Toward iPhon...
iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are now available at the Apple Store, and you can receive up to $375 credit toward a new iPhone purchase when you trade in your eligible smartphone. Photo Courtesy Apple Just... Read more
AnyTrans Offers iOS Users Three Ways For Movi...
iMobie Inc. today announceed AnyTrans v6.0.1, which now can help iOS users move all data to iPhone 8/8 Plus seamlessly. The software is available both on Mac and Windows and fully able to move all... Read more
Snag a 13-inch 2.3GHz MacBook Pro for $100 of...
B&H Photo has 2017 13″ 2.3GHz MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for $100 off MSRP, each including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only: – 13-inch 2.3GHz/128GB Space Gray MacBook... Read more
Verizon offers new iPhone 8 for $100-$300 off...
Verizon is offering the new iPhone 8 for up to $300 off MSRP with an eligible trade-in: • $300 off: iPhone 6S/6S Plus/7/7 Plus, Google Pixel XL, LG G6, Moto Z2 Force, Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 edge/S8/S8... Read more
Apple Refurbished 2017 13-inch MacBook Pros a...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2017 13″ Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock today and available for $200-$300 off MSRP. A standard Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is... Read more
OWC USB-C Travel Dock with 5 Ports Connectivi...
OWC have announced the new OWC USB-C Travel Dock, the latest addition to their line of connectivity solutions. The USB-C Travel Dock lets you connect its integrated USB-C cable to a Mac or PC laptop... Read more
Pelican Products, Inc. Unveils Cases For All...
Pelican Products, Inc. has announced the launch of its full line of cases including Voyager, Adventurer, Protector, Ambassador, Interceptor (for the Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus backwards compatible... Read more
$100 off new 2017 13-inch MacBook Airs
B&H Photo has 2017 13″ MacBook Airs on sale today for $100 off MSRP including free shipping. B&H charges NY & NJ sales tax only: – 13″ 1.8GHz/128GB MacBook Air (MQD32LL/A): $899, $100 off... Read more

Jobs Board

Development Operations and Site Reliability E...
Development Operations and Site Reliability Engineer, Apple Payment Gateway Job Number: 57572631 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: Jul. 27, 2017 Read more
Development Operations and Site Reliability E...
Development Operations and Site Reliability Engineer, Apple Payment Gateway Job Number: 57572631 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: Jul. 27, 2017 Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Instructional Designer, *Apple* Product Doc...
Job Summary The Apple Product Documentation team is looking for an instructional designer or a video editor to write user documentation for its professional video Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.