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,

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!".


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

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 ( 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


Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Markly 1.5.3 - Create measurement and de...
Markly is a measurement and design-spec plugin/extension for Photoshop and Sketch. It is made for modern Web designers and app front-end developers. You can add specification marks simply by clicking... Read more
Suitcase Fusion 6 17.3.0 - Font manageme...
Suitcase Fusion 6 is the creative professional's font manager. Every professional font manager should deliver the basics: spectacular previews, powerful search tools, and efficient font organization... Read more
Nisus Writer Pro 2.1.2 - Multilingual wo...
Nisus Writer Pro is a powerful multilingual word processor, similar to its entry level products, but brings new features such as table of contents, indexing, bookmarks, widow and orphan control,... Read more
calibre 2.40.0 - Complete e-book library...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
Vivaldi - An advanced browser...
Vivaldi is a browser for our friends. In 1994, two programmers started working on a web browser. Our idea was to make a really fast browser, capable of running on limited hardware, keeping in mind... Read more
OmniPlan 3.0 - Robust project management...
With OmniPlan, you can create logical, manageable project plans with Gantt charts, schedules, summaries, milestones, and critical paths. Break down the tasks needed to make your project a success,... Read more
Yummy FTP 1.11 - FTP/SFTP/FTPS client fo...
Yummy FTP is an FTP + SFTP + FTPS file transfer client which focuses on speed, reliability and productivity. Whether you need to transfer a few files or a few thousand, schedule automatic backups, or... Read more
Tweetbot 2.1 - Popular Twitter client. (...
Tweetbot is a full-featured OS X Twitter client with a lot of personality. Whether it's the meticulously-crafted interface, sounds and animation, or features like multiple timelines and column views... Read more
MacPilot 8.0 - Enable over 1,200 hidden...
MacPilot gives you the power of UNIX and the simplicity of Macintosh, which means a phenomenal amount of untapped power in your hands! Use MacPilot to unlock over 1,200 features, and access them all... Read more
Typinator 6.7 - Speedy and reliable text...
Typinator turbo-charges your typing productivity. Type a little. Typinator does the rest. We've all faced projects that require repetitive typing tasks. With Typinator, you can store commonly used... Read more

Balloony Land offers a fresh twist on th...
Balloony Land by Palringo offers a fresh twist on the match three genre and is out now on iOS and Android. First-off, you'll be popping balloons instead of crushing candy and the balloons will float up and fill the empty spaces instead of dropping... | Read more »
Graphic - vector illustration and design...
Graphic - vector illustration and design 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Productivity Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Autodesk Graphic is a powerful full-featured vector drawing and illustration application right in... | Read more »
Sago Mini Babies (Education)
Sago Mini Babies 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Education Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Introducing the Sago Mini babies. Boys and girls love caring for these adorable characters. Feed Robin her favorite mush... | Read more »
PAUSE - Relaxation at your fingertip (H...
PAUSE - Relaxation at your fingertip 1.1 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Healthcare & Fitness Price: $1.99, Version: 1.1 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Super Sharp (Games)
Super Sharp 1.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.1 (iTunes) Description: Your finger has never been so sharp! Cut with skill to complete the 120 ingenious physics levels of Super Sharp and become a cut... | Read more »
Assembly - Graphic design for everyone...
Assembly - Graphic design for everyone 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Photography Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Assembly is the easiest most powerful design tool on the App Store. Create anything you can... | Read more »
Dub Dash (Games)
Dub Dash 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ARE YOU READY FOR THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE? UNIQUE SYMBIOSIS OF MUSIC AND GRAPHICS | Read more »
Leave Me Alone (Games)
Leave Me Alone 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: 33% off launch sale!!! Somewhere between the 1980s and 1990s there exists a world that never was. A world of skatepunks,... | Read more »
YAMGUN (Games)
YAMGUN 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The invasion has begun! Protect the walls of the citadel against waves of enemies! But watch out, you will soon run out of ammo...... | Read more »
Chesh (Games)
Chesh 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: It’s like chess, only not at all. ***40% off for a limited time to celebrate our launch!*** Chesh is a game of skill, strategy, luck,... | Read more »

Price Scanner via

TP-LINK Next-Gen Routers Support a Large Numb...
TP-LINK, specialists in consumer and business networking products, have announced the availability of Archer C2600, the company’s next-generation router featuring wireless AC, multi-user MIMO, and 4-... Read more
Apple’s Education discount saves up to $300 o...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad using Apple’s Education Store and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free, and... Read more
Save up to $350 with Apple refurbished iMacs
Apple has Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $350 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac – $1949 $350 off MSRP - 27... Read more
Mac Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 3.7GHz 4-core Mac Pro: $2818.99, $181 off MSRP - 3.5GHz 6-core Mac Pro: $3699... Read more
5K iMacs on sale for up to $150 off MSRP, fre...
B&H Photo has the 27″ 3.3GHz 5K iMac on sale for $1899.99 including free shipping plus NY tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. They have the 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac on sale for $2149, $150 off MSRP... Read more
Twelve South Redesigns BookArc For Today’s Sm...
Twelve South has announced a redesigned version of their very first product, BookArc for MacBook. Tailored specifically for the newest generation of MacBooks, BookArc holds the new, smaller Apple... Read more
Phone 6s Tips & Tricks – Tips Book For iP...
Poole, United Kingdom based Tap Guides Ltd. has announced the release and immediate availability of iPhone 6s Tips & Tricks, an in-depth eBook available in the iBookstore that’s priced just $2.99... Read more
Apple refurbished 2014 13-inch Retina MacBook...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2014 13″ Retina MacBook Pros available for up to $400 off original MSRP, starting at $979. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $994,...
Best Buy has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $994.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Their price is $105 off MSRP. Price valid... Read more
Is The iPad Pro Really A Serious Laptop Repla...
Probably not, at least for productive professionals and other power users. Steve Jobs declared that we’d entered the “post-PC Era” with the advent of the original iPad in 2010, a phrase we don’t hear... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Desktop Analyst - KDS Staffing (Unit...
…work with some of the brightest engineers. Job Description Title: Apple Desktop AnalystPosition Type: Full-time PermanentLocation: White Plains, NYHot Points:Depth of Read more
*Apple* Retail Online, Customer Experience R...
**Job Summary** Apple Retail's Online Store sells Apple products to customers around the world. In addition to selling Apple products with unique services such Read more
Frameworks Engineer, *Apple* Watch - Apple...
**Job Summary** Join the team that is shaping the future of software development for Apple Watch! As a software engineer on the Apple Watch Frameworks team you will Read more
Senior Manager, Global Direct Marketing *App...
**Job Summary** Apple Retail is looking for an experienced Direct Marketing Leader to join its Marketing team. This position will take a leadership role in creating Read more
*Apple* Online Store Expansion - Apple (Unit...
**Job Summary** The Online Apple Store is seeking a person to lead its expansion into new countries. Based in Cupertino, CA, this person will develop and maintain an Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.