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Master Mac management in the enterprise

Windows is the dominant desktop OS, but it's not the only game in town. Admins must know how to manage Apple's Mac OS and should be familiar with common problems that can arise.

Macs users are the minority in the enterprise, but they still expect the same level of IT service and support as Windows users.

If you're an IT pro who doesn't know the first thing about Mac management, the time has come to familiarize yourself with Apple's desktop OS. Mac OS X -- which is currently on version 10.10 Yosemite --might seem completely alien to you, but it's not always vastly different than Windows. Sometimes the only thing standing in your way is Mac terminology.

Before you address that dreaded Mac-related help desk ticket, take a few minutes to get to know the OS, including how to manage integration, troubleshoot problems and run Windows and Mac OSes on a single device.

How do I navigate the Mac OS?

When you first look at a Mac computer it can be a little jarring. The control and alt keys aren't immediately visible, and finding files is a little bit different. Don't panic -- everything is present and accounted for, it just has a slightly different form or name.

Take the control key for example: On Mac computers it's known as the command key, and it is located on either side of the space bar. The command key either says command on it or has an Apple logo. The alt key is also present, but it's called the option key instead, and you can find it to the left of the command key. And the Finder takes the place of Windows Explorer. It lets you search for and locate the files you need.

If you must reboot a user's computer, the Mac OS includes a safe mode equivalent known as Safe Boot. To activate Safe Boot, you simply shut the computer down, restart it, press the shift key when you hear the startup tone and release it when the Apple logo appears. Safe Boot performs a hard drive integrity check that should make most repairs and clean out any problem-causing cache.

What issues exist with Macs in the enterprise?

Problems are bound to crop up when Apple's OS enters a Windows-dominated world. The most important thing is to understand Mac OS X is not Windows; it comes with a separate set of challenges than Windows OSes.

Mac users sometimes think they're invincible, which can breed complacency and create a malware-blind user base. As a result, Mac users are often more likely to take risks with what they click on, and they may fall prey to socially engineered attacks such as phishing.

Although Macs might not be as different from Windows as you think, problems still crop up when Apple's OS enters a Windows-dominated world.

Another problem area if you're trying to manage Macs in the enterprise is Windows apps -- they don't always work as well on Macs. For example, the OS X version of Microsoft Office is slower than the Windows version, and it's missing some key products, such as Microsoft Access.

Finally, Apple makes it hard to plan for the future because the company is secretive. Updates or releases can come out of nowhere, so you may be left wondering whether bug fixes are ever coming or when the latest OS is going to show up.

How should I approach integration?

When you start to integrate Mac OS into your business, you have to ask three questions: How many Macs are you bringing in? What type of access will the devices need? And what tools and systems do you already have in place? With those questions in mind, there are three approaches you can take to managing Mac integration.

The first option is to incorporate Macs into your Active Directory (AD) domain. There is a client component included in Mac desktops and laptops that allows them to join AD, which means incorporating a Mac into the domain is easier than you might think. The user just needs the right computer access and domain credentials.

The next method is to combine third-party tools with AD. In this scenario you still tie the Macs to the AD domains, but use third-party tools such as Apple Remote Desktop to make management easier. Other tools you can use include Centrify User Suite (Mac Edition), which provides a centralized location to manage authentication, policies and single sign-on.

Your third choice is to manage Macs as if they were mobile devices. Since OS X 7, the Mac OS has been shifting away from directory services and instead incorporates a mobile device management (MDM) aspect, so if you already use MDM for mobile devices, it's not much of a stretch to use it on Macs too. With this approach, you can use products such as AirWatch to manage Mac laptops, desktops and iOS devices in one place.

How do I troubleshoot Macs?

When Mac troubles do arise, never fear. With a few tips you can hop back into the Mac management driver's seat. If you run into a corrupt Mac OS for example, you just have to run a system reinstall, which operates from a hidden recovery partition and leaves the user's apps, data and settings intact.

Macs also make it easy for you to migrate a user to a new device. Apple can take data from an old device when you start up the new Mac computer. All you need for Mac-to-Mac transfers is the right network and a Thunderbolt or FireWire cable.

Can I run Mac and Windows together in a single device?

Yes you can, and there are there are a few options at your disposal.

Apple Boot Camp is free, but it can be inconvenient for users. The Boot Camp Assistant creates a partition for Windows on the Mac hard drive. Then, you put a Windows installation disk into the computer or use a flash drive with Windows to install the OS. The Assistant takes care of the rest, adding in all the drivers the Mac hardware requires. But users must decide if they want to use Windows or Mac before they log in; they cannot switch back and forth.

Wine is not an emulator (WINE) is another way to run Windows and Mac on the same device. WINE is a compatibility layer, so it doesn't need Windows in order to run Windows apps. Instead, it translates Windows app programming interfaces into POSIX calls.

The last -- and often best -- option is to use virtualization to run Windows as a virtual machine on a Mac. VMware Fusion and Parallels are the top competitors in the market.

Next Steps

How to troubleshoot key issues in the Mac OS

Are Android PCs the next OS to learn?

Security features for Mac OS X Yosemite

Heartbleed opens up Mac OS concerns

Learn how to secure Macs in the enterprise

This was last published in August 2015

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How do you approach managing Macs in the enterprise?
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Even though Mac enterprise management may be less common than PC, I feel that is soon to change. JAMF Software is completely Apple-based, which some might assume limits them to half (or less) of the market; yet they are doing incredibly well. Not only did they recently release a second MDM product for Apple devices only, Bushel (www.bushel.com), they have just inked a deal with IBM. I think Mac management will soon be one of those things every IT pro will need to know.
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