How to get alert emails to work from a Mac Server

With LGfL, they are quite strict on what devices on their networks send email.  However, they are happy for you to make use of Google’s SMTP server.

Things like Profile Manager make use of email for inviting users onto the Managed Distribution programme, so I wanted to setup our Mac server to be able to send emails like that.  After a bit of searching, I came across this brilliant explanation of how to send mails from localhost.  And it seems to have done the trick!

Fixing DVD player crashes in Mavericks

We run our SMARTBoards in school from Mac minis, some of which are old enough to have DVD drives and so which make use of Super Drives.  Anyway, since Mavericks there has been an issue where the DVD player will crash upon loading.  Annoying.

After trying out things like resetting the PRAM and the SMC, it turned out that the issue was due to the second display.  The machines have two displays: a monitor connected via DVI and a projector via VGA (which are mirrored).  I tried changing which screen the display was optimised for (in System Preferences > Displays) and this seemed to do the trick.  Yay.

Finally getting WeDo working

I think I spoke too soon in my last post. Having tried the software on several other machines, it turned out the greyed out head was still present.

After some contact with LEGO support, we still couldn’t figure out what was wrong. However, I did discover that the software did work properly on a different account on my MacBook. What was so different about that account? In the end I discovered it was because of some login scripts we had running on all the other Macs. This script moved and renamed the ~/Documents folder to trick the sidebar into defaulting the save location to the network home rather than locally. After changing this script so that ~/Documents was back in its default setting, everything seemed to work fine. Yay!

LEGO WeDo and Munki

As part of Mr Gove’s wonderful new Computing Curriculum in Primary schools, we’ve invested in some LEGO WeDo kit to teach some simple robotics stuff to KS2. It’s basically a USB hub which connects to a computer, into which you can plug a motor, a distance sensor or a tilt sensor. You can then program these sensors using LEGO’s own WeDo software (or MIT’s Scratch!) to build cool stuff like a spinning top, an aeroplane or an automatic goalie.

So far so good.

Then I came to trying to install the software on all the Macs in the school using Munki. I love Munki as it means I can remotely install and update stuff on all the Macs in the school really quickly. But it does rely on software coming in a reasonably decently packaged form. Which LEGO WeDo does not. Rather than using a sensible .pkg file, it instead has an Installer App (I know!) which then asks you to choose a language, which then opens up a meta package (.mpkg) which runs 6 different installers, each with various pre and post-flight scripts that liberally sprinkle files across various parts of your system.

Lovely.

Having used Pacifist to look inside the meta-package to see what was being installed, I tried using Munki to install each of these packages remotely. Except this didn’t work – the App icon for WeDo stopped working and you couldn’t view all the build instructions (leaving the dreaded greyed-out LEGO head).

So I tried a different tack. I downloaded Packages, a brilliant package-builder for Mac, and decided to build my own package for the software. The LEGO installer handily gave a list of all the files to delete to uninstall it, so I just added those to my package. And this worked. Kinda, only the LEGO head was stilled greyed out.

[Incidently, making changes to a package and changing the version number of the package, makes it keep testing an installation on Munki. Because Munki checks package receipts, it won't reinstall a package it's already installed. But it will install a package with a higher version number.]

Having spent far to much time on this problem already, I decided to give LEGO support a call. They were quite helpful, and suggested I try log in with an administrator account and see if that worked. Lo and behold, it did. They then suggested I tweak permissions on different files and folders to see if that helped. I basically gave write permissions to anyone on all files and that seemed to fix it. Not ideal really.

Getting video to work in Keynote with mirrored displays

This morning I tried getting a short video to work as part of a Keynote slide for the Christmas Show.  Only it didn’t work – only the sound played.  A quick google turned up a few options:

  1. Turn off display mirroring.  This did seem to work, but it’s a pain.
  2. Tick the box ‘Allow Exposé, Dashboard and others to use screen’ in Keynote>Preferences>Slideshow.

The second option definitely worked better!  For those interested, in the Keynote preference file, it’s called ‘PresentationModePlayWellWithOthers’.

Automatic Updates for VPP Apps on Supervised Devices

I finally got it to work – yay!

I stumbled across the solution whilst updating a set of iPad minis to the new iOS7 iLife and iWork, as one of the iPads already had the latest versions of the apps.  How did that happen?

It seems that perhaps the elusive ‘Updates’ slider under ‘Automatic Downloads’ on ‘iTunes & App Store’ in Settings does work after all.  What I think happens is that the updates are set to pending, and then when the iPad tries to install them it will ask for the password for the account you use with VPP on Configurator.  However, this isn’t much use when setting up multiple iPads as the conditions for triggering a pending App update aren’t quite clear.

Here’s what I did instead:

1. Make sure that the App Store is enabled on the iPad

2. In settings, sign into the App Store using a different Apple ID than the one used for Configurator.  I have one setup for each set of iPads so I used that.  Make sure ‘Updates’ is turned on.

3. In the App Store, tap on ‘Updates’ and then tap on ‘Update All’ in the top left of the screen.  It will ask for the password for the iPad’s App Store AppleID.  But then in a few seconds, it will ask for the password for the Configurator AppleID.  Enter this.

4. Done!  You are now in Automatic Updates heaven.

OSX Mavericks: Questions and Answers

I had quite a lot of questions after hearing all of the Mac announcements on Tuesday. But after playing around with it over the last few days, I’ve found quite a few answers too.

Does it work with Workgroup Manager?
Yes! I just installed it on one of the machines at school and all the managed preferences seemed to work fine.

Can you just upgrade it in place?
The hardened purists would insist on a clean image etc, but an upgrade seems to work fine too.

What do I do about getting the free update to iWork from an older iWork ’09 disc installation?
When you open the Mac App Store and click on Purchased, it allows you to put Numbers, Keynote and Pages onto your AppleID.

Do any apps not work?
The only app that wouldn’t load was Smart Notebook (not very surprisingly). But after updating to 11.3, it opened and ran fine.

Does Apple Configurator work?
Yes. In fact, I’ve found it much more reliable on Mavericks.

Why should I bother upgrading?
We want to upgrade for a few reasons, but mainly so we get version parity with iWork on the iPad. The new desktop versions seem a lot simpler to use as well, adopting a responsive sidebar instead of a floating inspector. But we also get Maps (yay), iBooks (handy for testing out from iBooks Author), SMB2 file shares (very big yay), Finder Tabs, performance improvements, continuous dictation, sparkly stars in LaunchPad when you upgrade an app…

Can you update using Munki?
Apparently, yes! I haven’t tried it but we’re planning on upgrading using it over half term. On Munki’s page you can download a tool to convert the installer into a package that Munki likes.

Post iOS7

So, iOS7 is here.  Here’s a few reflections on how it’s been for us.

  • As I mentioned before, we were having some issues with charging our iPad minis.  After a summer of our reseller trying to figure out what was wrong and Apple finally acknowledging that it was an issue, it turned out that iOS7 had it fixed.  Which it has.  So that’s good!
  • Updating to iOS7 using Configurator I have found to be really quite reliable.  However, refreshing supervised iPads after this point as been a real mixed bag with me spending hours trying to convince iPads, one by one, to let apps be installed properly and so on.  Hopefully an update to Configurator will fix this.
  • Teachers have generally been ok with iOS7.  I can kinda tell which teachers use their iPads more by those who have upgraded and those who haven’t.  Teachers can actually be quite a conservative bunch, so not all have liked the change.  But the march of progress still progresses inexorably.
  • Automatic App Updates when using VPP apps held much promise but has failed to actually work.  What was worse was that the ‘Automatic Updates’ slider still tantalisingly appeared in the ‘App Store’ settings even when you weren’t signed in with an Apple ID.  But I could never get updates to actually update.  Oh well.  But I’ve not found a definitive answer on the Interweb, so maybe I’ll give it another go another time.
  • The promise of free iWork/iLife (minus Garageband) apps for new iOS devices apparently will work with the VPP programme.  At some point this autumn you will be able to request apps for those new iPads to be transferred to your VPP account and thus be distributed using Configurator.  Still waiting on that one though!  I think it’s all tied into the App Store licence management features which are still marked ‘coming soon’ on Apple’s website.

What has your experience been?

What I’m looking forward to in the Great Software Update

At WWDC, iOS 7 and OSX Mavericks were announced and September 10th is the date when the new iPhones get revealed, so I’m guessing that the release of the aforementioned software won’t be long after that.  Here is what I’m looking forward to in those releases:

  • Automatic software updates for iOS.  No more stomping around the school with a big sync case updating iPads.  Or at least I hope.
  • SMB as the default for file sharing on Mavericks.  This should hopefully mean that using a Windows file server will be less painful.
  • A better Profile Manager on Mavericks Server that can actually manage ‘Often’ preferences on a Mac.