Erasing SMART Ink

One of the features of Smart Notebook 11, the latest version of the software used to run Smartboards, is a featured called ‘SMART Ink’.  It’s an evolution of the previous functionality that allowed you to write on any window using the Smartboard pens. Previous versions just put a big picture frame over to allow you to write, which was great for full-screen applications but not so good for windows that move around.  To get around this problem, SMART released SMART Ink, which ties the writing to a specific window, which can then be moved around the screen.  Which is all great in theory.

However, in practice it results in lots of ugly green boxes sitting in the title bar of every single window you have open, and even every little dialogue box as well.  And then when you move the window around, it doesn’t gracefully move with it but rather jitters around, destroying all the hard work Apple engineers have done in giving silky-smooth-graphic-card-accelerated windowing.

But not only that, it also seems to generally slow the Mac down, as acknowledged here and here by SMART. Not very smart.

Several people have suggested ways to remove the software, which I have roughly followed.  It basically involves removing the ‘SMART Ink’ login item from System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Items and then killing the process using Activity Monitor.  It’s a bit of a faff to go computer to computer, but seems to have had a good impact on speed.

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First day back…

I went back to school today to try and get ready for the beginning of term.  As always, there’s lots of jobs that come up along the way, but here are a few things I managed to accomplish today:

  • Apply for some ‘up-to-date’ Mountain Lion licences for some Mac Minis that we bought after Mountain Lion was finally announced.  I had to go into school to get some serial numbers and to get invoices from our reseller, but it was pretty straightforward. Today’s the last day that you can apply so I was cutting it a bit fine.
  • Set up a repository for Munki on our Mac Mini server.  We’ve been using Munki with much success just as a way to automatically install Apple’s software updates when the computer is logged out. It’s pretty handy!  However, I’ve been wanting to use it update other software (such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Flash Player), rather than having to push out packages using Apple Remote Desktop.  I followed a really clear guide on the Munki website, which took a bit of time to get my head around but seems to have worked fine.

Legacy and Education

One thing I like about Apple is that they are happy to jettison the past in order to make way for the future.  The opposite can be said for educational ICT, which doggedly clings to legacy technology.  T.  The thing that depresses me about using Macs in schools is that the software teachers use all day long is Microsoft Office, a bloated and ageing necessary evil that was originally released on the Macintosh in 1989.  Or that we’re still using SMARTBoards that require a USB-serial connector.  And that we’re having to run a Windows virtual machine in order to support PC-only software that was released circa 2003.

What I’m looking forward to about starting to use iPads in September is that legacy is excluded.  You can’t keep doing things the old way but instead have to embrace the new.  Instead of Word, Pages.  Instead of SMARTBoards, video mirroring to your screen of choice.  Instead of Windows-only handwriting software, all manner of interactive letter-forming apps.  Well that’s the dream anyway.

Ricoh Printer Driver Fix pt.II, Or How It Might Not Have Been Such A Great Idea To Upgrade The Server When Teachers Are Writing And Printing Reports

One of the wonderful technicians from Toucan came and upgraded our Mac Mini server to OSX 10.7 Lion on Monday. It went pretty well, with only a bit of a glitch with the Snow Leopard machines needing to be rebound.  We tried setting up a script to this automatically, but this only worked on about half the machines so I still had to go around and make sure people could log on properly.

However, I also discovered that this had pretty much broken the previous fix for the Ricoh printer/copier, resulting in the copier spewing out reams and reams of gibberish.  This was compounded by the fact that it is report-writing season, which requires much printing at the best of times. Not good.

The problem boiled down to printer driver issues, more specifically that not all the Macs had the same Gutenprint drivers installed and so defaulted to the generic driver instead of the correct one.  Fun.

The solution was as follows:

  • Make sure all the macs had the latest Gutenprint installed, as this is the driver Workgroup Manager was instructing Macs to use.  Apple Remote Desktop made this easy.
  • Log onto each Mac remotely and do a test print, checking if the correct driver was being used.
  • If the wrong driver was being used, I then had to log in as an administrator and reset the print system, forcing the Mac to use the driver instructed by MCX.  To do this, you open ‘Print & Scan’ in System Preferences, right click on the list of printers and then select ‘Reset printing system…’.
  • Log in again as a managed network account and check it works.

I’m sure if I was a scripting kinda guy, there could be an easier way to do this.  But it did work, albeit rather long-windedly.

The moral of the story?  Make sure your Ricoh printer come with a Postscript driver card installed!

Imaging Mac minis

Today I had the fun job of unpacking a key stage of Mac minis. They’re to replace ageing PCs running smartboards and will, once installed, pretty much complete the replacement of PCs with Macs in the school. Hurrah!

In preparation for reimaging the rest of the machines to Lion in the summer, I built a fresh image from scratch. As nearly all settings are managed by the Mac Server and so it’s just involved lots of installing of software. I’m trying out the new Notebook 11 as well, though haven’t had much chance to play with it.

I won’t try using the Mac server to image machines until we get gigabit switches installed though…

Virtual Machines

One of the main sticking points for running Macs in a school is that there’s still a lot of educational software out there there which is Windows-only (and indeed XP only, especially when CD-ROM software is still being sold that was written in 2003). Should this anachronistic clinging to the past hold back teachers from experiencing a virus-free and ‘just-works’ computing experience in their classroom? Perhaps not.

The solution lies in the fact that, since 2006, Macs now run on the same Intel x86 processors that Windows PCs do, meaning that you can easily run Windows on a Mac. And with the technical wonder of ‘Virtual Machines’, you can run Windows as an application on the OSX desktop. Nelson Handwriting Software here we come!

However, it’s not quite as simple as that: which VM (Virtual Machine) software do you use for this noble task? At our school we are running VMWare Fusion 3 on some Macs in Key Stage 2, which seems to work pretty well.

Pros:

  • Lets you run Windows programs in ‘Unity’ mode, which means they look and act pretty much like Mac apps
  • Pretty easy to setup and use

Cons:

  • Not cheap (around £30 per licence – the same as a Windows 7 licence from Ramesys!)
  • Doesn’t quite play nicely with Lion (paid upgrade required)

What are the other options? Well, Oracle offer a free program called VirtualBox, which lets you install whatever OS you so desire. It seems to work well and fast, with lots of configuration options for the more geeky ones out there. However, it’s rather more fiddly to set up and doesn’t offer the same integration with OSX that Fusion provides. It has a ‘seamless’ mode, which tries to mesh Windows and OSX together on the screen, but this results in having the task bar and Start menu across the bottom of the screen! That might be one step too far for a teacher who just wants to model the the letter ‘A’ and print off some handwriting worksheets. You get what you pay for, and my feeling at the moment is that Fusion is worth the price.

LGfL Staff Mail on OSX and iOS

WordPress is wonderful because it tells me all kinds of fascinating information, such as what people were searching for when they ended up on this site. And one quite frequent enquiry is regarding LGfL’s Staff Mail settings on a Mac. It’s really easy to set up and here’s how…

  1. You need to be running Snow Leopard (10.6) or higher.
  2. Open up Mail and add an email account. Enter your name and email address etc.
  3. On the next screen, select ‘Exchange 2007’ as the type of server.
  4. Put in mail.lgflmail.org as the server. Then put in your USO username and password.
  5. It’ll ask you about adding contacts and calendar for the account. These can be handy for auto completing addresses of your colleagues
  6. All done!

The settings are pretty similar for iOS. You just need to select ‘Exchange’ as the type of account when adding it in Settings > Mail, Contacts & Calendars. The domain is lgflmail. Easy!

Do post a comment if my instructions don’t make sense…