Casper Suite

We’ve just had Casper Suite installed at my school. Part of the installation process is a three-day ‘Jump Start‘ where a highly experienced trainer (in our case, two, as we had someone shadowing) guides you through installing the software and the processes involved in setting up and running it.

So why Casper suite? Over the years, we’ve ended up using a range of different systems and technologies to manage the Macs and iPads in school. The Macs have been managed with an OSX Server running Workgroup Manager, plus a few scripts written by our Apple Reseller and the use of Munki for managing software installs and updates. With iOS, we’ve used Meraki, making use of the VPP programme and managed distribution, as well as Apple Configurator for class sets of iPads.

This has worked pretty well, but I knew we needed to move away from Workgroup Manager. Since 10.7 Lion, Apple has pushed the use of Configuration Profiles instead of Managed Preferences. Technology-wise, it isn’t a straight swap, as there are things you can do with MCX that you can’t do with profiles, and vice versa. But with 10.10, Workgroup Manager no longer even exists (even though the 10.9 version still works!), so I knew we had to do something. Casper suite was well spoken of, properly supported OSX as well as iOS, and seemed to have some cool features.

The main drawback of Casper Suite is the cost: as an educational customer, you only pay for support per device, which works out pretty cheap. But you have to pay for the three days of ‘Jump Start’ before you begin, which is not cheap! However, I calculated that it works out about the cost of a case per device, which isn’t so bad. An iPad without a case is pretty hobbled, and I’m sure Casper will add a depth and richness to our deployment.

The Jump Start went pretty well, and we managed to get everything working by the end of the three days. I did finish the three days feeling overwhelmed with everything there is to do (sorting out all the configuration of the Macs then imaging them all, plus redoing all the iPads), but I think it will come together over the next half term.

Here are some of the highlights so far:

  • Casper Focus: allows a teacher lock all the iPads in a class to a particular app or webpage
  • Self service: dishing up apps, books and in fact most things to users
  • Deployment Enrollment Programme (DEP): iPads get automatically enrolled to Casper and tied to a certain user out of the box
  • Composer: a powerful way to package up Mac apps, including the ability to fill the user template and existing users’ preferences
  • JSS: the fact it runs as a web service, meaning that Macs don’t have to be bound to an OSX server any more
  • JAMF Nation: a community of helpful geeks who are there to help find solutions to problem

I’m not sure it’s the right solution for small primary schools, or places without an onsite Mac geek, but I think it’s going to work really well for us.

GarageBand Pricing

I love this time of year. Not only does the latest release of iOS mean that I have an oodle of iPads to get updated (which takes varying degrees of time depending on how much free space is required to install the update), but a month after the mega IPHONE announcement, Apple calmly release a slew of other updates for the Mac and iLife/iWork. Yay. Last year’s came with quite a few headaches (such as the way iWork didn’t play nicely at all with SMB shares) but hopefully they won’t repeat this year. I’ve already tried saving a file over SMB with newest iWork, and it seems to work fine. The ‘proper’ file format they have finally created I’m sure is to thank for that.

Last year, GarageBand threw in a bit of a curveball by being free but requiring an in-app purchase to unlock all of the functionality. This is a system admin’s worst nightmare, as there is no decent way to do this upgrade on a whole school’s worth of iPads and apps.

Thankfully, it seems that this year Apple have rescinded on the in-app upgrade option and have slapped a price on instead. For new devices, you get the app free and on existing apps you get a free upgrade.

A few questions though:

  • What happens with Apple Configurator? Do we have to have app codes to install the app? Or even just to sync existing iPads with Configurator?
  • If we now need app codes, can we still apply for free ones on iPads bought in the last year?
  • What about codes for Macs?
  • I hope to make some investigations this week to find out more…

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.

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?