Moving Managed Preferences to Profiles

If you’ve been following my postings for the past few weeks you may have noticed that I’m putting the pieces together for a strategy to transition existing managed preferences in environments to profiles, most notably those managed using Lion Server’s Profile Manager as more than just a mobile device management tool, but also as a computer management tool. To put the articles into a bit more order, let’s look at the order that you’d likely use them to actually do an integration:

Not all of these will be applicable to every deployment, but the tasks covered are worth knowing how to do. Using Profile Manager and migrating the actual managed preferences from existing tools into Profile Manager I saved for last (after all, you need your infrastructure in place to do this). Here, I’m just going to look at Workgroup Manager and manually move each preference from Workgroup Manager into Profile Manager. To get started, I usually like to open a screen with Profile Manager and another with Workgroup Manager, lining them up side by side. This allows me to quickly and easily cut-copy-paste between the two. I also like to be very orderly, choosing to step through the Workgroup Manager list in order, moving each option I have selected in Workgroup Manager over to Profile Manager.

I usually start with user groups, then do computer groups, then look for specific computers I may have applied policies to and finally specific users that might have policies attached to them. The screens, by default, for my initial user groups, would look as follows (where there are some managed preferences in Workgroup Manager but not yet in Profile Manager):

Right off the bat, if you’re going in order of those displayed in the Workgroup Manager GUI, you’ll notice that there aren’t any listed for Applications in Profile Manager. This is because Applications, Media Access and System Preferences are located in the Restrictions payload for Mac OS X in Profile Manager. Click on it and click on Configure to enable the payload. Rather than go through each preference and each setting of each preference, suffice it to say that most are there. In some cases, you won’t see one, such as disabling Front Row, but you’ll have a cool new one, such as disabling AirDrop in its place.

The workflow is a little different in some places. For example, in Workgroup Manager, you can run the Workgroup Manager application on a computer that is not the server and easily add applications and printers to the preference that are not actually installed on the server. Annoyingly, because Profile Manager is a web application, you need to put the .app bundles and install the printers on the server in order to push them out through Profile Manager. While this caused some initial heartache, I just ended up taking the app bundle, copying it to the server temporarily and then adding it, whether the application was installed or not. Printers are easy enough to install on servers as well.

The Classic managed preference is pretty much no longer needed, so it has been removed. Finder and Universal Access are also gone in Profile Manager. But this doesn’t mean you can’t manage them. Just as you could manage custom preferences using the Details tab, you can manage custom preferences using the Custom Settings option as well. Simply open the Custom Settings payload and then use the plus sign to create each preference domain that you would like to manually configure. Click on the Upload File… button to import a property list manually and then delete the items that you don’t want getting pushed to clients (seems similar to how you did things in Managed Preferences, right?). Another managed setting that is missing from Profile Manager is Software Update. Here, we’ll add it by looking at the details in Workgroup Manager and then duplicating the settings in Profile Manager.

You can do this for any of the missing objects as well as any third party software. For example, we’ll click the plus sign (“+”) to add a preference and then enter com.microsoft.autoupdate2 into the Preference Domain field and HowToCheck as a key (String) with a value of Manual. This would disable Microsoft’s automatic updates so we can manage them through our patch management solution.

The biggest change in moving to profiles and Profile Manager is the fact that you no longer have the option to manage settings using the Once Often and Always settings we grew to love in Managed Preferences. There are trade-offs. Such as the fact that you can have many of the settings instantly updated on clients, wipe devices, etc. The way you remove an Always profile is to remove the payload. For those still needing Once and Often, you can stick with Managed Preferences for a bit longer, but you might want to start considering ways of not accessing those manifests. In exchange you can centrally push out SSIDs for wireless networks, automatically configure clients for Exchange (not the password) if you’re using Mail, iCal and Address Book, deploy certificates, configure password policies and even perform some fairly delicate 802.1x foo, without touching a script.

There’s definitely going to be some stir over the fact that, as with iOS, centralized management via Profile Manager is an opt-in experience. Users can remove their enrollment profile as they wish. Of course, if you’ve hidden the Profiles System Preference pane then they might have a problem getting rid of it, but get rid of it they may. Therefore, it’s worth considering a few strategies for dealing with that. One I like is automatically unbinding clients that are not listed in the devices table of the Profile Manager database. Another is to send ninjas to their house so they may be pelted with shurikens (1d6 of damage each, btw, so don’t throw too many). It’s also worth noting that data doesn’t always disappear with profiles in Mac OS X the same way it does with iOS and that profiles are a Lion and above experience, not working with Snow Leopard and older operating systems.

Whichever strategy you take with migrating to profiles, it’s worth starting to think about and test this new type of user experience now. Of course, if you have a 3rd party patch management tool, such as the Casper Suite, that allows for local managed preferences, you’re likely better off deploying policies through there. If not, then don’t feel rushed, as Managed Preferences are still how Profiles deploy their payloads to clients. However, the means with which you have been deploying Managed Preferences may be changing over the next few years, so it’s a good idea to start looking at this now in order to be prepared for future releases.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jon-Thompson/708166041 Jon Thompson

    When migrating between MCX and profiles, what happens if both are active at the same time?

    A hypothetical client is preconfigured with SUSa.com via MCX.

    Then I implement profiles and start migrating. In the process, I set SUSb.com via Profile Manager, and deploy the profile it on the client.

    Which Software Update Server will the client check?

    • http://www.krypted.com Charles

      Presumably the last one set. Let me know if you find otherwise.

  • Dave Hagan

    I’ve been messing around with the Lion PM. I’ve also been messing around with the Mountain Lion DP PM. Since it’s the way Apple’s going I was wondering how do you access Managed Client prefs through Profile Manager?

    • http://www.krypted.com Charles

      You use the custom option, but it’s not really manifests, just prefs. And it’s Always Managed Preferences, not Once or Often.

  • Tim Lings

    I’m trying out moving from Workgroup Manager to Profile Manager but I can’t seem to work out how to authenticate Network Mounts on login. With WM there was an option to ‘authenticate selected share point with user’s login name and password’ but there doesn’t seem to be that option with PM. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

    • http://www.krypted.com Charles

      I thought that was the default behavior with Profiles. I’ll check it out and get back.

  • Kev

    I’ve got profile manager up and running and am about to start moving fro WGM to profile manager, but I’ve noticed a problem, device profiles and device groups are being automatically pushed to clients but User Groups are not, even though the profile is set to automatically push.

    There is no activity at all for User Groups, any ideas?