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I currently admin a small variety of Mac's at work. We have some G3/G4/G5/MBP/iBook/eMac/iMac. I've noticed that each system is configured slightly different and wanted to come up with some disk images of full installations pre-configured.

I would install the OS and non licensed software, custom scripts, and configuration. Then take a snapshot image of the drive and save it to an external.

In a nutshell, what I need to know is how many different images I am going to need.

  • Is this a horrible idea, and I should just reinstall on a per-computer basis?

  • Can I have a single images for all the G5's, another for the G4's, another for the G3's, etc?

  • Can I have an OS specific image that works across all machines? i.e: Tiger/PPC and Leopard/Intel

I would like to do this with as few images as possible, for maintenance reasons, but I understand there may be some underlying issues that would cause this not to work.

The installations will be done with Retail disks as well, and not model specific disks if that matters at all. If anyone can shed some light on what some options for this would be, it would be greatly appreciated.

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Answers at Server Fault as well:… – Chealion Jul 20 '10 at 15:38
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Yes you can! And it does save time, but using a monolithic master requires some extra care when cleaning up the image after setting it up (for best practices). You can create as many masters as you want - the only limitation being that the OS on it must be later than the version of the OS that shipped with that model of computer. Leopard will boot both PPC and Intel computers while Tiger requires extensive hacking in order to create a proper Universal boot system. Just be sure to not make the image on something that doesn't support it (eg. Make the Tiger/PPC image on an Intel computer)

I would recommend keeping it as simple as possible; one Tiger/PPC master and one Leopard version as you mentioned. A Tiger/PPC installation will support all the PPC computers you mentioned.

Creating the Master(s)

Depending on what you want to do you can make disk images of your resulting masters for deploying using Disk Utility (I'm guessing this is what you meant by snapshot images), or you can use Carbon Copy Cloner to clone it to an external hard drive.

If you use the Disk Image method you can create a Universal bootable Mac OS X installation on the external hard drive, copy the masters, and then use Disk Utility's Apple Software Restore feature to clone the disk image onto the target computer's hard drive. You will need to do the extra step of choosing "Scan Image for Restore..." from the Images menu in Disk Utility to add an extra checksum to the disk image but it allows you to use the Restore tab in Disk Utility (Or asr on the command line).

I recommend running a clean up script of all the various installation specific files that need to be recreated when installed on a new computer before you make the disk image or make your master clone: Image Cleanup Script. This will help you avoid left over files during setup or Kerberos issues.

Deploying the Master(s)

Deploying the master is up to you - you could use NetInstall/NetBoot using Mac OS X Server, carry around a FireWire drive and use Carbon Copy Cloner or Disk Utility (if you go with the snapshot image you mentioned or I said above)

For the future for more manageable images you might want to check out InstaDMG (Making masters) and DeployStudio (deploying masters and installers). The initial time investment is a more than a single monolithic image but makes life easier from there.

Other resources:

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Thanks for the reply + pdf. I did see mention in the PDF about ByHost files MUST be changed to match new machine. From what I can gather, this is a unque ID based on the GUID or MAC addy of the machine, and has something to do with preferences. Any experience with this? – Chris Tucker Jul 20 '10 at 16:56
@Chris Tucker: The ByHost preferences use the MAC address of the Machine. If it's cleared they will be recreated on the target machine with the target's MAC address. – Chealion Jul 20 '10 at 17:42

Imaging is a wonderful and useful tool. For Macs, I recommend Mike Bombich's Carbon Copy Cloner. It can either make images of the Macs, or simply back them up to another drive. It also works in reverse, too, meaning that it can pull down previously-made images onto drives. I highly, highly recommend it.

Is this a horrible idea, and I should just reinstall on a per-computer basis?

That totally depends on the number of computers you're looking at and how often you're planning on reinstalling the OS. If you're an admin and managing multiple machines, though, I'd say that imaging is the way to go. It saves enormous amounts of time.

Can I have a single images for all the G5's, another for the G4's, another for the G3's, etc?

Yes, you can have a single G5 image, a single G4 image, etc.

Can I have an OS specific image that works across all machines? i.e: Tiger/PPC and Leopard/Intel

I think you meant "architecture-specific", not "OS-specific". And the answer is "yes"! I would really recommend reading Bombich's forums and documentation, though, beforehand just so you can make sure you understand some of the behind-the-scenes stuff. Good luck!

EDIT: One idea to consider is - instead of a single G4 or G5 image - having a "type" of image. If you work in education, you could have an "art" image (which contains lots of media-intensive applications) and a "business" image (which contains finance and databasing softwares), etc.

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P.S. - I have had a lot of experience working with Bombich's software in a several-hundred-Macs environment. Feel free to send me a message if you need more specific help! – jrc03c Jul 20 '10 at 15:05
Thanks for the replies. A large portion of our machines are eMacs and G4's running Tiger. I will assume then, that a single image for these machines would work. We don't use many intel based macs, so a couple one off installs would be fine there. More worried about the eMac/g4 that go through hell with its users. thanks again – Chris Tucker Jul 20 '10 at 15:19
You're welcome. When you mention machines that are "going through hell" with their users, are you meaning that they're public or lab machines? If so, you could try out Faronics Deep Freeze. It "freezes" the computer at a certain state and returns to that state at every reboot. It's perfect for kiosk / lab machines. – jrc03c Jul 20 '10 at 15:34

Unless you have multiple machines of the same generation (late 2008 MacBook Pro for example) you really ought to be doing this per machine. Apple tweaks the OS for each machine to maximize performance and stability, so using a master image across multiple generations of machines is asking for problems.

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This is not necessarily true. A typical OSX installation contains drivers for all available Mac hardware, not just for the specific machine it's running on. – jrc03c Jul 20 '10 at 15:08
The only times there are hardware tweaked OS versions are when the machine is first available when the tweaked version is the only version with those drivers. The next update (.y in 10.x.y) to Mac OS X will then include the drivers leaving you with the same build across any Mac OS X machine. The only exception I know of is the current Mac mini which is still using a tweaked version of 10.6.4. – Chealion Jul 20 '10 at 15:32

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