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#733: RotW: Repair of the Week: Most Unlikely Failure, Using The "Golden Triangle" In Your Business, Basic Troubleshooting

 
     
 

Happy Tuesday,

We’ve been in the business of Apple sales and service for a long time, and this is reinforced by Don’s and my service of various advisory boards for Apple’s reseller and AppleCare groups. We’re heading to Cupertino tomorrow for a round of meetings to pass on our observations and recommendations to improve customers’ experience not only at our store and at other Apple Specialists, but at Apple Stores and at resellers worldwide.

It’s wonderful to meet with Apple, but it’s equally great to meet with other service managers of the Apple-authorized service providers (AASPs) to discuss best practices and ideas on how our companies can provide the best and most innovative service to those who matter most: our customers.

It’s a quick trip with one full day of meetings, and I’ll be back in Vermont on Friday to continue the process of hiring and training the latest Small Dog employees that will greet customers in Manchester, NH, at our new store. We’re getting closer and closer to opening day, and I hope Tech Tails readers within reasonable distance will come out for our opening day.

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.

Matt
matt@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  Repair of the Week: Most Unlikely Failure  
   
 

A computer that doesn’t power on lands in our shop every few hours. Most often, these are laptops (er, notebooks), and a good portion of the time, the no-power symptom is a result of liquid damage. For some reason deserving of sociological study, the majority of customers who bring in liquid damaged computers refuse to admit any knowledge of a liquid spill.

Sometimes, though, a desktop computer comes through the door and will not power on. It’s usually a power supply. This week’s repair is different. It’s a Power Mac G5 that did not power on for the customer, but showed no signs of trouble in our shop. We sent it home as a CND (could not duplicate) repair, and the customer called us shortly after getting home to report that her machine would not power on.

I asked her to bring the power cord, surge protector, and the computer back to us for immediate testing. I plugged the computer into one of our known-good power cords, and it powered on and booted right to the desktop in about 30 seconds, just like it should. When I tried the customer’s power cord, there were no signs of life.

I’ve used the same power cord for my desktop computers for almost twenty years. Sometimes, though, the power cord itself can be the root cause of a no-power symptom. If your computer doesn’t power on, swap out the power cable to potentially save yourself the downtime.

 
   
     
  Using The "Golden Triangle" In Your Business  
   
 

Integrating Macs in a business environment has gone from being an anomaly to a standard. Thanks to Snow Leopard’s phenomenal integration capabilities, the speed and reliability of Apple hardware and the ability to run multiple platforms all on one piece of hardware, using Macs in business can cut down on IT costs and increase productivity.

Plus, with Apple’s renewed commitment to the environment, their hardware continues to be more energy efficient and uses less hazardous materials. However, even with the many benefits of integrating Macs in the business environment, there are often concerns about how well they would work with existing Windows Servers and how difficult the initial setup may be. Let’s lay some of those concerns to rest.

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a hands-on seminar on integrating Microsoft Active Directory and Exchange Servers with Mac OS 10.6 servers and clients. This is something that I’ve been doing more and more in the field, but it was very cool to experience it in a lab setting and get to play with both the Mac and PC environments.

One of the first things I was told is that the average setup time to integrate a new Mac into a Windows business environment is eight minutes. Eight minutes! That includes going through the Mac OS Setup Assistant, binding to an Active Directory server and configuring exchange accounts for mail, contacts and calendars. We tried it out and, sure enough, working at an average-pace it was an eight-minute-or-less experience.

In the seminar I attended, we actually went through the process of configuring a Microsoft 2008 Enterprise server, setting up Active Directory and Exchange, binding a Mac client to it and then also binding the Mac to a 10.6 Server for Open Directory. The really amazing thing is that both servers ran on one piece of hardware. We started with a Mac running 10.6 Server. While we used Macbook Pros, in a real-life setting I’d recommend using at least a beefed up Mac Mini Server (for small offices) or an Xserve (for most businesses). Using Parallels, we were able to install a copy of Windows 2008 Server.

The Windows Server ran Active Directory and Exchange services and the Mac Server was then bound to the Active Directory Server. Looking back at the Mac side, we set the Mac Server as an Open Directory Master. Since the Mac Server was bound to the Active Directory Server, we were able to view and manipulate all of the Active Directory user accounts within Apple’s Workgroup Manager and we could then add additional Mac-specific settings. Client machines could then be bound to both the Mac Open Directory and the Microsoft Active Directory simultaneously to reap the benefits of both platforms. This technique is referred to as the “Golden Triangle.”

Many of you out there may be wondering about the significance of this. To give some brief understanding, Active Directory is what’s commonly used in businesses to create user accounts and groups and configure permissions within those accounts. For example, if you’re used to using an Exchange account for your email, contacts and calendars, Active Directory is what stores your basic account information and allows you to use one password for everything you do. Beyond Exchange capabilities, Active Directory controls who can control and share files on different sharepoints, upload to web servers and basically dial in on any specific server function.

In Mac OS X Server, Open Directory is basically the equivalent of Active Directory. Both primarily use Kerberos (“single sign-on”) for authentication, and both allow one to use a single username and password to access account information and use services. While Mac users bound to an Active Directory Server can sign in using network accounts, access sharepoints and access services, there is a great benefit from an IT perspective to being bound to both Active Directory and Open Directory simultaneously. It all boils down to speed of initial system setup and security.

Those using Active Directory Servers most likely know that one of the benefits is that they can set up specific machine settings for individual users or groups. For example, without touching a user’s local machine, an administrator of an Active Directory Server can specify what applications that user can use and what individual settings that user account has. While Macs can still connect to that same Active Directory Server and log into their network accounts, many of the Mac-specific settings are unavailable in Active Directory.

However, Open Directory has a ton of specific setting allowances for applications, security, and individual settings. Since the Mac Server can bind to the Active Directory Server and they’re able to share account information, it’s possible to use the standards set by the Active Directory Server while reaping the Mac-specific settings of the Open Directory Server. Using this “golden triangle” technique, workstations can be set up quickly and System Administrators gain more control over the end-user’s machine.

Macs work beautifully right out of the box in an Active Directory environment. It’s definitely not necessary to use an Open Directory Server in conjunction with an Active Directory Server, however depending on the needs of your business, it may be a great solution for you. Not to mention, being able to run multiple servers on one piece of energy-efficient hardware can decrease yearly electric bills and help your business meet its environmental commitments. If you’re curious about integrating Macs and Mac-based Servers into your business feel free to contact our Consulting department at consulting@smalldog.com or 1-800-511-MACS, x515.

 
   
     
  From the Archives: A Lesson in Basic Troubleshooting  
   
 

My young niece called me last night for help, as friends and family often do, with her grandmother’s MacBook. The Dock and Dock preferences were suddenly inaccessible. While she could navigate through the Finder and launch applications, she could not enjoy the convenience of the dock. She’s not a Mac user, and was in a panic thinking she’d ruined Grandma’s computer.

Troubleshooting began by shutting down the computer and safe-booting it by holding the shift key immediately after the startup chime. Safe booting will disable any third party or extraneous Apple kernel extensions (kexts), and will disable automatic login. It’ll also do a file system consistency check equal to the “repair disk” function of Disk Utility if booted off your computer’s restore disks. Of course, since the computer belonged to Grandma, she did not know the password. Another normal restart revealed that Grandma had automatic login enabled, so we were free to navigate and troubleshoot.

First step was to check to see if the restart fixed the issue (it didn’t). I then directed her to Activity Monitor, where I asked her to show All Processes from the Show pull-down menu. Filtering by the %CPU field revealed nothing unusual, so I asked to quit Activity Monitor and navigate to ~/Library/Preferences and delete com.apple.dock.plist. This revealed another problem: she was unable to modify anything in this folder.

I checked the folder’s permissions, and they were set properly. The only option I had was to use Terminal to delete the file. My niece deftly navigated to the upper-right corner of the screen to type Terminal into Spotlight. With terminal open, I had her type the following (if you ever need to do this, substitute your user’s name for “nana”).

rm /Users/nana/Library/Preferences/com.apple.dock.plist

and then

killall Dock

This removed the preferences for the Dock, and then restarted the Dock process. The Dock popped right up at the bottom of the screen, with all the icons from before.

I can’t say what corrupted those specific files, and it’s rarely the case that I can. The theory behind this step is to remove an application’s or processes property list (plist, or preference) file so it can be regenerated. If something is not behaving as it should, this is often the troubleshooting step that resolves problems.

 
   
     
  Garage Sale Ends This Friday, 9/24!  
   
 

Yep, we are still adding items and dropping prices in our Famous Garage Sale as we prepare for our end-of-year inventory!

We have limited Apple items, including a 17-inch Apple batteries, an AirPort Extreme Base Station and more. Plus, lots of ink cartridges, cases for iPhone 3G, nano 4Gs and 5Gs (from Incipio, Speck, Simplism and more), and overall, dozens of iPod accessories at over 50% – 90% off most items (and lots under our cost), with many items under $5!

Orders will be taken online only via our website, and there are no phone orders permitted. Get ‘em while they’re hot.

See the Garage Sale page here.

 
   
     
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