AirWatch recently announced that its mobile device management platform now supports Mac 0S X. As with any Mac OS X management product, we’re reminded that Mac admins have been doing this for years—it’s just that vendors like AirWatch are bringing Mac management to companies that might not have had to deal with it before.
About OS X Management
As far as technical capabilities go, Mac OS X management is somewhere in between mobile device management and traditional PC management. Like mobile devices, settings are delivered by installing xml files (with OS X, these are all the com.apple.[whatever].plist files in the library/preferences folder). Any setting that appears in the System Preferences pane can be adjusted, so that means there’s password enforcement; email, wifi, and VPN setup; and it’s also possible to remote lock and wipe machines. While it’s not possible to deploy individual applications, it is possible to query the computer for an installed application list. Configuration profiles for individual applications can be delivered, but only for the settings that are exposed in an application’s preferences menu.
It’s not possible to deliver an entire image to a Mac OS X machine, but the idea here is that you just deliver whatever corporate settings you need to, and the rest you’ll have to do manually. (Or let users do on their own, because that's supposed to be easy on Macs, right?)
AirWatch and OS X
Mac OS X management is built into the most recent version (v6.1) of the AirWatch platform, and there’s no extra cost to use it. AirWatch has an interface for configuring the operating system settings, but for controlling the settings in individual applications, it’s more of a process of reverse engineering the xml configuration files. Next on AirWatch’s agenda is to build an on-device agent application to enable more features like remote rebooting and deeper integration with application settings.
As I mentioned before, there have been tools around that do this for quite a while, but previously they were generally limited to educational institutions or companies that specialized in traditionally Mac-heavy areas like graphics or animation. The result for ordinary corporate users was that a request to use a Mac was met with the reply “Oh, we can’t manage that, so… no.” Now, however, Macs can be in the same silo as all those other non-Windows (and non-BlackBerry) devices. Chances are that they won’t be missed in the big SCCM/Altiris/traditional management stack since nobody needs to deliver Windows applications to them anyway.