Saturday, September 24, 2011

To Lion or not to Lion - that is the question !

I recently had to incorporate a number of new laptops into our bank. With the demise of the Macbook (of which I was never a BIG fan) the decision had to made to what we would purchase. The macbook is still available for education but it is technology that is a few years old (and obviously on the way out). The choices were the Air or Macbook Pro. To fit into the educational price range (at least for our budget) it would have to be the 11" Air. This isn't much bigger than the iPad ( but a dearer price) and the 13" Air was going out of our budget. The decision was to go with the base model MBP 13".  I felt fairly happy about this as I feel that the MBP is a much sturdier product than the MacBook and will live up to the riggers of multiple users. Also a 13" laptop fitted the needs of the present Stage 3 classes. They will be using the iPads as well but I'll explain that in a future blog. The major decision was to be "What operating system ?" All of our computers run Snow Leopard and we also have a Mac mini server that runs Snow Leopard. Although they will come with Lion will we bring them back to Snow Leopard or keep the existing ?

I decided to see how Lion fitted in. I had a few weeks before they needed to be fully integrated so I started with one. I had ordered a couple of teacher units with 8G of Ram and set one of these up as a trial unit. My first impressions were rather reserved. I thought that most of the changes were cosmetic - therefore no real reason not to back date them to Snow Leopard. But the more I used it - the more I found and the more I liked. Everyone finds things they like and dislike that are different to popular opinion. I was no different.

The two major aspects , Launch Pad and Mission Control, I rather dismissed at first. Until I started to use them a little more effectively. Launch Pad, which looks like an iPad or iPhone, I decided was a fairly quick way of students finding the programs you want them to use (and tucking away the ones you don't - such as the App store). You can make folders - therefore have all the programs that a particular class uses often (say a Year 5 folder with Google Earth, Sketchup, Scratch etc).  Mission Control would help the students find where they were and what they had open.  The scrolling for different desktops is great. You could have one desktop with Safari open, one with Pages and one with a PDF of your lesson notes. Very handy!
Preview has also been revamped and made more useful. You can do a lot more editing in it. The aspect of "full screen" view - I was at first rather cynical - but I find I use it a lot. If you are working on a 13" screen, to easily go from full screen to showing toolbars is a God send. Even the "backwards" scrolling I found no issue with. I go from a Lion machine to a SL machine and I haven't found a need to change the scrolling direction. The changes in Mail and iCal, which the critics all raved about, I find rather ho-hum. Students won't really use them in my set up. I am yet to road run Airdrop, but I am thinking this could be very handy for distributing files to students as well as students sharing work with each other. All in all, Lion  - a winner - therefore stay with it.

My next dilemma  - can I clone Lion and have the machines boot off the server ? With Snow Leopard my work was minimised by being able to ghost an image , with all the programs and settings I wanted, putting it on the server, and then having a laptop boot from the server. This meant that if a computer had an issue (other than hardware) I would have it boot off the server and re-image the machine. This was quicker and more effecient than spending hours trying to find out what little, niggle issue, was causing issues.  What I had done in the past was to use Carbon Copy Clone. At first I cloned an image to a portable hard drive and set the laptops on this. When we got our mini mac server - I put that image on the server. Because Lion has a recovery partition I wasn't sure it would be straight forward.
Here's where I ran into difficulties! I tried CCC, making an image and then putting it on the server. When I booted up the new machines - they couldn't find the server. Hours were spent trying to figure this one out. I   also tried booting off the portable hard drive - it still couldn't see the image ! Frustration - as I've stated earlier - I am a wood butcher - therefore have no real knowledge of these matters. Ironically - I attended an iPad  presentation, where an Apple engineer was present. I asked him about my problems. He said that I would need a Lion server to deploy a Lion image. Ok - one issue solved. But why wouldn't my Lion machines see the image off a portable Hard Drive ?
I did a lot of reading off the net and trials. I ended up trying "Super Duper".  This worked ! I managed to clone a Lion machine (with all programs and settings) to a Hard Drive. I then used this image to boot a number of MBP's . Then loading the image to the HD. Success !
As far as using Lion on my network - I have found no issues. It picks up the network printers, I have linked the student home drives from our windows server , as well as their folders from the mac server. It manages to pick up everything that the Snow Leopard machines could.
I can see and control them through Apple Remote Desktop which helps immensely. I can update them and send packages. I may upgrade the server to Lion at a future date (certainly expense is not a factor) but will hold off for the moment. It will be to my advantage because I can administer the SL machines as well as Lion (which is going to be any new machines) as well as the iPads. But, to save myself the learning curve (I am just getting a handle on SL server) and to make sure there are no hic ups (after all - it is only version one)
Bottom line - upgrade to Lion ? Yeah , why not ?

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