Ready, set, Lion! How to rein in users eager for the new Mac OS

Mac OS X Lion is out, but the ability of users to download an OS as easily as they do Angry Birds might not sit well with IT. Erik Eckel provides some tips for applying caution to the over-eager user.

It's no secret Apple's new Mac OS, Lion, will impact businesses. The OS includes  numerous improvements that will affect business operations, network administrators and users. But TechRepublic readers have been correct pointing out that Apple's new App Store, which makes it possible for users to download and install the new OS, may prove disruptive in some organizations.

Historically, small businesses depend upon an IT consultant to maintain and upgrade their systems. Midsize organizations and large enterprises typically possess their own IT staffs, which usually meticulously test new operating systems and upgrades before deployment within production environments.

Certainly, volume licensing still affords larger firms (especially those that lock down networks) the ability to maintain the status quo and deploy Mac OS X Lion as before. But now there's a wrinkle. Scratch that. Now there may be a paradigm-shifting rip in the very fabric of the IT universe continuum; users can download the OS and install Lion just as they do Angry Birds on iPhones and iPads.

Was that last sentence hyperbole? Maybe. Just a little. But truthfully, users' new ability to download and install a new operating system platform with a few clicks denotes a definitive change from normal business practices. Apple's crossing the Rubicon, and businesses have no choice but to follow.

The tide is shifting

In early July, Apple "announced that over 15 billion apps have been downloaded from its revolutionary App Store by more than 200 million iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users worldwide." The announcement added that more than 400,000 apps are available.

Clearly, users enjoy downloading and installing their own software. But users, at least on the Windows platform, tend to also trigger viruses and spyware infections. Thus, user application empowerment isn't always a good thing.

Businesses beware

Users are going to want to download and install Lion. Yet, there are numerous programs and applications that haven't yet been tested with the new OS. Chances are Lion may break some very important and potentially critical business applications. My consultancy received alerts from Mac software developers before the OS was released. Those alerts warned customers to delay installing the new OS until the developer could test its software on the platform and ensure or patch any incompatibilities.

Some users just aren't going to wait. No genius is required to predict the support calls: "I'm trying to close the paper, on deadline, but I can't open the publishing software"; "I'm trying to summarize recent clinical test results but the software generates a strange error I've never seen before"; and "why can't I open my database?"

What can businesses do to prevent users from prematurely downloading and installing Mac OS X Lion? A few ideas come readily to mind:

  1. Communicate. Make sure users know to hold off, if your organization plans to wait to install the OS. Send an email. Better yet, bring it up at a regular managers' or directors' meeting.
  2. Leverage Internet filtering. Block access to Apple's iTunes Store on your network via proxy server or router. Apple even helps show how.
  3. Arrest administrative privileges. Don't provide users with the system administrator password or permissions for their Macs. If your organization has extended admin rights to users, now might be the time (and Lion's release the excuse) to revoke those rights. Then ensure you deny non-admin users the ability to make system changes.
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