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Software Updates and Other Package-based Installers

Not all software rollouts or updates require full-fledged deployment of a hard drive image (which, of course, wipes any user files on the hard drive in the process). In many cases, you might want to install only packages acquired as software updates or to install only a single new application on a number of computers. Although Mac OS X Server now includes the capability to mirror updates from Apple’s Software Update, this may not be the best or easiest solution, particularly for small to medium-sized organizations. Another option is to use Apple Remote Desktop to install software updates.

Software updates, like most of the current Apple software, are installed using package (.pkg) files. Apple Remote Desktop includes an Install Packages command. When you choose a group of computers from a computer list and then choose the Install Packages command, you can specify the packages that you want to install. Each package is then sequentially copied to the selected computers and installed by the Mac OS X Installer application (which runs in the background if users are working on the computer).

The Install Packages command works very well for ensuring that specific Software Update packages are installed. You can either download the packages manually from Apple’s website or you can get them using Software Update on the administrator computer. When a package is installed under Mac OS X, a copy of the package file is stored in the /Library/Receipts folder (note: that is /Library folder at the root level of the hard drive, not in your user folder). Unless the package was installed as part of a larger metapackage install file (.mpkg), you can use the package again. Metapackage files are a special type of package files that actually contain other packages and they often require user interaction to complete installation. (The individual packages contained in metapackages are typically dependent on the framework of the metapackage and cannot be installed independently.)

This process works for application install packages as well. Many developers have begun to adopt the package and metapackage format as a standard way of installing their products under Mac OS X. As such, for any piece of software that uses a package or metapakcage install file, you can remotely deploy it very easily with Remote Desktop. However, there are some exceptions. When installing packages, Remote Desktop does not allow user interaction, which some packages might require. Also, Remote Desktop does not automatically restart the computer if a package requires a restart (which is a good thing if there is a chance that someone might be using the computer). This can cause problems if you are installing multiple packages, and one requires a restart before others can be installed. You can use Remote Desktop to issue Restart commands to the workstations as packages are installed, however.

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