Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Being on the Bleeding Edge

As many people at the forefront of technology know, being at the beginning of changes in operating systems and new pieces of technology often comes with great excitement and lots of learning. It brings a tech geek great joy to figure out a new piece of technology and how to manipulate and make it do something that it has never been able to do before. Although, tech geeks are not the only people that desire to be the first. Take the millions of people that have lined up in the last few months to purchase a new iPhone 4, Droid, or iPad.

The same excitement that tech people get when they figure out a new piece of technology also often brings lots of pain and headaches along with it. Being one of the first to figure out, break, and try to fix a new piece of technology is not easy nor is it always fun either. You kind of feel like a man walking out on the moon without any support along the way.

This was very much the case as this summer we were blessed to expand our 1-1 Program at the FAIR School Downtown to include both our 9th and 10th grade students this year. This spring we purchased sixty new uni body MacBooks and early this summer we prepared to image them for the fall. We had a debate about which operating system to put onto the computers because they came shipped with 10.6, Snow Leopard, even though the rest of our environment (the roughly eighty-five other computers that we have) is currently is running on 10.5.8, Leopard. We weighed the pros and cons and even though there is not a large visual or end user experience difference between the two operating systems we decided to keep the environment the same for everyone. We began the process to create an image for this new machine based on the 10.5.8 operating system and tested out that image on a few machines. At face value the image looked good, the programs were operating, and the main components were running. So we decided to begin the imaging process for our sixty machines. After three days, and many hours of preparation, imaging, and take down, we completed the process of imaging all these machines ahead of schedule.

However, as we went to do final testing, installation of anti-virus software, and preparation for roll out early September we began to notice some problems in our image. For instance, the sound did not work at all. It had a gray X though it. We dug a little deeper and came across a few other minor errors in our new machines. At first we thought it was singled out to a few machines and then we realized it was all our machines. To the Internet we went, searching for sound drivers, other people that were having the same issue that we were having, or any piece of advice about our problem. We found a few people experiencing the same issue, but no one had a solution to the problem that we were having. After a while I had my fellow tech call Apple Care and see what was going on. The representative that we talked to had us run a bunch of things that we had previously run, resetting the PRAM and checking for updates.

Sometimes I wish that there was an Apple Care support line for tech staff who could call in and say you have done x, y, and z and now here is the issue and what are your thoughts. They could talk to us like geeks and we could talk back to them like geeks and we can get the issue solved. Instead, we have to sit though all the steps that we previously did and that any normal geek hopefully would have already tried. I get the rational for Apple to do it the way it does, but it pains me to sit though the direction from the Apple Care representative to Check for Updates when I tried that three days ago.

After walking through the basic steps from Apple and semi-stumping the Apple Care representative he suggested that we move our computer back to 10.6. Needless to say we did not really enjoy his suggestion, especially because we had all sixty computers imaged with 10.5.8. What choice did we have though? It was not like on the box the computers shipped it said: “Do NOT revert this machine back to 10.5.8 because it will not operate properly.” In hindsight maybe it should have. There was no mention of this warning, but once again we re-created the image and then spent the time to re-image and bring the machines back to the 10.6 operating system they came shipped with.

The very next day an Apple Engineer came out to work on some syncing issues we were having with the Apple server we use for the 1-1 Program. I asked him about the 10.5.8 and 10.6 issues that we were having and his response intrigued me. In no uncertain words he said that 10.6 was built on a completely different platform than 10.5.8, which for people who read about this stuff they recognize the 64 and 32 bit differences. Furthermore, he said that the hardware inside of a machine that is shipped with 10.6 will not work properly when the machine is reverted back to an older operating system. This explained our sound issue with the Logic Card. Finally, he said that if a machine was shipped with 10.6 and is reverted back it runs the risk of overheating and Apple will not support it.

Bottom line: Do NOT revert an Apple computer that comes shipped with 10.6 on it.

We learned our lesson and in the end I am happy that we are giving our students the best possible machine to complete their work on. However, the challenges of maintaining a multiple operating system based site are going to be interesting. We looked into the process and possibility of moving our entire school up to 10.6, but the cost of doing that was too great to consider at the moment.

Being at the front end of technology is a lot of fun and constantly challenging, but with it does come many bumps in the road. Those bumps, although costly in time and headaches, do make us the unique person that we are and for that I give thanks as a tech geek educator to be on the bleeding edge.