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Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

Readers ask questions about managing software updates for multiple Macs on the same network, whether a Mac can be wiped through normal use, and other topics.

MacFixIt Answers is a feature in which I answer Mac-related questions e-mailed in by our readers.

This week, readers wrote in with questions on how to best manage software updates for many computers on a network, the options for using the right-click in OS X, and concerns about the feasibility of corrupting a system through apparently normal use. I welcome views from readers, so if you have any suggestions or alternative approaches to these problems, please post them in the comments!

Question: Managing software updates for many computers on a network
MacFixIt reader Beth asks:

I've read several articles on using Software Update from the Terminal but none address my question. My reason for going this route is so that I can download the update once and distribute to multiple Macs in our company via Apple's Remote Desktop. My question is, when I download the packages I notice that instead of a single installer package there may be multiple packages for a single application.

For instance today I downloaded the iTunes update and in the Library/Updates folder was a folder containing the following files: iTunesXPatch.pkg, iTunesAccessDelta.pkg, MobileDevice.pkg, CoreFPDelta.pkg and 041-9792.English.dist. Do I need to send all of these packages to the other computers I'm updating for the install to be complete? My Java, AirPort and MacBook Pro Firmware updates I downloaded today are similar in that they have multiple packages as well.

The best way to do this for a small company is to install Apple's OS X Server package (available for $20 from the App Store) and set it up on one computer as a Software Update server and potentially also as a caching server (a new feature in the latest version of the Server package). This will allow the server system to get the latest updates from Apple and then allow client systems to access your server over the LAN instead of through the Internet to Apple's servers to get the updates. This same detail is true for the caching server feature, where commonly accessed Web content such as large downloads will be cached locally to the server and then be distributed to systems on the LAN if requested, to cut down on the overall bandwidth usage by the systems on the LAN.

However, to answer your question, all patches will need to be applied to the system. Though, keep in mind that Apple's update system assembles patches and updates based on the current system's needs, which are not always the same across computers (especially if they have different versions of OS X). Therefore if you get the iTunes updater packages downloaded to an OS X 10.7.4 system and try to apply them to a 10.8.2 system, you may find they either will not work or will not completely update the system and you will still have to run Software Update on that system.

Here is a pretty decent overview of how to configure the service on the server and client systems.

Question: How to right-click on a Mac
MacFixIt reader Donald asks:

How do I right-click on my Mac?

There are several ways. In brief, if your mouse or trackpad has only one button then you can hold the Control key and click to invoke a right-click. Otherwise if you have a trackpad then you can click with two fingers on the pad (this can be set up in the Trackpad system preferences), or if you have a multitouch mouse then you can set up the mouse system preferences so if you click with your finger on the right-hand side of it then it will invoke the right-click. If you have a third-party mouse with multiple buttons then the right-click buttons on it should be recognized in OS X as such.

(Even though Apple has supported right-click options on the Mac for over a decade, it is not uncommon for people to still be under the impression the Mac is a single-click operating system.)

Question: Possibility of corrupting or wiping a system through standard use
MacFixIt reader April asks:

Can you tell me if there is any logical explanation for [how my kids could wipe a Mac through standard use]?

It is definitely possible for any system to become corrupted through use, be it deliberately or inadvertently. How easy this is to do in part depends on how the system was set up by the system's administrators. If the children were given administrative passwords or other administrative access rights then they (or anyone else) could easily change settings and explore around (as kids do), be it with commands in the Terminal, by moving files in the Finder, or by downloading third-party programs that modify things. With a more limited and controlled account such as the OS X "Guest" account it is virtually impossible to wipe a system from within the account, and at most could only corrupt the account itself (its data and settings).

The only other way to wipe the system if a "parentally controlled" or "Guest" account was used is to reboot the system to the OS X recovery tools drive and use those tools to wipe the drive or otherwise modify its contents; however, access to these tools can be locked with a hardware-based firmware password on the system.

Ultimately, to answer your question, it is possible for someone to wipe a system or otherwise corrupt it and this can be done rather quickly if someone knows how to do so. However, whether that is possible does depend on how the system is set up for use. Under normal use it should be relatively difficult (though not impossible) for the system to become corrupted, but this does depend on the access rights given to the user and the specific tasks being done.

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