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Doomed to the Margins

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We're at VersionTracker and are intrigued by the 'time line' banner ad they've had at the top the past several days. We download it so we can look at it later. In downloading we notice the sponsor is Mac Seminars. We venture over.

Mac Seminars have a new banner ad which ostensibly targets Mac system administrators. The problem is the guy they have on the left posing as the system administrator: He's wearing a Mario Andretti overall, a toothy shit-eating grin, dark Matrix sunglasses, and curly hippie hair - in short: he's anything but 'system administrator'. More like someone Steve Jobs would have to dinner, or a Panic Software parent.

And what kind of seminars do Mac Seminars have? They have several. They have a 'Complete Mac Administration Course (Mac OS X)', they have 'Mac OS X Hands-On Training for the End User', they have 'Mac OS X Hands-on [sic] Support Course', they have 'Mac OS X Disaster Relief Seminar, featuring Ted Landau', and they have 'Complete Mac Administration Course (Mac OS 9)'.

All courses are five days.

The only course amongst these that is obviously geared to the system administrator is the first.

One may then conclude that all you will ever need to know about OS X system administration can be learned in five days.

The course costs $1499 - not bad for a five day course. Who should attend? Anyone in a position that supports Macs. What will they learn? Mac hardware, OS troubleshooting, problem solving, Mac networking, and Mac administration on Mac OS X systems.

What's the curriculum like?

Day One
The (complete) hardware overview. After the obligatory introduction and orientation, one looks at processor types (anything non-Mac is omitted), SCSI, Firewire, USB, Ethernet, logic boards (and ways to kill them), RAM types, bus speeds, testing methods, expansion card slots, upgrade cards, video cards, IDE/ATA, hardware troubleshooting, disk formatting, HFS+, UFS, and installing OS X.

Day Two
The OS X overview. It starts with a (irrelevant) history of MacOS, goes into OS 9, OS X components, Aqua, how one downloads OS X applications [sic], administering user accounts, using the root account, networking, iDisk [sic], file sharing, FTP, remote login, fonts, and printing.

Day Three
System components and technologies. It gets back to user account administration, looks at system and library directories, domains, bundles, frameworks, links and aliases, and fonts and printers all over again.

Day Four
Troubleshooting and administration. It gives the delegates the first look at the 'Terminal Application', teaches them basic command line navigation, a few shell commands, and how to change file permissions. Then it veers off to networking again, covering the same topics as before, but now with a nod to iDisk [sic]. File sharing is back too, and the day winds up with a review of troubleshooting contingencies.

Day Five
The final day begins with a 'timed' workshop on troubleshooting, the nature of which is not revealed. It then continues with an introduction to OS X Server and goes from there into how to manage workgroups and computer groups. Apple's new Remote Desktop then takes the stage, followed by instructions in disk imaging [sic] ('Steps to Creating the Perfect Disk') and taking backups. The OS X Server overview begins after this, and covers server tools and client/server administration - and after that it's time to go home.

Why mention all this? Why go through the trouble of taking notes on a five day Mac OS X system administration course? Because it raises a number of questions, which will become clearer later on. For now though, two points to dwell on:

  1. OS X is Unix - not a dinky MacOS. Mac system administrators have to be versed in Unix. This course is not going to give them anywhere near what they need to be versed in Unix. In fact, it hardly touches on Unix at all, and its deference in the section called 'Terminal Application' says all.

  2. Mac system administrators have more on their table than other system administrators, not less. They still have to know the PC; they have to be able to belch Unix backwards out of their ears; and they have to be acquainted with all those legacy Mac foibles like HFS+ and resource forks - in addition to being mentally prepared to deal with Mac end-users, who are a breed unto themselves, for technology does not forgive, and one cannot take sides with an arrogant user against it.

One of Apple's more recent and catchy mottos was 'we mean business'. If courses in OS X system administration are any indication, then maybe we have to take Apple at their word. Yet the level of professionalism is not close to what it should be.

No fingers pointed at Mac Seminars though (really), as they seem to be doing a half bang-up job of it. Many a Windows or Unix course will not be as thorough.

But you can't let Unix newbies run a Mac network, and you can't let them into courses like this either if you expect to be able to teach them something. Let a Unix admin know that their Mac counterparts were spending a morning acquainting themselves with the 'Terminal Application' and they'll have something to laugh at all week.

Unix does not come in a day. It takes a long time to learn well. No training company in the world could hope to teach Unix on an admin level in five days. Any training company worth its salt and its good reputation would have a whole armada of Unix courses available.

Prerequisites would be tough and the curriculum tougher. No prisoners are taken because no one needs to.

OS X is Unix - it's FreeBSD. And FreeBSD - as Unix - is a lot more than the Mac Seminar course - or similar 'Apple' courses will give you. Just a few examples of things left out of the Mac Seminar course:

DNSRPCSMTPsendmailPERLUnix shellsApache
CGIVNCNFSSambaSSHPacket filteringFirewalling
Boot optionsSingle user mode/etc/devLoopback filesystemsRAIDcron
Quotasrc.confsysctl interfacesTCP/IPBINDNTP

And the above is only a partial list taken from what is meant to be an 'intermediate' course - meaning there was at least one week of study which preceded it, and at least one week which will follow.

And that's just the FreeBSD part of it. (The name 'FreeBSD' is not even mentioned in the Mac Seminar syllabus.)

Feet in Your Face

Steve Jobs likes to be rude to the world of business, and has gathered like minds around him over the years. Frankly, not many people really like the world of business, but that's where the money is. That's the difference between being a niche product and playing in the world of the Big Boyz.

The Big Boyz have the money. They've also given more than 95% of it to companies other than Apple, companies who are all too willing to play the game and sway to the dance. The entire planet revolves around business. Not many of us like it, but it's there.

We wouldn't even have a Mac or a PC today if it wasn't for them. Sticking your feet in their faces doesn't give your company better chances of survival.

Earlier this week Apple unveiled MacNapster - iTunes 4 and QuickTime 6.2 with MP4, AAC, and the iTunes Music Store - and they got $275,000 in downloads for an estimated net profit of $100,000 the first day alone.

$100,000 is less than significant for the Fortune 500. It doesn't matter that all the trendy journalists at the WSJ and Salon crown the iTunes Music Store - and Apple - their Darling of the Week. It's still less than significant.

That same Mac Seminar banner ad proclaims Apple's goal of 10 million OS X users by the year 2003. Again, this is a number no more impressive than the $100,000 above. It's at best 2% of the entire market. Were Apple to target 10% and not 10 million, then maybe we'd have something.

But for Apple to think so radically different would be difficult. Following are a few of the changes that would be necessary.

  1. Steve Jobs would have to get a shave. He would also have to issue a CEO directive that no one else in management could get a shave the same day.

  2. Steve Jobs would have to wear something other than the black turtleneck and jeans to work, and issue another CEO directive with the same import as the one above.

  3. Steve Jobs would have to learn how to pronounce 'Jaguar'. He would also have to learn that 'Panther' is not pronounced 'Pan-theer' or 'Pants-er', and he would have to dock pay for anyone who mimiced his way of saying anything.

  4. Steve Jobs would have to specifically hire a whole slew of nay-sayers just so he gets used to not always being surrounded by sycophants who agree with him on everything.

  5. Steve Jobs would have to get his feet off the table.

Bill Gates wasn't always the bastard towards Steve Jobs. He once offered the Apple founder some good advice. Become a software company, said Gates. License your operating system to hardware OEMs. Stop playing the proprietary Piper.

If you do, said Gates, you can set the standard. If you don't, you're doomed to the margins.

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