Giving Students some more Insight into OS X
In recent years, I have been asked to introduce Macs and OS X to Computer Engineering students. For a couple of years I also taught a basic introduction to Unix with some Silicon Graphics computers that were under-utilised. Fortunately, the arrival of a new teacher a couple of years ago, meant that the students had a complete introduction to Linux, with hands-on experience.
Usually, I have a three weeks in the first semester: enough to outline OS X and highlight some differences. This year I was asked to teach again in semester two. I decided to show them some of what happens when things go wrong: destructive computing. Some students may work in businesses where there are Macs. They need to have a passing knowledge of other systems.
In semester one, I use my own computer and have several videos and presentations available. It is my working machine, so the idea of deleting and unnecessarily re-installing the operating system made me uncomfortable. No suitable machines are available. I told the department head: if you want me to teach this, I need hardware.
Personal use of Macs -- students and staff -- at the Engineering Faculty and elsewhere at the university has increased considerably. I am no longer the voice in the wilderness. The problem is budget allocation: difficult to overcome. I borrowed a MacBook Pro from EITS, the Apple Education distributor.
I suggested that day to day work is best done in a user account, leaving the Admin account for maintenance. A test account for comparison purposes is also useful, as is an account for any guest users.
It is unfortunately easy to break into many Macs as the users rely on basic passwords (some just use the Enter key) and the automatic login. It is also easy to lock the Mac up in such a way that it is almost totally secure.
A further strong point is that, unlike Unix and Linux, the Root user (from which total control of the computer is possible) does not have a password and is not an active account: Root activities are done using a special process in the Admin account. If you do not have a Root password, the Root password cannot be guessed by someone trying to break in. [This also helps prevent unauthorised installation of applications and malware.]
Problems do occur with Macs, although they are not common for most users. Some are related to hardware incompatibilities (such as bad RAM), some to software, and some to a combination of the two. Most problems, however, are down to human error, such as deleting or moving essential files or parts of the operating system.
While it is not usually possible to call up a KP on demand, I did have some software that demonstrates what one looks like: it is eerie to see the screen change and the multi-language screen appear indicating a problem. All I needed to do in this case was to quit the utility.
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