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Macintosh File and Application Preservation: Mac Control

"I hate surprises."

At least that's what I tell my high school students when they want to change the Macintosh environment in the eighty or so computers for which I am responsible. I teach six classes and take care of the machines in my "free" time, so I require a security program that lets me teach my students and keep them from making undesirable changes. Before I found BDW Software's Mac Control, I tried everything from making folders invisible, to shareware and freeware programs, to other commercial security programs. Most had so many drawbacks that they made using the Mac more work than necessary. I finally found Mac Control, an easy-to-use program which seems to answer all my needs - no more strange sounds, hidden messages in the desktop, or unwanted startup screens.

After I set up Mac Control, students could make many changes (but Mac Control locks them out of dangerous places), but when the Mac restarts, everything returns to exactly how I last left it. Mac Control uses the desktop interface without resorting to a menu-driven system or to brute-force methods.

The Mac Control Manager can set users and passwords to determine who can use desk accessories, documents, control panels, and who can see inside the System Folder. The Manager can protect the hard disk from the moving, renaming, deleting, or addition of unauthorized files. This is a great deterrent against piracy as users can be prevented from copying applications to disks or running programs from their own disks. Mac Control can direct (or force) users to save their work only to floppies or servers or to their own areas in a locally shared folder. A master password overrides all other passwords, allowing the Manager to log in as any user, without keeping track of individual user passwords. You can lock icons so your hard disk doesn't suddenly sprout a face you don't want. Users can use servers and copy files to and from the personal folder if they want.

Users have sufficient access to delete, rename, or duplicate documents on their disks or in their folders, but not elsewhere. You can set up the shared folder so that each user automatically has his or her own folder inside the shared folder. Each user only sees what is in his or her folder, and can't peruse others' folders. You can create drop folders and have Mac Control keep a user log that shows which user did what, and when it was done (this feature gave me great information in tracking down abuse). You can also set the user definitions so certain users can use only certain applications at certain times of the day.

Installation and removal is simple, although you can lock the hard disk so that if the Mac starts up from a floppy the hard disk is unavailable. The Mac Control INIT takes 24K of RAM and works on all Macs from the Plus on up. Updating is easy because one set of users can be defined and then copied to the other Macs. If the Manager forgets the password (or students figure out the password, as has happened to me), you can reset the program with the original startup disk. There's always a way around anything, but this one is tough. Anyone going to such extremes might as well do physical damage rather than try to bypass the program.

I currently have eleven users defined under Mac Control for each Mac in my classroom lab - one per class period, one for the Band director, one for myself (Manager), one for the local community college, and one for the technology coordinator and the technician to use. I demo lessons on the overhead using one of the student users, and before each class change, I simply restart and things revert to the original settings for the next class discussion.

Mac Control Remote, a useful additional option, enables you to control all the Macs on a network from any machine. The Remote program gives the Manager special abilities, including freezing all keyboards and mice (which you'd want during instructional time), raising all Macs to Manager level (to add files or make changes), restarting all Macs with a single command, shutting down all Macs (but it won't flip off the switches for you!), and reversing all of these controls. The Remote program has saved me an amazing amount of time and energy. I recently taught a class first period and had neglected to set the memory for ClarisWorks high enough to work properly with graphics. Mac Control Remote helped me set all 27 Macs to the proper memory, restart, and be ready for the next class in nine minutes from start to finish. Without Mac Control, I would have lost the effectiveness of the lesson or would have taken most of the next hour to correct the situation.

A reduced version of Mac Control, Mac Control Junior, has all the security of the full version at a reduced price and with users and abilities preset. It is easier to use, but if you prefer to set things up exactly as you desire, the full version is great. I personally prefer the full version as I can set users and privileges in detail. BDW Software offers a fully functioning version of Mac Control Junior as a demo with the manual and full access to testing the features of the Junior product. The demo functions for thirty minutes after each restart, but can give the user a good feel for what the product can do.

Mac Control Junior costs $49 for use on one Mac and $299 for one building; Mac Control costs $59 for a single copy and $399 for a building. The building version covers all current and future Macs within the building (no need to purchase additional licenses when adding Macs). BDW offers many other pricing options for larger and smaller installations. Adding Mac Control Remote to Mac Control brings the building cost to $499. Competitive upgrades are available, and when I purchased a single copy to evaluate, BDW also applied that cost to the building price. I've found BDW's support outstanding, and they are receptive to suggestions for future improvements. In fact, when I last called about a need I had, the request had already been incorporated into an update and within a few days, I had the new version.

I think the package and the associated benefits are worth the relatively minimal cost and the savings to my time. Compared to other products I've evaluated, Mac Control is outstanding and will save teachers or other Macintosh administrators significant time and effort. While allowing the user full use of the benefits of the Macintosh interface, the product halts the abuse of the friendliness and openness of that same interface.

[To compare Mac Control with a competing product, check out the review of MacPrefect in TidBITS-242. -Tonya]

BDW Software -- 800/726-5462 -- 612/686-5462 -- 452-4902 (fax)


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