Deploying and supporting Macs presents distinct challenges, particularly in organizations where Macs are in the minority or are being introduced for the first time. As with many aspects of IT, having the right tool for the job is the key to managing a new or existing population of Apple desktops and notebooks.
The good news is that there are many tried and true solutions for handling common Mac deployment and management tasks. The better news is that many of the best are available for free, whether from Apple, as open source projects, or as free/donationware creations of other Mac administrators and IT professionals.
Here you will find the top 22 tools -- most of them free -- for managing the Macs in your IT environment. As you'd expect, the list focuses on the core areas of systems administration: deployment, client management, and directory integration. If I missed a favorite free Mac tool, please highlight it in the comments below.
Essential Mac tools Nos. 1 and 2: Disk Utility and Apple Software Restore
If you have more than a couple of Macs to deal with, you'll need an easy way to configure them. For monolithic imaging, the process by which you create a snapshot of one workstation and copy it to others, nothing beats Apple's Disk Utility and Apple Software Restore, both of which are included free with every Mac OS X install.
Disk Utility comes as both a GUI tool and the diskutil command-line option. It is equipped with plenty of local disk management functions, including partitioning, formatting, integrity checking, and repair. It also offers the ability to clone volumes and create disk images using the .dmg format, which makes it perfect for capturing a configured volume for monolithic imaging.
Apple Software Restore, which is available only from the command line as asr, allows you to locally or remotely deploy disk images to one or more clients. It can be used to image a Mac from a disk image on a local drive, a network share, or a multicast stream (the best option for mass deployments). When used for multicast streaming, one Mac hosts the stream via asr commands for others to join. As you might expect, any client imaged using asr must be booted from a source other than the destination volume, such as an external hard drive, a flash drive, or a bootable network volume.