Mac Lab Report

Cloning iBooks for Classroom Use

- 2002.12.12

Last year we bought eight laptop carts from Apple, and I've been using one of them more or less continuously while preparing the others for use. Before I got through the first time, our school network changed proxy servers. So I started over, booting up each machine and changing the proxies.

Before I got through that process, the network was rebuilt from fixed IP addressing to DHCP, so I had to start over again.

In the meantime I went through about three iterations of deciding whether to use Multiple Users or Foolproof to control network access on the machines, and finally settled on Multiple Users.

Now I have laptops in four different partially configured setups and no idea which one was where or what.

If you set up a "production line" to correct settings, inevitably something gets done wrong or left out, because you only have a limited amount of time to work on these laptops. The only solution remaining is to create a "Master laptop" that is configured correctly and clone it to all the others.

I tried this last year with Network Assistant over AppleTalk, and not only was it slow as Christmas, it was also unreliable - dropping out in mid-copy for no apparent reason, with no indication of what was missing.

Finally, I learned about the best solution - using an iBook as an external hard drive. Using FireWire, you can copy an entire iBook hard drive in just a few (less than 10) minutes! FireWire is 400 Mb/s. Compare that to 10Base-T ethernet, which is 10 Mb/s (depending on your hubs and switches) - and LocalTalk (much as I love it) is even slower.

Upon rebooting, you can rename the machine and do a couple of other housekeeping things, and then be up and running in short order. Using the process outlined below, we reset an entire cart of laptops in about four hours including some setup time for the master computer.

Here then, is a step by step process for cloning an iBook. You will need a 6-pin to 6-pin FireWire cable, which will set you back $20-30 depending on where you get it. (The cable that connects your computer to a digital camera is 6 pin to 4 pin and won't work.)

Our iBooks all run OS 9, but I believe the process may work for OS X based computers - attempt at your own risk.

  1. Set up a master computer just the way you want it. All proxies set within browsers, TCP/IP configured to AirPort through DHCP networking, desktop picture (ours has a mascot picture on the desktop), AppleTalk set to AirPort, name for the computer set, file sharing off, multiple user permissions and passwords set. Software installed. Netscape User info entered. Norton AntiVirus set to something a little lower than Insanely Secure.
  2. Take out the computer to be cloned. Connect both to power. Shut down the master computer.
  3. Plug the FireWire cable into both computers.
  4. Start up the master computer while holding down the "T" key. A floating FireWire icon will appear. You can let go of the T key. If all is well, the drive will mount as an external hard drive on the clone computer's desktop. Please note: There will be two "Macintosh HD" icons on the desktop. The top one is the clone computer's, and the bottom one is the master. Don't throw away anything from the master computer's hard drive.
  5. Throw out everything on the clone computer's hard drive except for the System Folder - but don't empty the Trash.
  6. Change the name of the clone computer's System Folder to "Old System Folder." If File sharing is on, you will need to turn it off.
  7. Copy everything from the master computer's hard drive to the clone computer's hard drive. This will take about 5-10 minutes depending on how much stuff you've installed. Note that you should have licenses for all copied software.
  8. When the copy is complete, open the "Old System Folder" and throw away the Finder and the System suitcase file. This de-blesses the old System folder. Warning: at this moment you do not have a functional System Folder on the clone computer. If it shuts down, it may not restart.
  9. Open the new System Folder and close it. It should change from a plain folder to a folder with the two-faced Mac OS logo on it. If that happens, the folder is "blessed" (or bootable) and will operate your computer.
  10. Unmount the master hard drive by dragging its icon to the Trash.
  11. Unplug the FireWire cable, hand it to an assistant. (If you're doing more than one, you can get the next computer you need to clone connected to the master now.)
  12. Restart the clone.
  13. Set the clock on the clone. Make sure you set the time zone, too; it defaults to Taipei.
  14. Change the name of the computer in the File Sharing control panel - we use serial numbers as unique names.
  15. Test functions to see if they work properly.
  16. Empty the Trash while holding down the option key to delete locked items.

You've just cloned an iBook!


I'm finally rolling carts into classrooms. In our first installation, we had some weird problem with a bad port, so it didn't go smoothly as I hoped. After a day of fiddling, we discovered a minor error in the setup for the clones, so I have to tweak the master a little more. Another cart rolls out this week, and we're planning to do one cart per week until all are deployed. Wish us luck.

Interesting thing: This process did not work on my new Xserve - the iBook master would not automount on the OS X desktop when I booted it connected in this way. You'd think a server would be the logical place to store the master disk image . . . I need to track that down sometime.

Oh, there are one or two other things I've written about before, but maybe you haven't been following the ongoing saga....

There's only one really bad thing about iBooks, and it's that they don't have an internal battery. Thus, when you store them over the summer and one of the plugs works loose - dead iBook. Two or three of the ones I'm working with won't charge or start at all. And the plugs are touchy. But remember, if you have a functional, charging iBook - don't let it die, or woe unto you. This takes between five and ten minutes at the end of each class as the iBooks are returned to the laptop cart.

Oh, and while you're at it, make sure the plugs in the cart face the doors, not the back of the cart. You will need to pull power supplies out to keep laptops functional over the course of a long day. Don't make it hard on yourself - like we did - by installing the power panels backwards on the cart when the carts are delivered. Also, there's a power switch on the bottom of the panel - it's hard to see, so you might have to find it by feel. If everything's plugged in but not charging, that switch might have been nudged off by a stray cord. (That switch ought to be on the outside of the cart IMHO.)

Good luck and enjoy your laptops!

Join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or Google+, or subscribe to our RSS news feed

is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

Today's Links

Recent Content

About LEM Support Usage Privacy Contact

Custom Search

Follow Low End Mac on Twitter
Join Low End Mac on Facebook

Favorite Sites

Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
The Vintage Mac Museum
Deal Brothers
Mac Driver Museum
JAG's House
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ

The iTunes Store
PC Connection Express
Macgo Blu-ray Player
Parallels Desktop for Mac

Low End Mac's store


Open Link