Anthony’s Mac Labs Blog

Imaging Is Dead… for Upgrades

Posted 2017 August 21

I go on vacation and what happens? Apple decides it’s time to answer some of the Mac Admin community’s burning questions. Let’s queue up the articles, shall we?

The KBase article I want to address in this blog post is that fourth one, “Upgrade macOS on a Mac at your institution.”

Apple has now stated directly what a lot of people in the community have been suggesting: Imaging, as a method of deploying new/upgraded operating systems, is dead as far as Apple is concerned. It’s officially unsupported. “Apple doesn’t recommend or support monolithic system imaging when upgrading or updating macOS.” Can’t get much more explicit than that.

Contrary to some earlier predictions, Apple does not appear to be eliminating access to all forms of imaging. In the article, they explicitly state, “You can use system images to re-install the existing operating system on a Mac.” That led some to believe that if they used one of those cumbersome methods I mentioned in my previous blog post to put firmware updates into place, they could continue to (capture and) deploy images; Everything is Fine (insert meme reference here). That is not the approach I am taking.

The main reason I believe imaging hasn’t gone away completely yet is because Apple needs a tool like that to use at the factory. If there’s one place where efficiency and speed is King, it’s in initial production. Whether Apple always chooses to make that tool accessible to Mac Admins is another discussion (especially when APFS becomes more mature and feature-rich), but Apple has identified at least one imaging use case (perhaps handing an old computer to a new student/employee/user) where they don’t currently have a good alternative in place, so they have continued to make imaging available. Keeping that in mind, I’m willing to take Apple at its word; I should stop jumping OSes using an image as a base. I’ve been thinning my modularly-created image every year such that I’m in good shape to eliminate imaging by this time next year (my next major planned redeployment).

People in the community have been saying “imaging is dead” for a couple of years now (even longer for capturing monolithic images). Now Apple has weighed in. Ignore their direction at your professional peril.