Jamf Blog
February 20, 2020 by Bill Smith

How to make Mac app management as easy as point-and-click

A deep dive into Jamf Pro 10.18 Application & Custom Settings, partially covered in our recent webinar Ultimate Guide for Deploying Microsoft Office for Mac.

Let’s dive into a brand new feature we introduced in Jamf Pro 10.18 called Application & Custom Settings. We discussed part of it in our recent webinar Ultimate Guide for Deploying Microsoft Office for Mac.

With this blog post and Jamf Pro 10.19, we’re going to take it to the next level. We’ll use the new Microsoft Edge for Mac web browser as an example of how any admin experienced or new to Jamf Pro can manage a new app in just a few minutes!

See how easy it is to do something many Mac admins find hard. It’s as easy as point-and-click.

The problem with custom configuration profiles

Here’s some background.

Applications store their preferences in a special type of file called a plist (or “property list.”) Preferences in a plist might:

  • Set Safari’s default homepage to your company’s website
  • Control the user’s screen saver to lock the computer after 15 minutes
  • Set a Mac’s time zone to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
  • Install extensions in Google Chrome
  • Turn on the secondary click (right-click) for the Apple mouse
  • Show filename extensions in the Finder
  • Disable all macOS notifications by turning on Do Not Disturb
  • Turn on the Status Bar for all Finder windows
  • Manage Apple Enterprise Connect settings
  • Enable logging for Content Caching servers
  • Manage Zoom app settings
  • Disable warnings about 32-bit apps

Configuration profiles that admins push using Jamf Pro manage these plists.

And that’s about it.

Or is it?

If you log in to your Jamf Pro server and choose Computers > Configuration Profiles and then click the New button to make a new profile, where do you find the settings to manage the list of items above?

They’re not there.

That’s because Jamf Pro has only a small number of built-in payloads (the list of items in the middle column) for managing the Finder, Login Window, Energy Saver and a few other macOS-only settings. Apart from these, admins have had to develop their own settings by making custom plists with the right keys and values and then upload those to a Custom Settings payload.

This process is complicated, time consuming and error-prone.

Introducing Application & Custom Settings

Jamf Pro 10.18 included an updated Configuration Profiles payload called Application & Custom Settings. Part of the release introduced a built-in repository of customizable settings for two sets of software — Jamf Connect and Microsoft Office, with additional settings for AutoUpdate and Outlook.

Without having to know anything about how to use Terminal, edit XML plist files or even where to find the correct information to put into the plist files, admins could simply pick and choose settings to manage. These might include disabling telemetry, which sends Microsoft usage information about their products, disabling startup windows for a faster start time or defaulting open and save dialogs to the hard drive on the Mac instead of cloud storage.

Now all Jamf Pro admins, not just those who had the time or experience to make custom settings, have access to dozens more configuration items. And with this new feature, Jamf introduced the potential of adding more manageable settings for more parts of macOS as well as numerous third-party applications like Office.

So, Jamf, you’re working on that. Right?

Bring your own manifest

While it would be great to add more manageable applications alongside Jamf Connect and Microsoft Office, Jamf itself doesn’t claim to have the expertise to configure the thousands of apps its customers use nor discover every manageable setting.

So, what is Jamf going to do?

They added a feature I like to call “Bring your own manifest” in Jamf Pro 10.19. A manifest is nothing more than a list of items — in this case a list of manageable app settings.

Here’s how to use manifests, where to find them and how to create them.

Managing Microsoft Edge

To demonstrate how to use a manifest, let’s use the new Microsoft Edge for Mac web browser released just last month. It has more than 200 manageable settings to configure items like the homepage, bookmarks and network proxy.

Jamf has worked closely with Microsoft to develop manifests compatible with Jamf Pro. For detailed information about this, visit Microsoft’s website for its announcement about supporting manifests and follow their instructions to download the Microsoft Edge for Mac beta 81 app and supporting manifest. After downloading Edge, install it by dragging it to your Applications folder. You’ll want to see the management in action!

A manifest is a plain text file. You can open the Edge manifest with TextEdit or most any other text editing application. Its contents look something like this.

Don’t worry that it seems a little cryptic. It’s in JSON format, but you don’t have to know how to read JSON. You only need to know how to copy and paste.

To use the manifest:

  1. Copy the contents of Edge’s very long JSON manifest to the clipboard.
  2. Next, log in to Jamf Pro 10.19 or later and choose Computers > Configuration Profiles and click the New button to create a new configuration profile. In the General payload, give the new profile a name like “Microsoft Edge managed settings.”
  3. Scroll down the list of payloads in the middle column and select Application & Custom Settings. Click the Configure button.
  4. Under Application & Custom Settings, select the Configure Settings radio button ( a ). Choose Custom Schema from the Source menu ( b ). And enter “com.microsoft.Edge” (this is case sensitive) in the Preference Domain field ( c ).

5. Scroll down. Under Application Properties at the bottom, ensure the Schema tab ( d ) is selected and click in the Custom Schema field. Paste the entire Edge manifest into the field ( e ). Don’t worry that it scrolls off the page.

This is where the magic happens! Click the Properties tab next to Schema to view Edge’s manageable settings as a list of easy to read items.

By default, all items are not configured. Let’s set a few.

6. Scroll down to the “HomepageIsNewTabPage - Set the new tab page as the home page” setting and choose Configured ( f ) from the dropdown menu. This displays a full explanation of the setting and a dropdown menu. Set the menu to false ( g ).

7. Scroll down to the “HomepageLocation - Configure the home page URL” setting and choose Configured ( h ) from the dropdown menu. This displays an empty field. Put in your company’s homepage URL ( i )

8. Scroll down to the “ShowHomeButton - Show Home button on toolbar” setting and choose Configured from the dropdown menu. Set the dropdown menu to true.

9. Save.

10. Let’s test the configuration profile. After saving, click the Download button at the bottom of the configuration profile’s page to download the “Microsoft Edge managed settings.mobileconfig” file. If it automatically opens System Preferences and asks to install, continue with installing it. Otherwise, you may need to locate the .mobileconfig file in your Downloads folder and double-click it to install.

11. With the profile installed, restart Microsoft Edge. The home button should appear in the address bar next to the URL field. Clicking the button should open your company homepage.

If you followed these steps, you probably learned a few things:

  • Microsoft Edge is a manageable app and Jamf Pro can manage it
  • Discovering what’s manageable in Edge is pretty easy
  • Managing settings is also pretty easy and doesn’t require understanding JSON, XML or any other type of language

Custom configuration profiles no longer need to be complicated, time-consuming and error-prone. Now, they can be easy, quick and error free. Just point and click.

Where do I find more manifests?

“Bring your own manifests” is a brand-new feature in Jamf Pro and there aren’t yet a lot of manifests out in the wild that you can download. However, Jamf is actively working with several popular software developers to help them build manifests for their products. Over the course of the next few months, look out for announcements from Jamf and software developers.

We’ll also be posting resources online soon to guide developers through building app manifests. Encourage the software developers of the apps you use to build manifests for Jamf Pro!

The best resource for more manifests, though, might actually be from you, the Jamf Nation community! Mac admins have a history of building things and sharing with others. Nothing stops anyone from building manifests for the apps they use or from posting them online.

So, with that in mind, there is…

One more thing

Would you like a quick and easy way to build simple manifests yourself?

Jamf’s Senior Professional Services Engineer Leslie Helou has made a Managed App Schema Builder to create basic management manifests. This is personal project he’s put together and posted on GitHub.

If you understand the format of plists, where to find them and understand which keys and values you need to manage, then Leslie’s app will let you build a basic manifest that should work with the new “Bring your own manifests” feature in Jamf Pro 10.19. It’s still in development, but it’s already very useful.

For questions and ongoing discussion about "Bring your own manifests," join me and the rest of the community on Jamf Nation. And be on the lookout for more from Jamf about this exciting new feature that has the potential to make the complicated world of custom configuration profiles easy and accessible to everyone.

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