My first Apple Support experience

Imagine, you solved every problem with a mac you had over years by yourself and the help of other mac users (talking about 15 years+). And there were quite a few problems I ran into. There was never a problem I couldn't find a solution by reading manuals, asking on mailing lists, using google and all that stuff I'm used to do, when I try to solve mac problems (that are not connected to the hardware part). At least, I got problems worked out or found a workaround without too much pain. But perhaps you have sometimes to get this: this will be my"first time experience". Yesterday was one of this moments, I called Apple Support for a problem, I did not get solved by myself.

We're talking about a Mac server/client setup. The part that changed in the last weeks were the client mac computers being updated to Mac OS X 10.6. Before they were running 10.5. At this office we have 15 clients connected to the Mac OS X 10.6 Server (a MacMini, btw). When we bought the client machines, 10.5 was the offered system, so client stayed there andy only the server was upgraded to 10.6 with buying the new MacMini Server when it was introduced. The clients connect mainly to remote home folders that stay on the server, so all company workers can change their working place, which is quite nice feature (allthough it will cause some other things to break - like Adobe Acrobat Reader - because they never test their software with remote home users).

But a few workers need to be able to use their accounts while being away from office on their MacBooks. Mac OS X Server offers a solution for that problem (since server version 10.4): Mobile Home Folder Sync. So, being a "mobile user", if you login the first time on a mac inside the network, you can decide to create a local copy of your remote home folder. So you get exact the same user experience you're used to inside the network while being on the train. And thats a great feature. I really love it!

One problem of this solution with the 10.5 client was the sync being really really slow sometimes. So, I always tried to convince the company to upgrade clients to 10.6. I liked the idea of having same versions on server and clients. Of course, the sync would run like a real snow leopard out in the wild chasing his food. That was my expectation. Really! So one of my christimas presents were: a package of Snow Leopard 10.6.3 DVDs. Great. Awesome. But?

Yeah, 10.6.3, really. We bought the systems from Apple, yes. They send you a bunch of DVDs with 10.6.3 on it. Yes. No matter, what version is up to date. We have internet. No problem. 10.6.8 is just a download away. And to be honest, the download thing is not my problem with it. You can't imagine how long this update needs until a MacMini is rebooting. Moments of sitting around and listening to the sound of hard discs. In some way it was like an orchester playing music from past times (as being a SSD user since one year), so I tried to enjoy and remember the gold old times starring on process bars. 

And I got a running sync. It was amazing. The first time I logged into a mobile account. It was just boom, there. Wow. Great Apple experience. So tried it again. Boom, synced. Wow. Then I tried to start the sync manually by menu bar droplet. Clicked on the icon and there was written: Home never synced. A, great. Starting the sync manually was same experience. Boom, done. But after three times trying to sync manually the "Home never synced" status didn't change at all and I was starting to wonder, if everything is right with the sync.

So, I started to play with that user. Create some files. Logout, login as remote user on anther mac. No files there, sync does not work. Hmmm, great stuff. And thats the moment, where I started to feel uncomfortable. After some years with computers and some experiences with all kind of different problems, there is one thing, I really try to avoid: sync problems. If you got one, you know why. Data not being in sync, if it should be in sync, thats pain. Always, period.

So after that, I started to find out what could be the problem. First of all, always look inside console app:

"HomeSync.getSyncSet: [[SFFileSyncManager sharedFileSyncManager] createPHDSyncSetWithName:"HomeSync_Mirror" remoteXMLSpec:"/Users/test" mountSuffixPath:"afp://"] returned nil!+"

Ok, that sounds like a problem. Testing afp:// inside the logged in user works like expected. Volume is mounted in seconds and appears on the desktop. So, next step, google it:

First impression after reading through these discussions: sounds not good.

So I started removing the mobile user folder from the machine and to create a new one. And, hoho, sync was working again! But, and thats the point, most times exactly only once. The sync stops running, status shows "never synced" again. Removing ~/.FileSync and ~/Library/FileSync results in a working sync again, but only for the first login after it. Then it stops again. I checked the settings in Workgroup Manager again and again. I did not change anything on the server part while migrating to 10.6 clients. So mostly, this part should work. It worked over one year. There must be something on the client side not working like it should. 

I logged in, logged out, logged in, logged out. There were sometimes this moment of: yeah, got it, sync works. Logout, login again, and all happiness was gone. 

After spending two days trying to fix the sync problem, using google, trying this and that I started thinking about calling Apple Support. A solution was needed to get the three mobile workers back to a working setup. The status of mobile user and the server home was developing more and more individually. And thats pain, merging home folders by hand. You don't want to deal with things like this. Thats why Apple build a solution for it, right?

Next Google search was about Apple Support for Server Systems. And at this point I really started getting nervous. A plan for getting 10 problems solved by Apple: 7199,- € ( Yeah, and there is a plan for 23.999,- € ( Not enough? 59.999,- € ( Got the numbers?

So, time for calling Apple Support. And while listening to great Reggae music I thought about how much money I would spend on this strange sync problem. After being redirected three times, all people being very friendly and explaining everything, I got one person being able to tell me, how much money I would have to spend without having any Apple Care for my Server product.

He was telling me, that 99,- € would fit to problems I have only with the server, 679,- € if some extern machines (like a PC) is involved in the problem. I told him, that it is onyl about macs. So perfect, great deal, 99,- €. I was getting happy and I really was looking forward to send in my problem description. Next question was: "Which system version do you use?" 10.6 Server and Clients I answered relaxed. "ohhh - thats a problem". Problem? "We cannot offer any support for 10.6 systems!"

He then switched back and offered me to send some links to the Knowledge Base of the Apple website and to consultants network. After telling my mail address I asked again: "So it is not possible to get any support for 10.6 servers. No 7199,- plan, nothing?" - "No, only if you have an old Apple Care plan". "And if I would upgrade to 10.7 Server?" - "You would have 90 day free telephone support."

Wow. My first Apple Support experience in my life. Awesome. I was shocked about the friendly information I got. There is no support by Apple for a system they're selling right now on their website. You have to upgrade or you're lost. No money will help you out. I just got my setup to the point, where server and clients are running at same version.

I'm disappointed. This was not what I expected to be the good Apple experience. I'm one of the people trying to encourage people to use a mac. Even if they think about a server setup for small companies. I try to support them and find answers for all the problems they have while getting into the mac world. Mostly I was able to convince people, that it was not a bad idea to switch to the Mac. I'm sometimes working really hard (all night) to give my customers this "great Apple feeling" about everything just working as expected. And  I know quite a few situations where Macs where not just working as expected. But mostly I got it working and my customers where happy again using a Mac. I watched them buying iPhones and other Mac stuff for their personal part of life and was glad, that my efforts were showing them the good sides of the Apple world.

So, I phoned Apple Support for a Server problem. To be told, that my system version is not supported anymore. No money can help out. No 59.999 Euros. For sure, it's not the best idea to have no Apple Care, for sure. But thats running out after 3 years - so what is after this time? Got the point? For sure you can update. As long as Apple is offering a new OS X Server. Perhaps they won't offer a 10.8 Server (all done by iCloud)? So if you bought a Lion Server setup right now you're fucked in three years? 

Apple, this arrogance doesn't fit well! I think it's worth listening to the problems your customers have. Your customers are used to spend money, yes. They even think about spending 7199,- Euros on a single problem (!). Just listen, say something optimistic, send some more links and empower the admins to work further on the problem. And you could ask for giving feedback as soon as the problem is solved, to get it back into the knowlegde base. To have it online for other users. A good documentated kb entry is better than 3 discussions full of ideas but no real solution.

Just an idea. Always give love back to your admins!


Update: See for more Info update an AppleScript I wrote to check ~/Library/Preferences/ for the "havePHDSyncSet" attribute. For me it was the error point for all mobile sync users not syncing anymore. It's only a workaround so far! So, feedback is appreciated, especially for any ideas, why havePHDSyncSet is set to false.

Created on 30.03.2012 at 17:44:16 h


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