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I am trying to configure a middle school lab of 25 new iMacs running 10.8 Mountain Lion. I would have liked to have cloned them over the network, but we don't have a Mac server. Right now they are all turned on and configured with a basic Admin and Student account. I want to synchronize the preferences and parental controls on the student account on all of the systems.

My question is this: Is there any downside to simply copying the 'student' user folder from the properly configured system to all of the others? It appears to work, but I'm not sure if it will lead to any problems down the road, I don't have a lot of experience with this.

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Welcome to Ask Different! You had two questions in here. This site works better when there is only one question per question. That way, it's easier for other people to find solutions if they have the same problem. I've edited out your second question, but feel free to ask it separately. –  patrix Feb 27 '13 at 5:20
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I don't have a experience with OS X 10.8, but I've done plenty of computer-lab admin work back around OS X 10.3 / 10.4 / 10.5. I'll edit and/or remove my answer if better answers come along.

I'd venture that your basic application preferences -- for browsers, word processing apps, etc. -- will duplicate OK (with the notable exception of certain licensed software, i.e. Adobe CS Suite, Filemaker Pro, etc.) -- but probably the Parental Controls settings live outside of user home folders, somewhere under /Library (the System-level /Library, not ~/Library.)

You may have success hand- or scripted-copying the relevant directories and files from /Library, but there could be other issues lurking.

I have little doubt that, without a lot of toil and expertise on your part, your students are probably going to "tear the machines up" software-wise. You'd better have an easy method for wiping & refreshing machines on a regular basis if you want to keep a semblance of consistency.

It'd be much better to run OS X Server 10.8 and use the workgroup-management features built into it, that would give you a robust, easy-to-manage setup.

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