Free Apple MDMs: Are They Really Free? 

How to Choose Your Apple MDM

Written by Ashley Gwilliam on October 18, 2022

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There is no doubt about it — remote work is here to stay. 

Managing, securing, and updating Apple device fleets has never been more pivotal to thwart potential security breaches. Mobile device management (MDM) solutions simplify remote management while providing peace of mind that essential data is kept safe.

Right now, organizations in industries across the board are cutting costs in response to the current economic climate. Are you a budget-conscious admin looking for “free Apple MDM” guidance? If so, keep reading to learn more about what to look for when evaluating platforms. 

The Apple MDM Landscape

Choosing the right MDM vendor has become a crucial task since 2020. That’s when Apple released macOS Big Sur, which introduced several changes for end users and IT admins overseeing enterprise environments. 

Proceeding this change, it wasn’t uncommon for small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to leave Apple device maintenance in the hands of end users. Though several industries have embraced the vendor in recent years, Apple products still make up a small (but growing) percentage of the average organization’s device portfolio

Of course, this left organizations vulnerable as most enterprise end users are not IT experts! Furthermore, they’re unlikely to prioritize organizational security over their daily tasks. 

Today, Apple continues to add security patches that require coordination with official Apple MDM vendors. Of course, Apple’s commitment to privacy doesn’t stop there — Apple wants enterprise end users to know what their employers do and don’t have access to from their devices too! 

Translation: Organizations must practice transparency, even with corporate-controlled devices. Admins can no longer rely on manual management of their Macs or third-party vendors that don’t use Apple’s native MDM protocols or APIs. 


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Free Apple MDMs: Are They Really Free?

Free MDM and open source MDM platforms do exist. 

Review site Capterra lists 42 mobile device management software entries, in fact. But will these options cover the functionality you need? In most cases, the answer is no. 

Open source MDMs and free MDM plans can often get the job done for extremely small businesses. But most SMEs require varying paid plans to meet more sophisticated security compliance requirements. 

Most of the “free” Apple MDM plans you will find have device limits and/or time limits. In addition, they often require admins to manually install updates, troubleshoot connectivity issues, and/or manage on-prem infrastructure. Furthermore, each provider puts its unique spin on MDM APIs. 

For these reasons, it’s crucial to clarify your requirements before investing time and energy into setting up a free Apple MDM solution. Let’s take a look at some key elements worth considering when weighing your options. 

5 Essential Apple MDM Assessment Factors 

It’s unlikely that most free or open source MDM solutions will check all of your boxes. You’ll need to decide which features are absolutely essential for your organization and which ones you can live without. Below are four core factors to consider before choosing a free Apple MDM: 

1. Cross-Platform Support

Select a free vendor that only works with Apple products, and you’ll need to configure a different solution for Windows and Linux devices. Multiple solutions will require engaging in duplicate work, implementing multiple deployment processes, and staying up to date on different technologies. Translation: it can be a real pain in the tuchus! 

If you manage a heterogeneous environment, prioritize device management technology that is cross-platform, multi-protocol, provider-agnostic, and location-independent. Ultimately, your MDM tool shouldn’t limit your choice of compatible vendor technology down the road either.

2. Security Compliance Functionality

Do you have remote workers using your servers? Following MDM best practices will require using platform features such as remote wipe, lock, restart, shutdown, mandatory password strength, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and more. 

Consider if the free Apple MDM or open source solution will streamline the most common types of IT compliance regulations and standards: PCI, CCPA, HIPAA, SOX, SOC 2, and ISO 27001. While smaller businesses may not have many requirements, companies dealing with credit card transactions must cooperate with ISO 27001 standards. Furthermore, though SOC 2 isn’t a requirement it’s quickly becoming an industry standard for proving robust security practices. 

Quick deployment and activation is essential for any admin expecting to meet evolving compliance instructions. In addition, look for streamlined reporting capabilities that make it easy to procure requested audit information at a moment’s notice. 

3. Remote Configuration and Enrollment

Another factor to consider is how you currently deploy devices for new employees working from home. The best Apple MDM solutions allow admins to ship Apple devices straight to employees — ready to go out of the box. With zero-touch enrollment, the new employee simply follows the prompts on the screen for automatic enrollment and policy configuration. That means you can predetermine exactly what apps, resources, and data the employee will have access to ahead of time. If you’re looking for ways to take back your time, prioritize these features in your MDM search.

Young business people working in modern co-working space office using digital devices

4. Software Deployment and Patching

Software deployment on macOS comes in two flavors: App Store apps and non-App Store apps. Apps sold through the Mac App Store can be purchased through Apple Business Manager and then installed remotely via an MDM solution with no action required by the end user.

Alternatively, non-App Store apps must be packaged up and installed manually. Many paid MDMs will offer an “App catalog” with popular enterprise apps prepackaged and ready to install. If a free solution doesn’t offer this service, consider the time it will take to package up your apps manually.

And, as any experienced admin will tell you, never sleep on patch management! Failing to install security and performance updates is like turning away free food. So, when evaluating free Apple MDM solutions, take a close look at the patch management UX. 

5. User Management

As previously mentioned, user management for Apple devices has become more complicated with the evolution of macOS. For example, the recent shift to SecureTokens as a way of ensuring trust caused plenty of challenges for IT admins. 

Thus, it’s crucial to understand how your new MDM will work with your directory services. Here are some questions worth asking yourself how easy is it to:

  • Connect the MDM and directory service together to automate user management or will I need two separate solutions? 
  • Control who can access which devices, networks, and applications?
  • Manage FileVault, which is intimately tied to the user and their profile?
  • Manage access to employee Macs remotely? 

The integration of system and user management is extremely valuable for organizations planning to scale. In summary, choose the right solution from the start as it can be costly to switch after employee devices are already onboarded.

JumpCloud: The Best Apple MDM Solution

If you’re looking for greater integration between MDM and identity management, look no further than JumpCloud — the all-in-one MDM solution. Are we incredibly biased? Absolutely. 

But the reality is there simply isn’t anything like it on the market. With JumpCloud you can manage Apple, Windows, and Linux devices from one frictionless location. The user portal allows admins to configure devices around user identities, wipe and lock devices, automate patch updates, and configure zero-touch enrollment quickly and easily. 

In addition, users have the option of combining JumpCloud MDM with valuable security elements like SSO, MFA, full-disk encryption, cloud LDAP, and RADIUS.

Benefits of Using JumpCloud MDM

Seamless Cross-System Management

An IT admin’s credo is to secure their employee devices and, in doing so, protect company data and resources. Those devices could be Windows laptops, Linux servers, or Apple devices. JumpCloud, as an Apple-certified MDM vendor, offers seamless macOS MDM capabilities at no extra charge for companies on JumpCloud’s Free and Pro plans. 

Convenient Security Controls 

Security is something that can’t be sacrificed, even when it’s business as usual. Today, when teams are working from any corner of the globe, it’s even more critical that IT admins feel empowered to protect end users and enterprise devices regardless of location.

Once a JumpCloud-managed system is enrolled in Apple’s MDM, these commands equip admins with the ability to secure a user’s Mac in the event it’s lost or stolen. In addition, admins can remotely execute tasks like installing software, updating patches, and ensuring backups via JumpCloud’s command execution capabilities.

Easy Enrollment 

Enroll macOS machines in bulk with a few clicks via JumpCloud’s macOS MDM enrollment policy. When applying the enrollment policy, admins have the option of checking a box that removes existing non-JumpCloud MDM enrollment profiles and automatically unenrolls devices from their previous MDM. 

You can also use the policy to enroll new machines quickly. For DEP-enrolled machines, go through your Apple Business/School Manager platform and switch the association of their serial numbers to the new MDM server. 

Give the platform a try today!

Ashley Gwilliam

Ashley Gwilliam is a Content Writer for JumpCloud. After graduating with a degree in print-journalism, Ashley’s storytelling skills took her from on-camera acting to interviewing NBA basketball players to ghostwriting for CEOs. Today she writes about tech, startups, and remote work. In her analog life, she is on a quest to find the world's best tacos.

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