Apple Upgraded the AirPort Utility to 6.0 for Lion Users: A Blessing or a Curse?

3GI always thought that one of the negatives of using Apple products in my network was the fact that you could not configure them through a browser.  All other consumer-grade routers that I am aware of provide a browser-based network interface for configuring the security, WAN and LAN settings of the router.  Apple requires the use of an application that they provide now called “AirPort Utility” to accomplish this same set of operations. This utility is available for Microsoft Windows and, of course, OS X, but has never been available for any flavor of Linux.

Apple recently pushed out version 6.0 of the AirPort Utility to Lion (10.7.X) users. Users of earlier versions of OS X are not offered this software upgrade. This utility allows you to configure AirPort base stations, Time Capsules and other Apple networking gear. Although the interface is much simpler to use, they have drawn a line in the proverbial sand, leaving some older Apple networking devices and some previously existing features by the wayside. CNET did an analysis of the features missing from the new version of the AirPort Utility.  The results of their investigation can be found here. As an individual who uses many of these features that are now inaccessible, I am a bit concerned.  In addition to removing the ability to configure a number of previously existing features, the new version also no longer allows you to configure 802.11g and earlier versions of their network products. Fortunately, they have provided a new version, 5.6, which can be found here which can be used to configure aging devices.

On the bright side, one of the advantages of running OS X is the ability to run multiple versions of an application.  I took advantage of this ability so I could have both versions of the AirPort Utility installed.  These steps should be done BEFORE updating to version 6.0. Perform the following steps to have access to both versions.

  • Since the AirPort Utility is a system file and is owned by root (the ultimate and all powerful user on a UNIX system), we must assume the power of root to make these changes.  That is accomplished by executing the following “sudo” command and entering your password when prompted.

NOTE: In the step that follows, you become the “root” user. At that point, you have full power and authority to damage your system and make it inoperable. If you are not comfortable with that, stop now. I accept no responsibility for damage done here.

sudo su -
  • We next need to find out the location of the Applications/Utilities folder on your system.
ls /Volumes/*/Applications/Utilities
  • Make a note of the string that is returned to you. Next, we want to change our working directory to the location we just identified that holds your AirPort Utility. Replace <string> with the path that was returned by the previous command. If the path returned includes spaces, enclose the <string> path entered below in quotation marks.
cd <string>
  • Next, we want to make a copy of your existing version of the AirPort Utility. The “-r” option of the cp (copy) command requests that the copy be made recursively.  That is, copy the item requested and all of its contents including files and subfolders. Under OS X, applications are actually represented as folders that contain all (well, most anyway) of the information and resources needed to execute the program. The “-p” option tells cp to maintain file attributes like access time, modification time and permissions.
cp -rp "AirPort Utility.app" "AirPort Utility Old.app"

Since we no longer need the power of the root user, exit.

 exit

If you now look in the Utilities folder within Applications, you should see two versions of the Application utility there, named as above. Double-click the “AirPort Utility” application and feel free to upgrade it to the new version 6.0.  If you run the old version, you may be prompted to upgrade it.  Just decline the upgrade to maintain the old version, as is.

It is worth noting that running multiple instances of some programs is more complicated than implied here.  In this case, the AirPort Utility is reasonably well-behaved and self-contained. Some applications, like browsers or other applications that use customizable user profiles for their settings require more planning to support concurrent versions. It can still be done, however.

In my opinion, unless you desperately need to use version 6.0 of the AirPort Utility, I would decline the upgrade. At some point in the future, users may be forced to take an upgrade, however. For the sake of the advanced users, hopefully a new version of this utility will be made available soon which restores the functionality that has been removed.  I wouldn’t expect older devices to be supported though. Unlike Microsoft, Apple does not always provide backward compatibility in their products.  That is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse.

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