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Until now webmasters wanting an all-Mac Internet presence had to get by with ad hoc collections of server software from assorted vendors; even Apple's own AppleShare IP bundle consists of weakly integrated programs that don't play together as well as they could. To remedy this situation, StarNine has stepped up to the plate with a suite of integrated products that endeavor to be team players. WebStar Server Suite 4.0 bundles a significantly faster version of the WebStar Web server; a full-function mail server; and Lasso Publisher, for publishing FileMaker and ODBC-compliant databases. In spite of a few minor errors, the suite hits a home run; using it is the easiest way to get a complete Internet presence on a single Mac.
With advanced features such as Web-based administration, IP multihoming, and more, WebStar was already a capable Web server. New in this release are a reworked data-caching architecture; persistent data-connection plug-ins that let you take advantage of HTTP 1.1 pipelining; and other performance tweaks that, according to StarNine, double WebStar's Web-serving traffic capacity, although our testing didn't indicate quite that much improvement. StarNine has also added Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) version 3 encryption features, as well as remote SSL administration using a Web browser.
WebStar's Web server still has a built-in FTP server and standard CGI capability. The server is easy to set up with the supplied Mac administration application, which supports encryption for secure remote control. Alas, StarNine has not kept WebStar's Web-based management up-to-date; many new functions can't be configured from the Web. StarNine says concern over browser-based-administration security has prevented the company from fully supporting browser-based management of all WebStar functions. StarNine intends to improve HTML administration after new encryption standards, such as Transport Layer Security (TLS), become widely available in browsers.
StarNine has enhanced its load-balancing plug-in, which lets Men and Mice's QuickDNS Pro dynamically route new users to the least-busy server. The plug-in now supports FTP load balancing and improves Web load balancing by handling traffic to virtual domains as well as to the main domain hosted by a WebStar server.
Also new in this release is WebStar Lasso Publisher, a plug-in module that's a subset of Blue World Communications' Lasso Web Data Engine. The plug-in lets you author Web pages that interface to FileMaker Pro or any ODBC-capable database. You embed Lasso Publisher commands in your HTML documents; Lasso then interprets the commands to retrieve database records for display in the user's browser. By combining Lasso with HTML forms, you can also create new database records. The plug-in can't update or delete existing records, however, and suffers from several other limitations compared to the full Lasso Web Engine product.
WebStar's new integrated mail server supports the most popular Internet e-mail protocols?SMTP, IMAP4, POP3, APOP, and MIME?and a limited LDAP function of the mail server lets you store address books for user referrals. StarNine has paid attention to security, too, giving WebStar Mail comprehensive antispam features that prevent unauthorized mail relaying. Allow-deny filters let you control who can access various mail services, and an administration tool allows real-time monitoring of the server's activity log. The monitor function keeps tabs on queued mail, traffic rates, and access violations.
Users can access their mail via traditional Internet-capable mail clients or with any Web browser. They log onto WebStar's mail-access Web page using a special URL. Unfortunately, users can't store read messages or replies, organize messages into folders, change account settings such as their password or vacation message, or filter messages. Nor does the suite offer Web access to advanced mail functions, such as IMAP-stored mail or the LDAP directories.
We tested the suite's Web server informally using the Unix-based WebStone tool, and found WebStar 4.0 easily 50 percent faster than version 3.0. We did not, however, see the promised 100 percent improvement in throughput. WebStar still requires considerable tweaking of cache settings to achieve optimal performance, and the Mac OS's TCP/IP protocol stack and nonpreemptive multitasking architecture still hamper it. You can get better performance using a server such as Tenon Intersystems' WebTen or LinuxPPC's Apache server (see the review of LinuxPPC 1999 elsewhere in this issue). Although WebStar lags behind its competitors in high-traffic environments, it's still plenty fast enough for most routine Web-hosting applications.
WebStar is still the easiest Mac Web server to set up, use, and administer, and the new mail-server component removes one more headache for Mac Webmasters. WebStar Server Suite 4.0 is no speed demon, but most Web administrators will find the bundle's convenience well worth the performance hit when user-friendliness is a priority.
RATING: PROS: Integrated mail server; Web-based mail access; DNS load balancing for both Web and FTP; improved performance. CONS: Incomplete Web-based administration; weak Web-mail interface. COMPANY: StarNine (800/525-2580, http://www.starnine.com ). LIST PRICE: $599.
November 1999 page: 44