Mac OS X’s success proves that Mac folks love their Unix but want to keep it tastefully hidden under a handsome Aqua quilt. With the release of iTools 7, Tenon Intersystems is betting that Mac folks will also love powerful Unix Internet services such as Web and mail servers, as long as there’s a little room under that quilt to hide the particulars.
A standard iTools installation includes recent versions of the Apache 2 Web server, the BIND 9 server, and the ProFTPD server; an Update Manager feature ensures that all components are current. These open-source servers have an established reputation on Unix systems. While they’ve always been free, they must be compiled, installed, and configured via a command-line interface. These installations can be quite difficult, and the text-based configuration files are very complex — not a pleasant prospect for Mac administrators accustomed to controlling Internet services via a graphical user interface.
By eliminating (in most cases) the need for a command line, iTools greatly simplifies the installation and maintenance of these network services. You get a simple, well-designed GUI ready to help you manage your newly installed servers. If you value — or require — an easy-to-understand tool for tackling server administration, you’ll benefit from adding iTools to your workshop.
No Command Line Needed
We followed the manual’s Quick Start section and entered some basic information into the service managers. In less than 30 minutes, we had an iBook serving Web pages, accepting e-mail, and handling several FTP sessions. This would’ve taken a lot longer if we had downloaded the servers’ respective source code, compiled the software, and edited text-configuration files.
Although iTools makes server installation and administration easy, it doesn’t interfere with the server’s performance. iTools Manager gives you access to Apache’s full range of customization and configuration options, neatly dividing related settings among separate tabbed windows. You can limit access to your Web sites, protect Web pages with a password, and enable CGI scripts through this well-organized window.
iTools’ DNS manager is fantastic. Creating new domain-name information is very easy — even longtime Unix administrators will appreciate how clicking on two buttons and entering one domain name result in perfect server configuration and domain zone files. Although many sites have an Internet service provider that handles DNS service, iTools’ DNS service can be useful as a secondary DNS server for local machines to use.
The FTP server software doesn’t have as many settings, but the manual points to online resources that tell you how to cre-ate advanced settings by directly editing the configuration file. Most people will probably never need to modify advanced FTP server settings, so omitting them may be Tenon’s way of keeping things simple.
iTools’ Sendmail-management capabilities, however, are the program’s weakest point. You can create mail aliases and control which computers may use your server as a mail relay, but you can’t do much else. This inflexibility prevents you from easily adding useful tools, such as spam filters, virus checkers, and mailing-list software. Many of these weaknesses are addressed by Tenon’s Post.Office mail package, which the company recommends for all mail needs. (Post.Office will cost you nearly $300 if you’re managing more than ten e-mail accounts.)
iTools also includes the iTools Administration Server, a secure Web interface that lets you manage your iTools setup via a Web browser on any computer with an Internet connection. The Web interface is quite similar to the software’s interface, and it works with no problems.
Why Pay to Run Free Software?
Apache, Sendmail, and BIND are part of a basic OS X installation package, and you can download, build, or install the other software iTools includes, without paying a cent. When you buy iTools, you’re paying for ease of use, a consistent OS X user experience, and a chance to forget about the technical wizardry that makes Internet servers run.
iTools is very easy to use, but inexperienced administrators will need to learn about the services it manages before they install it. The manual thoroughly walks you through setting up each service, and it explains the essential concepts of DNS and FTP services very well. But to troubleshoot, you’ll have to visit the iTools FAQ on Tenon’s Web site or e-mail technical support; you get only 30 consecutive days of free technical support (extended maintenance contracts are available; they start at $99 for one year).
Despite iTools’ solid performance, there’s still a slight chance that you’ll one day find yourself staring at a command line. During our testing of the Web interface, an improperly configured reverse-DNS zone caused internal server errors that couldn’t be fixed with iTools. The program couldn’t delete the malformed zone, so we had to manually edit the DNS configuration file (a task most Mac administrators never face), manually delete the zone files, and restart the DNS service. The iTools manual discusses these files, so intrepid and experienced users can handle such a situation themselves. However, since diagnosing and solving this problem is difficult without prior server experience, novice users should rely on Tenon’s technical support, which was prompt and friendly the two times that we phoned the company.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
iTools 7 takes industry-standard Internet- service software and makes it as easy to use as an OS X preference pane. iTools 7 may not appeal to advanced administrators with experience using text files to configure Unix software. But if you need a professional Internet presence without dedicated administrators, iTools 7 will save you time and effort. For iTools 7’s simplicity and power, $349 is a fair price to pay.