Over the last two years, Apple has offered Mac OS X Server in tandem with the desktop versions of the Mac OS X operating system. OS X Server 10.0 replaced both AppleShare IP and the Rhapsody-based OS X Server 1.X — an unattractive, if functional, product that made us appreciate the fantastic Aqua interface all the more.
Apple’s latest server-software product is a complete operating system — built atop OS X 10.2, (Jaguar) — that offers easy access to the underlying Unix-based Internet services, as well as a host of cross-platform file-sharing and printer-sharing services. And although OS X Server 10.2 builds on the legacy of AppleShare IP 6, the similarities are only on the surface. In it, you’ll find features that go far beyond AppleShare IP’s capabilities and provide something for every kind of Mac server administrator.
Besides the major new features, there are minor yet significant enhancements, such as IMAP with SSH support and a Web-mail feature in the mail server; encrypted file sharing for OS X 10.2 clients; Kerberos support for FTP, mail, and AFP (Apple Filing Protocol, or AppleShare-style file sharing) servers; and per-user and per-printer restrictions for printing — along with page limits and detailed logging. You also get a special version of QuickTime Broadcaster with a command-line interface that the downloadable version lacks. An LDAP-based Open Directory service rounds out the user-management features.
Give Your Macs the Boot
This Mac server software has two features that are big changes for Mac users: NetBoot, which allows Macs to start up from a system OS that resides entirely on a network server, and Network Install, which simplifies centralized updates and software distribution. These aren’t new concepts, and they build nicely on past efforts such as Apple’s Macintosh Manager and third-party tools such as the Purdue University Computing Center’s RevRdist and Stairways Software’s Assimilator.
Essentially, NetBoot allows you to create a network of computers in which users can sit down at any Mac, even a brand-new one right out of the box, and be in their own familiar environment immediately. This requires a fair amount of configuration on the server, but we found that starting up a PowerBook G4 from an OS living on the server was seamless — and more than a little eerie. These features support only OS X 10.2 clients; Network Install lets you install software on both OS 9 and OS X computers, but installations of the OS must be version 10.2 or later.
One of OS X Server’s strong suits is its ability to serve a wide variety of client platforms in their native protocols. When connecting to file servers, Mac users, of course, see a Mac-friendly file server. Windows users see a server in their Network Neighborhood (as usual), and Unix and Linux users can access file services via NFS, FTP, or even WebDAV, without having to install additional client software. The same is true for printer sharing, and the mail and Web-server features support the expected Internet protocols, such as IMAP, SSL, and WebDAV.
File-server access, although it does support multiple platforms simultaneously, has one weak link. To support access for Windows clients via the SMB protocol, individual user accounts must be set to the more secure Password Server option, rather than the Basic setting. However, when this option is selected so that users can connect via SMB, they will no longer have the option of connecting from Macs running an OS earlier than OS X 10.2. While the average user probably won’t need to connect to a file server from multiple platforms, those who do will have to upgrade to OS X 10.2.
Unfortunately, Windows file services can appear active but still not let Windows users connect if the Password Server software isn’t also running. The Server Settings application doesn’t mention any problems with this situation, and the documentation’s troubleshooting pages fail to offer it as an explanation for why users may be unable to connect.
Configure and Forget?
Changing server settings has traditionally required going to the server — remote-control software such as Netopia’s Timbuktu Pro and Apple Remote Desktop notwithstanding. OS X Server 10.2’s Server Admin, Workgroup Manager, and Server Monitor applications can be run from any OS X machine, anywhere. They can accommodate remote starting, stopping, and configuration of the various services; configuration of user accounts and folder or feature access; and monitoring of hardware status and network traffic (some monitoring features work only on Apple’s Xserve).
A few features of the new server software, such as QuickTime Streaming Server, are administered separately via a Web interface. While this works well, we’d love to see a unified admin application rather than several tools doing different things, and Web-based administration of more features would be a nice touch.
Remote administration will require opening some ports in any firewall between your Mac and the server. When we had trouble opening the right ports, a call to Apple’s tech support helped fill in some of the blanks, though the company’s telephone-support system isn’t yet adept at routing callers to the server-support team.
Selecting Your Hardware
If your users complain about the performance of your file server, it’s important to remember that several factors can affect its speed. High-performance software like this needs high-performance hardware in order to shine, and a crowded Ethernet network will slow down performance.
The ideal hardware for the new server software is Apple’s Xserve rack-mountable server (mmmh; Reviews, November 2002), which includes the $999 unlimited-client version of OS X Server 10.2 at no extra charge. (Or you can think of the package as $3,000 worth of assembled server software with a free, slick machine to run it on.)
If an Xserve isn’t in the cards, a Power Mac G4 you may have somewhere collecting dust will be a great machine for OS X Server 10.2. The software flies on a dual-processor Power Mac G4. On a dual-800MHz Power Mac G4 (Quicksilver) with 768MB of RAM, the server software performed well, and the user interface was smooth and a pleasure to use.
But you don’t need a speedy machine to run OS X Server 10.2. We were pleasantly surprised that the server itself — most notably
its file-sharing and QuickTime Streaming Server features — performed just fine on a 350MHz blue-and-white Power Mac G3 with 192MB of RAM. The Aqua interface bogs down a bit on slower G3 processors, but once the server is set up, most administrative tasks can be handled remotely. On older machines such as early iMacs, extra RAM should make a big difference. Apple says OS X Server 10.2, like Jaguar, requires 128MB of memory, but we’d suggest no less than 256MB, and preferably 512MB or more if you’ll be running multiple services.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Organizations that need to set up a new server will clearly get their money’s worth from this package. You can get basic file-sharing and Internet services with any ol’ Mac running the nonserver version of Jaguar, but if you want to save time when doing more than the most-basic setups, the server-software purchase will be worthwhile.
What’s less clear is whether anyone who already owns OS X Server should bother upgrading. There’s no upgrade pricing, so even if you want to upgrade from the OS X Server 10.1.5 software you purchased a few months ago, you’ll pay the full price. We suspect that this price hurdle will cause a lot of people to stick with OS X Server 10.1; only you can decide whether it’s worth paying the full price all over again.
But if you’re currently using AppleShare IP 6.X or the short-lived OS X Server 1.X, you have an easier decision. You’ll get much more from this software, including vastly better administration tools and detailed instructions and utilities to help you migrate to the new platform. Any way you look at it, the performance enhancements in the underlying OS X 10.2 software and the substantial new and improved features make Mac OS X Server 10.2 a very compelling product.