Long before the advent of Apple’s new operating system, Tenon Intersystems made a business of delivering Unix applications to the Macintosh. Their flagship product, WebTen, wrapped the popular Apache Web server within a “Unix virtual machine,” providing extraordinary performance and flexibility. While version 3.0, provides additional features such as Web-mail, indexed searching, and content management, the product has lost much of its edge. Improvements in competitive products, problems with stability under heavy traffic (or heavy
), and the new option of running Apache natively on OS X all serve to undermine WebTen’s position as the Mac’s Web-serving powerhouse.
Up and Running
After an initial glitch, set up was relatively straightforward. On machines using OS 9.1 WebTen freezes at launch. A small patch from the Tenon
fixed the problem. Further configuration for WebTen’s advanced functionality is through a Web-based administrative interface. Overall, setup is easy enough, but an interactive setup wizard would streamline the process.
The administration interface is quite usable and compares favorably with other servers’ Web-management features. Administrators will have little problem managing nearly all of WebTen’s services within their Web browsers. The program provides hypertext links to the thorough online documentation. Nonetheless, the interface lacks the elegance and efficiency of a true GUI-management application, and some advanced management requires hand editing of Unix text files.
As in previous versions, WebTen 3.0 provides Web services with Server-Side-Includes, proxy services, byte-range serving, SSL, and IP and Host Header virtual hosting. WebTen’s FTP, DNS, and Cron scheduling services are also carried forward. New features include PHP4 scripting, full-text searching, the ability to mount and share files from NFS volumes, a content-management system, and a new Web-mail system that functions both as a mail server and as a Web gateway to POP mail accounts. And of course, WebTen’s flexible architecture allows easy expansion via CGIs, WebStar W*API plug-ins, Apache modules, and Unix shell scripts. All of these features are fairly easy to install and use, but they don’t necessarily make WebTen stand out.
First, there are frustrating limitations: the Web-mail interface displays banner ads and cannot be customized unless you pay an additional fee; the DNS server provides no mechanism for configuring dynamic updates or SRV records; the HTML/OS content-management system offers limited functionality. Second, WebTen’s main competitor in the Mac server arena, 4D’s
WebStar Server Suite 4.0
; November 1999), matches much of WebTen’s feature list by including SSL, virtual hosts, SSI, FTP, Web-mail, and indexing capabilities along with unique features such as database publishing links for FileMaker and 4D. WebTen can no longer claim unmatched functionality out of the box.
And then there’s performance; previous versions of WebTen claimed the title of fastest Macintosh Web server, but once again, it appears that version 3.0 has lost some of its luster. Stress-testing with Microsoft’s Web Application Stress Tool showed that WebTen remains considerably faster than WebStar when serving static pages from the cache but is much slower when loading pages from disk. Furthermore, the built-in Apache server under OS X was two to three times faster on the same hardware. More troublesome, though, were the stability problems we encountered during testing. We were unable to use Ziff Davis’s
tool because of low performance and high error rates with WebTen. (Other Web servers did not exhibit these problems.) WebTen also crashed periodically at extremely high loads, both under OS 9.04 and OS 9.1. While WebTen capably serves plenty of pages to fill even a 10 Mbit Internet connection, it didn’t provide the blazing speed and stability we expected.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Overall, while WebTen 3.0 has added features, it has become a less compelling product. Administrators wanting comparable functionality and a more Mac-like feel should consider WebStar; those willing to brave the Unix can look to Mac OS X running either the built-in Apache server or Tenon’s iTools suite of Internet servers. For those somewhere in-between, WebTen 3.0 is serviceable, though not compelling.