When Mac OS X Server appeared two years ago, pundits and users alike welcomed it as an excellent first effort (Reviews, July 1999). With a Unix foundation, advanced network support, preemptive multitasking, and remote client support, it made the Mac a contender as a solid workgroup and Internet server. Butbecause Apple has issued only a smattering of minor updates and patches since the server’s release, Mac users have been impatiently awaiting the first major upgrade.
They won’t be disappointed by what Apple has delivered with Mac OS X Server 10.0.4. It has an Aqua user interface, identical to its desktop counterpart; a raft of Web-publishing tools, including PHP, MySQL, Java Server Pages, and WebDAV; significantly better remote administration; many performance improvements; and some minor enhancements. Dishearteningly, though, Apple has fallen short in two very important areas: documenting all of Mac OS X Server’s features and providing a complete set of graphical administration tools.
OS X Server now comes in two packages, one for ten users and one for unlimited users. Apple has removed the WebObjects development environment–you get support only for executing WebObjects–and added software-license protection, although the licenses are not time-limited. And current users must pay full price for the new edition; there’s no upgrade path. The package consists of five CDs containing OS X, WebObjects 5 Deployment, Macintosh Manager, NetBoot, and Developer Tools.
OS X Server’s documentation consists of a Getting Started card and a 250-page Admin Guide (on CD-ROM) that briefly describes only OS X Server’s most popular features. We tolerated weak documentation with OS X Server’s first incarnation, but Apple promised to do better this time around. Although the Admin Guide is a useful overview of some available services, it’s a far cry from what users expect from a $1,000 product. Missing are details on administering Apache, on activating various Web-programming tools, and on critical troubleshooting tasks such as disk recovery. Instead of providing this information, the Admin Guide directs you to the third-party document for that component, leaving you to make the leap from there to the OS X Server environment.
Installing the full product is easy–one click and it’s running. Upgrading an existing OS X Server installation, however, is an ordeal. Apple provides a migration tool for exporting user and group information, but you must offload all your own files and applications, folder by folder. You then copy them back to the same places after installing OS X Server on top of the old OS X partition, which eradicates everything that was there. Because OS X’s directory structure tends to scatter user files to many obscure folders, this is a daunting task–and one that will annoy Mac users who expect the old System Folder’s simplicity.
Once installed, OS X Server provides a host of improvements. The most obvious is the Aqua look and feel, which reunites the server and desktop interfaces. In fact, OS X Server is basically the desktop ver-sion of OS X with some additional components: remote server administration, Web-programming tools, advanced file and print serving, and centralized directory services. The two versions have the same core Unix operating system, but OS X Server adds performance improvements, updates to Apache Web server, and many new administrative and Web-programming tools.
The Meat and Potatoes
A new program called Server Admin, which runs on OS X Server or OS X (but not on OS 9), allows you to remotely configure and control Web, file, print, user, and network functions. Server Admin also lets you browse log entries and check the status of various OS X software services, and you can install it on multiple machines. Because Server Admin doesn’t cover all the bases, the 10.0.1 patch added Secure Shell (SSH), an open-source utility that gives you secure, encrypted command-line access from anywhere on the Internet. But the program could do much more. For example, the only DNS function you can execute is turning DNS on or off; you can’t configure it or view the contents of the DNS database. Compare this with Windows DNS, which has had a remote graphical interface for years.
Web programmers will love OS X Server’s preinstalled support for the PHP 4.0.4 programming language; the MySQL 3.23 database; Java Server Pages; and WebDAV, which lets you use drag-and-drop techniques to publish Web content. These tools are enough to help you get an e-commerce site up and running without purchasing any additional software. In addition, they open up a whole world of Web applications heretofore unavailable on the Macintosh, including catalog and order processing, inventory control, scheduling, and interactive messaging–and many of these applications are free for the asking.
Several miscellaneous new features enable OS X Server to coexist with other platforms: Windows and Unix file sharing; LDAP authentication; IP filtering; a graphically configured mail server; and PostScript-compatible print serving for Mac, Windows, and Unix users. The new IP Filter function beefs up security, but it isn’t as secure as a stand-alone firewall, such as SonicWall. The new mail server is just fine for light duty, but it’s hardly a match for commercial OS X mail servers such as Tenon Intersystems’ NetTen or Stalker Software’s CommuniGate Pro (Reviews, September 2001). And despite OS X Server’s improved server-configuration aids, Tenon’s iTools still provides superior graphical configuration for Apache, SSL, and DNS.
Speeds and Feeds
When you compare the new release with OS X Server 1.2 running on identically configured Macs, you’ll notice that its Aqua interface can take a bit longer to manipulate windows. However, network services, such as Web hosting and file transfers, seem snappier. Informal tests showed OS X Server 10.0 accommodating three to four times as many Web requests per second as version 1.2. Apple hasn’t said exactly what it changed within Apache, but the server contains several new modules that the company doesn’t provide source code for, and these modules may account for the speed improvements. Release 10.1, which Apple promises will be available as a free upgrade by the time you read this, is expected to significantly improve the speed of Mac OS X Server.
Macworld’s Buying AdviceIf you’re currently running AppleShare IP without problems–and if you don’t need Mac OS X’s cross-platform or Internet-server features–there is little reason for you to migrate; Mac OS X Server offers minimal performance improvement over AppleShare IP. Similarly, schools or small workgroups using MacManager or OS X NetBoot won’t find any major advantages in OS X Server. However, if you are rolling out Web-based applications or in need a robust Internet server, OS X Server is a good choice–as long as you have Unix-savvy technical talent who can manage to configure it using the incomplete documentation.
Remote Control: Mac OS X Server 10.0.4’s new Server Admin application lets you remotely administer the most common server functions and view log files–useful when you need to troubleshoot from afar.