Mac OS X Server

Apple has never really been big in the server business – even big Mac-based studios often use Windows or Unix servers. Mac OS X Server was around for a while before the OS X client, but it didn’t have its glossy interface or ease of use – it was basically a Mac-friendly version of a Unix server. Now, OS X Server has been updated, offering what Apple calls “industrial-strength ruggedness with a simple-to-use interface” – at least simple if you’re used to other server software. Unlike the client version of OS X, the server-software installation doesn’t include the Classic environment. This means you won’t be able to run applications designed for OS 9 or earlier. If upgrading a server, make sure that server applications – such as OPI or RIP software – will run natively in OS X. More importantly, make sure any backup software can run natively in OS X. Backup dearth
Currently, Retrospect, the leading backup software from Dantz, is available as a public beta. This is good news, but only a brave or foolhardy IS (Information Systems) Manager would run beta software on a mission-critical server. And, only a brave or foolhardy IS Manager would run a mission-critical server with no backup facility. This leaves OS X Server high and dry. Installation is as easy as server software gets – you’re simply guided through choices. You’ll need to know what you want at this point, so even though the choices are well presented, a little technical knowledge is needed. If searching for a manual, you’ll be disappointed. There’s no printed manual included, just a PDF. A printed book is available, but only online from Fatbrain (www.fatbrain.com, $36.50 plus p&p). I know this will save a tree or two, as it’s a big manual; but personally, I like to have an easily accessible reference, especially when installing such potentially complex software. Once you’ve navigated the set-up process, you’re unlikely to need to touch the server for some time. The beauty of OS X is its stability – it doesn’t crash, and in the unlikely event that an application does crash in OS X Server, it will fix itself. The server keeps an eye on any application that’s running, and if something goes wrong it will restart the app. If the whole system freezes, which is even more unlikely, the machine reboots and starts up the applications that were running. Best Mac
So why would you choose a Mac server when there are other servers that do similar jobs? First off, even when working in a Mac-centric environment like a design studio, it’s unlikely that there’ll be no PCs on the network. OS X server means that Macs and PCs can share files and printers out of the box. That also goes for Unix machines, Linux machines and just about any kind of computer available. This may not seem like a big deal, but setting up Mac services on a PC server can be a nightmare – especially if you come from a Mac background. Equally, IT staff from a PC background may be unfamiliar with Mac networking – they get confused by its simplicity. For those wanting to serve Web pages from a Mac, Apache is included. Apache is the world’s most popular Web server, and it’s free. You may be forgiven for thinking that it’s popular because it’s free, but in fact it’s popular because it’s a rock-solid Web server. Apache is high quality largely because it’s an open-source project, meaning that thousands of developers have collaborated to produce it. So any bugs found are fixed in days, rather than months. There’s also an the option to install QuickTime Streaming Server and Web Objects 5 deployment software. The QuickTime server allows you run movies on a Web site, create a Web radio station, or even show live video or audio. The Web Objects software is simply to deploy Web Objects projects. To create the Web Objects content, you still need to buy the full software. Fortunately, at a little under £500, it’s now a fraction of the price it used to be.

OUR VERDICT

I expect all professionals working with Macs to be running OS X within a year. It makes sense to use an OS X-based server – it’s cheap, simple to use and offers excellent features for administrators. The hardware requirements are also cheap compared to the non-Mac options. However, there are issues with compatibility – not with other operating systems, but with software for OS X. In a couple of months, it’ll be worthwhile, but for now, it’s only worth buying if you need some practice setting it up.

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