Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server full review

With all the fuss over Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, it’s easy to overlook Apple’s more industrial software powerhouse Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server.

For those of you who aren’t as familiar with OS X Server as you are with the desktop version (or client version, as it’s referred to by Server) running a Mac server isn’t the horrifically complex experience you’d imagine. OS X Server shares the same Aqua interface placed upon the Darwin 10 kernal; much of the key features, applications, and utilities are the same.

It is possible to run Mac OS X Server on a work machine, but the general idea is that you install it on a dedicated Mac on your network and use it for file sharing and to administer other Macs on a network. A separate disk containing Server Admin tools can be installed on a work machine and used to remotely manage the server.

In typical Apple fashion installation is much, much easier than either a Linux or Windows Server 2008 option, and most of the process is automated. That’s not to say it’s idiot-proof and you will need to invest effort in getting to know the nuances of OS X Server, but it’s a heck of a lot easier than other options.

There is a beginner-friendly tool called Server Preferences, which resembles the System Preferences pane and enables you to manage users and groups, enable or disable services, adjust a limited set of options, and view basic system information.

Beyond that are a set of advanced admin tools: Server Admin, Xgrid Admin and Workgroup Manager. The great thing about Server Preferences is that it gives you a beginner-friendly area to get started, and get your server up and running, while you then learn the in-depth expertise that the more advanced management tools offer.

The other impressive aspect of Mac OS X 10.6 Server is its scalability. Like OS X Apple sells just the one version and it runs just as happily on a Mac mini as it does on a top-of-the-line Xserve; and both the Mac Pro and iMac are perfectly valid options. Of course, the machine you use depends on your needs but many home users opt to turn a Mac mini into a home server, just as many small businesses use an extra Mac Pro; Xserves are rack mounted and tend to be a more industrial option.

What you can do with it

Mac OS X Server enables several standard server functions: email support, web hosting, file sharing, and so on. It adds to that integration for collaborative work in Apple apps (notable iCal and Address Book). Then, on top of that, it adds a few special features that you won’t find in other server options – these tend to be of a creative bent.

There’s the sublime Wiki Server, for example, and the superb Podcast Producer. There’s also an iPhone Configuration Utility that makes it easy to deploy Apple’s mobile phone in a business environment.

Mac OS X Server can be deployed as a main business server, or it’s possible to attach a Mac running OS X Server to an existing network to provide the additional features found in Apple’s software.

The Server Preferences offer a basic level of interaction designed to help you get started; Server Admin is where you’ll find a more comprehensive set of controls.

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