WebStar Server 4.0 full review

Until now, Web masters wanting an all-Mac Internet presence had to get by with ad hoc collections of server software, from assorted vendors, that don’t play together as well as they could. To remedy this situation, StarNine has gone in to bat with a suite of integrated products. WebStar Server Suite 4.0 bundles a faster version of the WebStar Web server; a mail server; and Lasso Publisher, for publishing FileMaker and ODBC-compliant databases. Despite of a few minor errors, using it is the easiest way to get a complete Internet presence on a single Mac. With advanced features – such as Web-based administration, IP multi-homing, and more – WebStar was already a capable Web server. New in this release are a reworked data-caching architecture and persistent data-connection plug-ins.The latter lets you take advantage of HTTP 1.1 pipelining. Other tweaks – that, according to StarNine, double WebStar’s Web-serving traffic capacity – didn’t show quite as much improvement in our tests. StarNine has also added Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) version 3 encryption features, and a remote SSL administration using a Web browser. Service with a smile
WebStar’s Web server still has a built-in FTP server and standard CGI capability. The server is easy to set up with the supplied Mac-administration application, which supports encryption for secure remote-control. Alas, StarNine has not kept WebStar’s Web-based management up-to-date; many new functions can’t be configured from the Web. StarNine says concern over browser-based-administration security has prevented it from fully supporting browser-based management of all WebStar functions. StarNine intends to improve HTML administration after new encryption standards – such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) – become widely available in browsers. StarNine has enhanced its load-balancing plug-in, which lets Men and Mice’s QuickDNS Pro route new users to the least-busy server. The plug-in supports FTP load balancing, and improves Web load-balancing by handling traffic to virtual domains, as well as to the domain hosted by a WebStar server. Also new in this release is WebStar Lasso Publisher, a plug-in module that’s a sub-set of Blue World Communications’ Lasso Web Data Engine. The plug-in lets you author Web pages that interface to FileMaker Pro, or any ODBC-capable database. You embed Lasso Publisher commands in your HTML documents and Lasso then interprets the commands to retrieve database records for display in the user’s browser. By combining Lasso with HTML forms, you can also create new database records. The plug-in can’t update or delete existing records, however, and suffers from several other limitations compared to the full Lasso Web Engine. WebStar’s new integrated mail server supports the most popular Internet email protocols – SMTP, IMAP4, POP3, APOP, and MIME – and a limited LDAP function of the mail server lets you store address books, for user referrals. StarNine has paid attention to security, too, giving WebStar Mail comprehensive anti-spam features that prevent unauthorized mail relaying. Allow-deny filters let you control who can access various mail services, and an administration tool allows real-time monitoring of the server’s activity log. The monitor function keeps tabs on queued mail, traffic rates, and access violations. Users can access mail via Internet-capable mail clients, or with any Web browser. They log onto WebStar’s mail-access Web page using a special URL. But, users can’t store read messages or replies, organize messages into folders, change account settings – such as their password or vacation message, or filter messages. Nor does the suite offer Web access to advanced mail-functions, such as IMAP-stored. We tested the suite’s Web server informally, using the Unix-based WebStone tool, and found WebStar 4.0 easily 50 per cent faster than version 3.0. We did not, however, see the promised 100 per cent improvement in throughput. WebStar still requires considerable tweaking of cache settings to achieve optimal performance, and the Mac OS’s TCP/IP protocol stack and non-preemptive multi-tasking architecture still hamper it. You can get better performance using a server such as Tenon Intersystems’ WebTen, or LinuxPPC’s Apache server (see the review of LinuxPPC 1999 on page 53), but WebStar is still fast enough for most routine Web-hosting applications.
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