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Mac OS X Server -- Industrial-strength server operating system with protected memory, pre-emptive multitasking and full process management.

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Jun 25, 2002


The currently accepted truth in the open-source world is that to make money on open-source software, you need to add some unique value to it, whether it be packaging or enhanced capabilities.

That logic has been followed by Apple in its Mac OS X Server, which builds on open-source software with a slew of additional capabilities, some of which will be appreciated by all users and some that will be of interest only to Apple shops. The currently accepted truth in the open-source world is that to make money on open-source software, you need to add some unique value to it, whether it be packaging or enhanced capabilities.

Mac OS X Server is based on open-source technology - Mach 2.5, BSD 4.4, Apache 1.3 - with some Apple additions: partial support for the WebObjects application server, NetBoot software for Apple networks, and support for Apple filesystems. The Apple shops will appreciate the NetBoot and Apple filesystem capabilities, while the WebObjects support may be embraced by larger corporate community.

And, in many ways, Mac OS X Server is the most ambitious attempt to bring open-source technology to the mass marketplace (even though open-source purists point out that it's not really open source by the time Apple gets done with it), which certainly makes it noteworthy at time when the corporate world is expressing interest in open-source solutions. Couple Mac OS X Server with a Macintosh Server G3 (which is how we reviewed the product) and you have one of the speedier servers available on the PC level. Apple's own benchmarking indicates that the Mac OS X Server/Macintosh Server G3 combo outperforms Red Hat Linux on a Dell PowerEdge 2300 and a Sun Ultra10S in Apache performance, while the same combo outperforms Windows NT in network performance on the same PowerEdge 2300 running Windows NT Server. While all benchmarking is bogus on some level - Red Hat isn't the speediest Linux and Windows NT network performance isn't as speedy as any UNIX network performance - it does illustrate the basic truth that Mac OS X Server on a G3 server makes for a high-performance Internet platform.

LOOKING AT MAC OS X APPLICATIONS

However, there's always the suspicion that almost any operating system running on a Macintosh Server G3 would be speedy - and that would include MkLinux, which is a version of Linux ported to the Macintosh architecture. BSD 4.4 is renowned for having one of the fasted TCP/IP stacks available, and the Mac OS X Server can support up to 4,000 open files and 1,000 users over both TCP/IP and AppleTalk networks.

If you're familiar with UNIX or Linux, you'll have few problems mucking around the operating system. The Apache HTTP Server (based on Apache 1.3.4) is included, and you can configure it via configuration-file editing or via a useful administration tool developed by Apple. For scripting, there's Perl and Tcl. For text editing, there's emacs. For system administrators, there are several shells, including bash, tcsh and zsh. In addition, the Mac OS X Server supports Sun's 100% Pure Java and includes a virtual machine based on Sun's JDK 1.1.6.

If you're planning on using Mac OS X Server as anything other than a pure Web server (fueling an HTTP server or an application server), you will be disappointed. User management tools are minimal in Mac OS X Server. There's no support for RADIUS authentication, although Kerberos is supported. There's no support for any of the major directory services (LDAP, Novell-style directories, or even a Windows NT User Database), which means that users must be entered by hand, one by one.

E-mail capabilities are addressed in Mac OS X Server with sendmail. You may want to check out CommuniGate Pro from Stalker Software, one of the best e-mail servers on the market - which conveniently ships in a Mac OS X Server version.

SUMMING UP THE MAC OS X SERVER

Other holes can be addressed by ambitious system administrators, though perhaps in a too-limited fashion. Mac OS X Server includes an Objective C compiler and the GNU version of the make command, so most BSD software can be compiled locally. However, you won't be able to compile or run any software that requires an X Window/Motif interface, since Apple does not include the X Window libraries. (The X in Mac OS X Server stands for ten, not for X Window.)

So, the question is: does the Macintosh interface add a lot of value to what's essentially a BSD and Mach operating system? For the most part, yes. It's easy to set up a Web server based on Mac OS X Server, and the initial installation is enhanced with the interface. For those system administrators who are more used to the command line, you can always open a terminal window.

But the real value added by the Mac OS X Server doesn't actually lie in the operating system: it lies in the combination of the operating system and the Macintosh Server G3 hardware. The Mac Server G3 is a powerful hardware platform, and when combined with an optimized operating system, the Macintosh Server G3 is one of the best server platforms you can buy - especially when your budget is limited to $5,000 or so.

Pros: 7 Excellent performance, 7 Basis in open-source software should prove appealing to UNIX system administrators, 7 Excellent installation tools, 7 Good administration tools

Cons: 7 Doesn't ship with a full set of Internet tools, 7 Macintosh tools are sometimes unnecessary, 7 Limited WebObjects implementation

Version Reviewed: 1.0
Reviewed by: Kevin Reichard
Last Updated: 4/23/02
Date of Original Review: 6/18/99

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