ServersMerging Unix Functionality With Mac OS X Ease of Use

Merging Unix Functionality With Mac OS X Ease of Use

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iTools: The complex configuration choices of Unix services served up in a Macintosh interface

Tenon Intersystems’ iTools is designed for users and administrators who want the complex configuration choices Unix services present in a package that offers the ease-of-use of a Macintosh interface.

When Apple decided to move its user friendly operating system to Unix underpinnings, much of the excitement that was generated derived from the introduction of Unix stalwarts like MySQL and Apache to the platform.

Apple has also capitalized on Unix’s rich software library. When a Mac user turns on file sharing, she’s really turning on an FTP server. When she turns on the personal Web server, she’s running Apache. Sendmail, OpenSSH, and several other Unix server applications are also present. Starting and stopping these services is button-click simple, and they provide basic functionality — enough to enable users to move files around the network and for advanced users to perform system administration from a console.

Tenon Intersystems’ iTools package is designed to enable users to get to the more complex configuration choices Unix services provide through the ease-of-use of a Macintosh interface, ostensibly opening more of the potential of the underlying platform to users and administrators.

Based on our experience, Tenon’s endeavor has been largely a success, despite the minor bugs that troubled us.

iTools provides two interfaces to configure Apache 2.0 and ProFTPD (both of which ship with the iTools distribution). One is an operating system X/Aqua graphical toolbar; the other is a Web “miniserver” running on port 85 of the machine hosting Webtools (and providing a remote Web management interface.) Both interfaces provide access to a wide variety of server functions, as well as a rich amount of control over Apache, FTP, sendmail, DNS, and networking services, including a limited but useful IP firewall interface.

Our experience with both interfaces was mixed.

The iTools toolbar, a native OS X application, randomly crashed several times even though we were running it on recommended hardware and software. The Web interface periodically failed to respond when we used Safari (Apple’s newest, heavily promoted browser) but worked well with the latest version of Netscape. When the tools did work, they did a good job, providing simple interfaces to complex tasks with very helpful
documentation in the form of pop-up comments on the functionality behind each setting, which alleviated some of the concern we bring into any “simple” interface to a complex task by providing some educational benefit.

Besides the tool management suite, a report tool offers detailed breakdowns of Web and FTP traffic. We found it on a par with the popular, open source Webalizer, and a welcome addition that required none of Webalizer’s hand-tuning.

It’s also possible to use an inline text editor to work with the configuration files, although there is no way to validate hand-edited files, and we were disappointed to find that a broken configuration file provoked no output other than an unexplained failure to relaunch Apache from the Web interface.

Tenon’s claim is “We don’t make Apache, we make Apache better,” and to the extent that the relatively obscure innards of Apache, sendmail, and ftpd are made Mac-user-friendly, that’s true. We would have liked slightly more stable behavior from the Aqua interface, but overall were pleased with the results we got.

Pros: Clear interface with helpful inline documentation;
Is kept current with latest releases of included software; Remote
management option
Cons: Erratic behavior from both interfaces; A better configuration auditing tool or better feedback when services fail would be welcome additions

Reviewed by: Michael Hall
Original Review Date: 7/29/2003
Original Review Version: 7.01

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