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Road to Mac OS X Leopard Server: Collaborative Info Sharing Services

What's New in Leopard Server

Leopard builds upon its Unix foundations with official registration as an "Open Brand UNIX 03" product that meets specifications for POSIX and Single Unix Specification. That makes it easier for server users to port applications designed for other versions of Unix.

Mac OS X Server also supports the standard LP64 data model for 64-bit applications, meaning that code written for other 64-bit Unix-based systems including SGI, Sun Solaris, and Linux can easily be ported over to Leopard Server. Apache 2, MySQL 5, Postfix, Podcast Producer, QuickTime Streaming Server, and the Java VM on Intel are already 64-bit, allowing them to work with large data sets and take full advantage of all the installed RAM.

In addition to leveraging existing efforts made by the open source community, Apple is also greatly simplifying server administration. Existing tools, such as Server Admin (below), have been smartened up to present a powerful interface flexible enough to manage multiple machines, and simple enough to manage a small workgroup's needs.

Leopard Server

Leopard Server

To make things even simpler for small workgroup users, Apple is also presenting services in a familiar interface identical to System Preferences called Server Preferences (below), so setting up network services is as easy as setting up a Mac.

Leopard Server

Leopard's Client-Server Integration

Apple's new Calendar Server, touched on in Road to Mac OS X Leopard: iCal 3.0, makes it easy to set up collaborative group scheduling comparable to the calendaring services in Exchange Server, without the prohibitively high cost of Microsoft's per-user Client Access Licenses, as detailed in the article Apple's Open Calendar Server vs Microsoft Exchange.

Simplified file sharing (below) is similarly cost effective when compared to using Microsoft Windows Server, and much easier to set up, even for non-technical users. As a central file server, it is an ideal backup target for client Macs using Time Machine, described in Road to Mac OS X Leopard: Time Machine.

Leopard Server

New support for Spotlight searching of file shares from Leopard described in Road to Mac OS X Leopard: Dashboard, Spotlight and the Desktop is matched by Spotlight Server, which indexes files by user permissions, so users can rapidly search server files without getting results they don't have access to. Apple is billing the combination of Spotlight Server, CoverFlow, and Quick Look as an easy to use asset management system.

Similarly, new features in iChat, described in Road to Mac OS X Leopard: iChat 4.0, are matched on the server end by iChat Server, which hosts your own Jabber server for encrypted instant messaging and support for server configured meeting rooms. The server can also federate with other Jabber servers to exchange secure instant messaging services between sites or between companies.

Wiki Collaborative Publishing Services

Configuring email services and the Apache web server are similarly presented in Server Preferences with pushbutton simplicity. What's really interesting, however, is the new Wiki Server, which enables groups to set up collaboratively shared web pages that users click to edit inline.

Turn it on, assign assess permissions, and users can contribute to a project by clicking an edit icon on the web page and posting their own new updates or corrections. Users can even upload photos and attach documents, and create additional hyperlinked pages that can be tracked for updates by subscribing to an item's RSS feed. Changes and edits can even be rolled back via built-in version control. Pages created by Wiki Server incorporate blogging features, shared web calendars created by Calendar Server, and integrated web mail access.

Leopard Server

The similarly brand new Podcast Producer allows individuals in an organization to record audio and video and upload it along with document-based presentations and screen sharing sessions (below), to a Leopard Server, where the content can be automatically processed to include titles and graphics, and published into podcast presentations via streaming server or even iTunes U.

This is already being used internally at universities to record lectures, upload the recordings to a server that catalogs and archives them, adds corporate branding and credits, and then makes the content available to students.

Leopard Server

Leopard Server vs Microsoft Windows Server

Leopard Server offers advanced functionality useful to larger enterprise environments such as educational institutions, but its also very accessible to smaller offices that want to set up collaborative wiki and calendar services in addition to basic services like email and web serving and file sharing. Leopard Server is also easy to afford; it's essentially free when you buy an Xserve, and costs $500 for a standalone ten client retail version or $1000 for unlimited clients.

In comparison, Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 Standard costs $600 for 5 users, and each additional 5 users require hundreds more in Client Access Licenses. For just a 100 users, Microsoft's products quickly add up to more than a $10,000 premium, and don't deliver the same types of features. Windows Server is also notorious for requiring lots of hardware, as each major Windows service really demands its own server.

Another drawback to Windows Server is that it isn't open source friendly and isn't Unix. Microsoft's executives have described Linux and open source as a "cancer" rather than embracing open development. The result is that Microsoft has been limited from benefitting from innovation and advancements occurring outside the company, while Apple has been able to rapidly catch up in the server arena after years of putting its server efforts in maintenance mode.

Now that Apple is focusing on delivering new server products with innovative new features that are easy to use, companies and institutions--particularly in education, publishing, broadcasting, and sci-tech markets predisposed to Unix--are expressing a lot of new interest.

Check out earlier installments from AppleInsider's ongoing Road to Leopard Series: Dashboard, Spotlight and the Desktop, Safari 3.0, iCal 3.0, iChat 4.0, Mail 3.0, Time Machine; Spaces, Dock 1.6, Finder 10.5, Dictionary 2.0, and Preview 4.0.