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Inside Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Apple drops FTP, adds WebDAV file sharing for iOS

WebDAV file sharing for mobile devices

While Apple is dropping graphical support for both FTP and NFS (which is often used as a file sharing protocol in larger Unix environments), it's adding checkbox simplicity to WebDAV file sharing.

Previous builds of Mac OS X Server could define WebDAV shares as part of the configuration of web services, as WebDAV is an extension to a web server that enables it to allow clients to not just obtain web files, but also add, change or create new files on the server after supplying the appropriate credentials.

In Lion Server, WebDAV has moved out of the back corner of the web services configuration and is now positioned as a prominent file sharing protocol. WebDAV will allow Mac users to define shared folders that iOS devices will be able to access. Apple even defines WebDAV file sharing in the interface as being expressly for iOS clients.

Mac OS X Lion Server file sharing

The ability to find and access WebDAV file shares is likely to become a primary feature of iOS 5.0 this summer. Right now, iOS devices are limited to using iTunes File Sharing to copy files between iPhone or iPad apps and a desktop computer, or users can simply email files as attachments. It's currently not possible to upload files via Safari, nor is it possible to download most files over the web to save locally (outside of photos).

Apple also uses the open WebDAV protocol as the basis for its Address Book Server for contact sharing and corporate address books, and its iCal Server for shared calendaring on Mac OS X Server; each use an extension to WebDAV, named CardDAV and CalDAV, respectively. iOS already offers support for these protocols, but hasn't yet adopted full support for push updates.

The company's "out with the old, in with the new" stance on supported file sharing protocols, combined with the much simpler and comprehendible interface of Server and its apparently free bundling with Mac OS X Lion (formerly requiring a $500 license), should dramatically increase the audience interested in Apple's server tools, which include easy to use but powerful and sophisticated calendaring, web, wiki collaboration, and new profile management tools for managing both Macs and iOS devices.