Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server Review

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I may be one of the odd people out when it comes to Mac OS X. While I don’t mind using the Mac OS X client version on my machines, I prefer running Mac OS X Server. I’ve purchased each version of OS X Server since Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. When I purchased it, I bought the 10-client license for $499. I also spent another $499 on the unlimited client version of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server. This time around I joined the Mac Developer program and was able to use it for the $99 entry price.

 

One of the biggest reasons for me to choose to go with Mac OS X Server over Mac OS X client is because I do development. Instead of trying to cobble together all of the pieces like MySQL, apache, and PHP on the client version, I can just as easily, and without much effort, use Mac OS X Server. Mac OS X Server has all of the pieces for my development environment already to go out of the box. Sure, I could use alternative options like MAMP, but they are just not as clean nor as easily configured.

One of the major appeals for using Mac OS X Server as a platform is the ease of configuration and the granularity of control when using OS X Server. Mac OS X Lion Server continues this feature set, for the most part.

What’s Macgasmic?

Price

The price of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server is a a mere $49.99. You must download client before converting your server to Server. This significant price drop makes it a 90 percent savings over the previous $499 price-tag for older versions of Mac OS X Server. At this price point it is easily within reach of many prosumers who may wish to dabble in Server administration but don’t wish to fork out a significant amount of money to enjoy their hobby.

Stability

Since Mac OS X 10.7 is an evolution of the Mac OS operating system, one expects stability. Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server does not disappoint. Throughout the beta builds the entire operating system was quite stable. There were no kernel panics nor anything that really killed any connectivity. Even with new features, like Launchpad and Mission control, everything worked quite well.

Wiki Server

Mac OS X Server in general has offered a Wiki option since 10.5 Leopard Server. Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server offers a significant improvement over Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server’s wiki.

Apple has completely redesigned the Wiki Software, not just externally, but also internally. Instead of being written in python, Apple’s Wiki Server 3 now entirely uses Rails for the infrastructure.

Some of the new Wiki Server 3 features include a new navigation bar, custom project-specific wikis, file sharing, massive search improvements, and email notifications.

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Some novice wiki users may choose to look for help documents. These have been completely redesigned too. Under Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, the Wiki Help pages looked like a WordPress 1.6 page. There was just a blue bar across the top and you basically had to search to find any help documents. This has radically been changed in Wiki Server 3.

Wiki Server 3′s help pages now offer an iOS-like interface for finding items. There is a list of topics on the left, much like the iPad, with the contents on the right. You can even search to help find the specific item you are looking for.

The physical changes include a new navigation bar, which allows you to do creating right from the toolbar. The Login Page for Wiki Server 3 now includes a “Remember Me” function. Therefore users are not required to enter in their username and password every time they visit the page.

The Search within Wiki Server 3 has been noticeably improved. You are now able to search within certain file types. The list of file types includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Pages, Numbers, Keynote and even PDFs. It should be no surprise that Pages, Numbers and Keynote are on the list, since these are Apple products. However, the ability to search Word, Excel and even PowerPoint is rather interesting. Obviously Apple recognizes that enterprises use Microsoft’s Productivity suite and may want to upload these files to their Wiki Server in order to make them searchable. This is a nice touch.

The most significant end-user improvement has to be email notifications. Many users find keeping up with comments and page edits to be a daunting task, particularly since you have to manually add the pages to a track list. Well this has changed in Wiki Server 3. Now a user can be notified via e-mail when new comments or page edits have occurred. One would think that this could fill up a user’s inbox rather quickly. Apple has taken this possible annoyance into account. If a number of updates or comments are added to a page rather quickly, a user will receive a single notification of the updates, instead of an individual email every time something is updated.

Wiki Server 3 offers some nice improvements over previous versions. If you rely heavily on Wiki Server, you may want to check out Mac OS X 10.7 Lion’s Wiki Server.

File Sharing with iOS

One of the most significant improvements for the integration of iOS devices in the enterprise is the addition of file sharing for iOS devices through the use of WebDav.

As a system administrator, you can choose which directories are available for iOS sharing through the Server.App File Sharing options.

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When you create a Share Point, you can select which options are available on this folder as well. This includes whether or not to use the folder to save iOS files. This feature will go a long way towards allowing iOS devices into the enterprise.

What’s Not?

Apple has dumbed down OS X Server to be easily usable by almost any non-server user. This is great for OS X Server adoption. However, this does not bode well for those who have complex setups and need to manage even a small number of OS X devices.

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Server.app

Server.app combines the power of Server Admin with the ease of Server Preferences. You can easily enable and disable individual services with the click of a mouse. This is great for those who may be novices when it comes to server administrator, but this can be rather troublesome for more advanced server administrators.

Server.app dumbs down the configuration options of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server. This is done to such an extract that you have very few options for some services. Take Wiki Server for instance. This is the only option available:

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Wow, you can either allow everybody or some users to create wikis. Granted, most of the administration is actually done via the Wiki Software, but it is still disappointing to see so few other options that are outside of a user’s control.

VPN Services

Many smaller businesses use Mac OS X Server to be their VPN endpoint for their Macs and iOS devices to connect to, in order to be able to access the corporate network.

With Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, an administrator had a bunch of options available in order for the system administrator to customize their setup. You had two different VPN technologies that you could use: Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) and Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP). Now in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server you have only one option: L2TP with IPSec Authentication. You still have the ability to decide what IP address range to assign, but that is the extent of the configuration options.

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Despite the lack of configuration options, there is no way to debug VPN connections to see if there is an issue. In addition, there is little information regarding the type of VPN that is configurable on Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server. Through trial and error I have determined that it is in fact an L2TP VPN, so you can save yourself the troubleshooting to determine exactly what type of VPN is available.

Server Admin Tools

With the change from Server Admin to Server.app as the primary mechanism for managing a Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server, the question on how to administer the advanced functions comes into question. Thankfully, Apple has not eliminated Server Admin Tools.

Server Admin Tools does still exist, however you can only manage certain services through the application. In Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server there were a total of 26 different services that could be administered, but with Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server there are only 11.

Some of Snow Leopard’s 26 have been combined, like AFP, SMB and NFS. These have been combined under the ‘File Sharing’ service, which is administered through Server.app. Advanced configurations like Open Directory, DNS, DHCP, Firewall, NAT, and Software Update are still present and administered through Server Admin Tools.

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The rather disturbing part is that there are a few services that are completely missing from Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server. The list is as follows: FTP, MYSQL, QuickTime Streaming, and Print Server. These are just not available in any way, shape or form under Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server, at least not natively. This is rather troublesome for those businesses that rely on any of these services.

The elimination of Print Server is not necessarily a deal breaker for many, but if you were hoping to use a slightly older Mac mini Server as a Lion print server, it isn’t going to happen. Apple has set a dangerous precedent with the removal of Print Services.

Install Time

According to the setup, it was supposed to take approximately 34 minutes to upgrade my install to Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server. This sure was not the case. It took nearly 90 minutes to do the full installation. The first 75 minutes were the physical install, plus reboot. And the last 15 minutes was the setup after the installation.

To be fair, I am running a 4-year old 2.16GHz MacBook. It is probably the oldest system that will support Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server. Despite this, it should not take 90 minutes to install an operating system. So be warned, the timer may not accurately reflect the amount of time to upgrade.

Documentation

When there is a new operating system one would expect some sort of manual or maybe some helpful configuration guides to assist them with the new features of their operating system. Apple has failed to do this.

Sure, you can try to use the help screens but those do not explain a whole lot. For instance, there is no information regarding WebDav at all in the Help of Server.App. This makes it rather difficult to configure your Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server as a file repository for iOS devices.

As mentioned previously, there is no documentation for what type of VPN is configurable with Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server. If you upgrade your VPN Server, how are you supposed to know which VPN to configure on your clients?

The lack of documentation is quite frustrating when you have no idea what any feature or configuration option means. Flying blind is not a way to operate at all, particularly on a Server platform.

Wiki Server Requirements

I previously mentioned Wiki Server 3 for Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server. One problem with Wiki Server 3 is that only certain browsers are supported. The supported browsers are listed here:

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Since Safari on Leopard is 5.0, it is supported. However, older systems like Mac OS X 10.4 are not supported at all. If the devices are running a PowerPC processor, they could potentially be upgraded to Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, which does support Safari 5.0. However, it may be at some point in the future where even 10.5 Leopard is not supported for a feature, since Apple is no longer issuing security updates for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard.

Internet Explorer 9 is a brand new release of Microsoft’s Internet browser that many enterprises will not or cannot adopt any time soon. Many enterprises are behind the curve when it comes to upgrading Internet browsers. This can be due to compatibility with their internal software or merely because new browsers can lead to potential security issues.

Web browsers are not the only item that takes a while to upgrade. New operating system adoption within enterprises is notoriously slow. This is mostly due to refresh cycles. Many older hardware systems cannot support the newest operating systems. There are many business still running Windows XP, which cannot support any Microsoft operating system past Internet Explorer 8.

You may be asking, what does Microsoft have to do with Macs? Quite simply, many enterprises are not wiling to put their mission-critical software on a platform that they have not supported previously. Some enterprises may be willing to take a chance on hosting a new item, like a Wiki, on a Mac because it can integrate with their Active-Directory Domains. Using a Mac as a Wiki Server is an excellent way to bring new technology to employees, and simultaneously test a new platform.

Combining the minimum requirement for Windows Vista, which does support Internet Explorer 9, and the inability to use their older clients could have some enterprises looking elsewhere for another solution. I know that this may be a very small percentage of enterprises, but with many C-level executives using Macs, adoption may ultimately be inevitable.

Web Hosting

The biggest disappointment in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server is the lack of granularity regarding website hosting, particularly for me since I develop almost solely by using Mac OS X Server as my web development platform.

With OS X Leopard Server and OS X Snow Leopard Server, an administrator had the option of deciding which modules were to be supported within their server. If they wanted to allow python scripts to be run, allow WebDav capabilities or even allow PHP to run, they could. Now with Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server you do not have these options.

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You can control whether PHP is enabled, but any advanced GUI controls are completely missing. If you really need advanced controls you can jump into Terminal and use your typing skills to make everything work the way you want. But be warned, your configurations may be overwritten if you change something via the GUI. This is a major disappointment for server administrators. Sure, you can compile Apache’s HTTP server from source-code, but then why not just use Mac OS X 10.7 Lion client and save some money.

Conclusion

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server is a solid upgrade for those who are already used to running Mac OS X Server. You cannot beat the low price tag of $49.99. Try finding a brand new retail copy of Windows Server for that price. The change from using Server Admin Tools to using Server.app can be a bit baffling for long-term Mac Server admins, but will make it quite simple for novice admins to learn Mac OS X Server. Sure, Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Server has its share of problems, but they can be fixed over time. If you feel like dipping your toes into Mac OS X Server, the $49.99 price tag will make it much more palatable. So, hop on in to the Mac OS X Server world.

Review By :Wayne Dixon @ Macgasm.net