Stepping Into Mac OS X Leopard Server

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This past weekend, I got to try out some of the new features that come in Mac OS X Leopard Server. First, let’s back up a bit to Tiger Server.

OS X Tiger Server is the first piece of server software I’ve used from Apple. I come from the world of Linux where most of the configuration is done by hand, you have to edit your own application configuration files. There’s no pretty GUI (graphical user interface) or buttons to click on. Tiger Server saved a lot of time because all I had to do was type a few things in, click ‘Go’ and I could have a very resourceful server. In just a matter of minutes, I could be running a web server, file server, DNS server, VPN server and more! Apple really made Tiger Server easy to setup and manage. They provided some really great tools too.

With Leopard Server they’ve made it even EASIER to setup and manage. I think Apple has really extended the potential of Leopard server; they’re making it so Leopard Server has a place in the home as well as large companies. They continue to provide some really awesome tools to manage it, and it includes loads of new and cool features. When I set up Leopard Server, I did a fresh install (no upgrade) so I am not sure if some of the things I am talking about will apply to people who choose to upgrade from Leopard Server.

Upon boot up after you install Leopard server, you can choose what type of server you want. There are three options: Standard, Workgroup or Advanced. Each of the three types just had a bit different configuration in which services it uses and sets up for you. While I think this is great for people who like things done for them, I prefer to configure each service by hand (I guess that’s the Linux-side of me coming out). People who really just want the easiest way to manage their server should probably choose either the Standard or Workgroup configurations. This will also allow you to use some of the new and nifty tools that Apple has included with Leopard Server. Unfortunately when you use the Advanced server type you loose the ability to use some of those tools (you can still use Server Admin, Workgroup Manager and command line utilities though).

I am torn between letting Apple do all of the hard stuff so I can use the new tools (using the Workgroup server type) or just using the Advanced server type and handling everything myself. I’m still deciding but I have to say I think it’s great that Apple is making their server software usable by most anyone with some experience in computer and networking. So after choosing the type of server you want, Apple will go about and work its magic, setting up the services and configuring them for you.

For my tests I chose the Workgroup type, so I got the iCal service, web server, iChat service, Mail service, Time Machine backup service, the Open Directory service and a few others. I have a feeling most people will choose the Workgroup type, because it includes a lot of services while still being able to easily manage it.

One of the new management applications that comes with Leopard Server is called Server Preferences. It looks very similar to System Preferences, but it allows you to easily manage the services on your server. Over the last 2-3 years I’ve gotten very used to using Server Admin and Workgroup Manager to manage all my services and users, so if I choose to use the Workgroup server type on my live server, I’ll have to get used to doing everything through the Server Preferences application. It’s definitely a great tool for people who are new to OS X Server.

A few of the things that I am really looking forward to actually using is the wiki server, the iCal server and possibly the Time Machine service. I run a couple wikis (think of but on a much smaller scale) so I would love to move them into this service. I have a few shared calendars that need to actually be editable by more then just one person, so the iCal server will surely help with that problem.

Regarding the Time Machine backup service, it sounds really interesting, but at this point I don’t know enough about how it works to rely on that as my only backup service. It sounds really great that client machines can back up to the server rather than a local disk. It saves me from having to buy multiple external drives for each client; instead I can just point them to the server and use that as my backup location. I guess I’ll just have to do some testing!

In the few days I spent playing with Leopard server, I have to say that I am really impressed with how easy Apple has made it for someone to set up and manage a fully featured server. They include some great tools and some really new and much-welcomed features.

Here are a couple of PDF files that I found quite useful when setting up Leopard Server; check them out: