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Why IT won't like Mac OS X Lion Server

John Rizzo (InfoWorld) | July 25, 2011
The new Profile Manager is a nice addition, but in almost every other respect, Lion Server is a downgrade.

Lion Server's many missing services
Once you locate and download the Server Admin tool, experienced Mac OS X Server administrators will notice it's a much thinner tool than it used to be. Roughly half the services that used to be there are missing. Most user-based services, such as file sharing, calendaring, and Web services, have been moved to the simple Server application. Others, such as QuickTime Streaming Server, have been completely removed.

One of the more significant feature rollbacks comes in reduced support for Windows clients. For years, Mac OS X Server's LDAP-based Open Directory had the ability to function as a primary domain controller (PDC) to support Windows clients. The PDC provided Windows clients with single sign-on authentication, and for those who work on both platforms, it gave users access to the same accounts and server-based home folders from their Windows PCs as well as their Macs. In Lion Server, Windows clients still have access to file sharing, but are now second-class clients.

On the flip side, Lion Server retains Open Directory integration with Active Directory. Mac clients can still bind to Active Directory using the "golden triangle" configuration, where Mac OS X Server and Open Directory bind to Active Directory.

Another service that Apple deleted is the print server of previous Mac OS X Server builds. Lion Server contains only the same ability to share printers found in every copy of Mac OS X client for the past five years: the open source Common Unix Printing System (CUPS), which gives Macs the ability to host shared print queues and simple pools of printers but lacks the enterprise features that previous print servers had. For example, Lion Server's CUPS cannot prioritize printers in the pool or set quotas for individual users or printers. And you can't publish printers to Open Directory.

Lion Server: GUI, GUI, gone
Other services that appear to be missing in Lion Server are actually still there. NFS (the Unix-based file sharing protocol) is gone from Server Admin, but it is accessible via the command line. Podcast Producer, Mac OS X Server's podcast workflow system, still uses NFS, and you can create NFS-based home folders for users. But where before you could click check boxes to configure it, you now need to type Unix commands. Similarly, the FTP server isn't available in Server or Server Admin but is available through the command line.

If you're looking for the configuration for MySQL, you won't find it, either in the GUI or in the command line. That's because Apple has replaced it with PostgreSQL, another open source database. On one hand, this is an improvement, because PostgreSQL is considered to be more powerful than MySQL. But whereas Snow Leopard's Server Admin tool had GUI settings for MySQL, PostgreSQL is command line only in Lion Server.

With others services, GUI administration tools survived -- barely. Lion Server still has industrial-strength Apache Web services, but it has replaced several windows' worth of settings with little more than an on/off switch and a button to add another host website path and domain name. This makes it more difficult to host multiple websites as virtual hosts or at least more difficult to figure out why it isn't working.

The admin tools no longer provide a way to set URL aliases and redirects, which point to files or folders while keeping the location hidden from uses. Also eliminated is the ability to set domain-name-level Web alias. And the GUI tools provide no way to configure the execution of CGI scripts on a website. You can no longer set maximum simultaneous connections, connection timeouts, or persistent connections. These and other configurations were available in the Server Admin tool in previous incarnations of Mac OS X Server. Rather than simplify Web configuration, this puts much of Apache's features out of reach to those less adept in editing config files.

The same is true for VPN configuration, iChat (Jabber) service, and to a lesser degree the iCal calendaring service.

The exception to all this is email service, which still the same level of configuration detail as in previous versions of Mac OS X Server, and with a better Web mail implementation.

Lion Server's Profile Manager: The sole bright spot
For business and education, Profile Manager is the shining spot in Lion Server. Once you turn on services and switch on Profile Manager, it automatically creates configuration profiles, which are XML files that can be pushed to Mac and iOS clients that automatically configure them to receive the service. You can send out an enrollment profile, which enables changes to be pushed out (when the user accepts it). You can have different sets of profiles that apply to groups of users, as well as to individual devices and groups of devices.


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