What's new in Leopard Server

Apple focuses on ease of setup and administration

Apple Inc.'s latest version of Mac OS X, known as Leopard, has been big technology news for the past few weeks as Mac users have eagerly awaited the next-generation operating system. Although not as flashy as the client-side operating system for a general audience, Leopard Server packs its own serious updates for Mac users and systems administrators, multiplatform IT professionals and, if Apple has its way, for small businesses everywhere.

After years of positioning Mac OS X Server primarily with its Xserve high-end server hardware as an enterprise server application, Apple is trying to open Leopard Server to a wider audience. Apple's new focus is on small businesses and small workgroups within a larger corporate network.

As with previous releases, Leopard Server can run on a wide variety of hardware, on anything from a Power PC Mac mini right through the highest-end Xserve. This, combined with the platform's extensive support for Windows PC clients and Windows Server environments, may well mean a broader customer base for Leopard Server.

Leopard Server provides easy-setup servers for many small businesses, and includes a new simplified setup process and systems management interface. This new interface is available in two modes: standard -- for single-server use in a small business environment -- and workgroup -- for use as a workgroup or departmental server in an enterprise infrastructure.

Both sets of tools offer an easy-to-use interface to several of Leopard Server's features and allow users with limited or no server experience to successfully deploy and manage Leopard Server. When used in workgroup mode, Leopard Server can take advantage of network user accounts already being used within the larger corporate network.

The entire range of Leopard Server features is not available in the new simplified setup modes (most likely Apple limited the features to those that it could successfully engineer for automatic configuration and simple management from within Server Admin).

Because of the complex nature of many Leopard Server features, Apple has included only those that could be successfully engineered for the simplified setup modes. Although this may sound limiting, the services included are among the most commonly used by small businesses or by individual departments within a large company or school.

These include file and printer sharing for both Macs and Windows PCs, e-mail, access to Leopard's new collaborative tools, remote access using VPN, internal instant messaging via iChat Server, shared calendars (thanks to the new iCal Server), and the ability to establish server and client backups using Apple's new Time Machine.

For larger organizations that have more robust server needs and can employ a staff of experienced server administrators, Leopard Server continues to provide services for networks of virtually any size and complexity.

When used in advanced administration mode, Leopard Server remains a highly stable and scalable platform for supporting Mac, Windows and Unix/Linux clients, and fully interoperates with Windows Server and Microsoft's Active Directory. For these environments, Leopard Server represents a significant increase in scalability, increased multiplatform support, more flexible administration and new collaborative tools.

Here is a rundown of some of the biggest changes and new features.

 
Server Preferences
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The new Server Preferences window. (Click for larger view.)
 

Simplicity redefined

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One of the biggest features of Leopard Server is simplified setup and management. Apple has built two new administration modes into Leopard Server to make managing the platform as easy as managing local user accounts on a Mac or PC. This new setup asks a series of guided questions to configure a server and then involves a brand new, simplified administration tool called Server Preferences for user and service management.

Server Preferences is modeled after Mac OS X's client-side System Preferences in terms of look, feel and ease-of-use. In fact, Server Preferences' user account management is so similar to that found in the Accounts pane of System Preferences that it would be easy to confuse the two.

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