Why IT won't like Mac OS X Lion Server

New Profile Manager is a nice addition, but in almost every other respect, Lion Server is a downgrade

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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.

Profile Manager goes well beyond simply configuring clients for networking, VPN, and mail. You can set hundreds of group policies. For example, you can prevent iOS and Mac users from accessing the App Store, prevent Mac and iOS applications from launching, block users from making changes to system preferences, block Macs from accessing external storage devices or optical discs, prevent iOS users from watching YouTube, set parental controls, and much more. (Users can see the settings applied to their Mac in the new Profiles system preference, or in the familiar Settings app in iOS.)

The drawback to Profile Manager is that the Mac clients it supports must run Lion. Fortunately, the old Managed Preferences for older versions of Mac OS X clients is still available through Workgroup Manager.

Still, Profile Manager does more than Managed Preferences, and it does more automatically, and in way that is easier and faster to set up, no command line necessary.

But even here, one item may rub IT managers the wrong way: The data stores for Profile Manager, Address Book Server, iCal Server, Webmail, and the built-in wiki are bundled in one database in a location that cannot be moved: on the server's boot disk. I suppose the thought is that consumers usually have only one hard disk.

So what does IT do now with Mac OS X Server?Lion Server's debut poses a dilemma to many IT shops using Mac OS X Server. Of course, IT departments can keep running Snow Leopard Server to serve clients that include Mac OS X Lion, older Mac OS X versions, Windows, and Linux. Or you can use both the Lion and Snow Leopard Mac OS X Server versions. For example, if you wanted to keep the Windows PDC functionality but also want Profile Manager, you could run Snow Leopard Server as an Open Directory master (and PDC) and bind Lion Server to it. You could even run both servers in virtual machines on a single Mac.

But in the longer term, I won't be surprised to see some enterprise sites phase out Mac OS X Server and move to Windows Server -- even as they embrace more Mac clients. When you consider Lion Server's truncated capabilities along with the discontinuation of the Apple Xserve rack-mount hardware, the signal from Apple seems to be it's not that interested in keeping businesses on Mac OS X Server.

This story, "Why IT won't like Mac OS X Lion Server," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Mac OS X at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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This story, "Why IT won't like Mac OS X Lion Server" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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