Opinion: In depth with Apple's Snow Leopard Server

We dig in to explain the new networking, performance and collaboration improvements

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Within Server Preferences in Leopard Server, Apple drew clear delineations between three different types of configuration:

  • One for small businesses with no large infrastructure
  • One where a server was installed for a specific department or project and where user accounts were imported from a larger directory system within the network (such as Microsoft's Active Directory or Apple's Open Directory)
  • An advanced mode where experienced systems administrators had full access to Apple's GUI and command-line tools for managing each and every service available

However, there was no easy way to switch between the two simplified modes and the advanced mode. You could convert a server to advanced mode by launching one of the advanced admin tools, but once you did, you couldn't go back to the simpler Server Preferences.

This left a fair amount of confusion for IT departments setting up a departmental or workgroup server in a larger organization as well as for novice administrators wanting to implement additional services not supported by Server Preferences. The descriptions of the various modes were also a bit confusing to novice administrators.

Now, though, in Snow Leopard Server, the switching restriction has been removed, along with all language relating to the selection of one of the three modes that Leopard Server imposed.

Apple has retained Server Preferences, and it's largely unchanged from a user interface perspective. Snow Leopard Server has also retained the ability to import and augment records from a different directory system to support user access to services without requiring schema modifications on the larger existing directory system that is already in use within an organization.

The result: IT staff or consultants can now create more complex configurations for novice administrators while still supporting management in Server Preferences. For any small business or department of a larger business, this means they can have the best of both worlds -- either on their own if they have the know-how or with the occasional help of a systems administrator or consultant to do the more technical tasks.

Better collaboration

Another set of features introduced in Leopard Server was a series of collaborative tools. Beyond the basic mail server and Jabber instant messaging service, Apple introduced a shared calendaring solution called iCal Server that was based on the open CalDAV standard and that supported other CalDAV clients beyond Apple's iCal. Other tools in Leopard Server included a wiki and blog server that allowed users to easily collaborate through a Web-based interface that can edit content, track changes and let users know when content impacting them is modified. It also makes tagging and searching for resources very simple.

All of these were great steps, but they still had a slightly less than polished look when Leopard Server first shipped. Many of these improved in stability and performance after the first couple of updates to Leopard Server.

In Snow Leopard Server, all of the collaborative tools have significantly matured and now live up to the promise that they offered in Leopard Server. Read on to learn more.

Revamped mail services

One of the big changes Apple made was to move its mail server to be based on the open-source Dovecot, which provides Unix/Linux mail servers with a broader range of features than Apple's previous mail software. New features include the ability to have more complex server-based filtering; this allows mail to be filtered into specific mailboxes by the server rather than a mail client, resulting in better client performance and sorting being applied regardless of the computer or device being used to access mail.

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