Hands-on: Making Leopard servers simple

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Overall, the setup process is as user-friendly as one could expect Apple to make it. Most questions are asked in a straightforward manner, and there is on-screen help available at each step. Some information, particularly regarding network and Internet configurations, may still appear a little intimidating to nontechnical users. But there is little that can be done to avoid that. The included worksheet can help users without technical skills research and record most information ahead of time. Most experienced Mac technicians or power users will have no issues.

One thing that is important to keep in mind is that some DNS configuration may need to be done at the network or Internet provider level, particularly if you plan to offer services through an Internet connection. Again, experienced technicians and power users will probably have few issues with this. Less-experienced computer users, however, may find this to be the most intimidating piece of using Leopard Server, simplified setup or not. If services are not going to be provided beyond a local network, however, these issues may not be relevant.

Standard mode vs. workgroup mode

As I already mentioned, simplified setup is available in both standard and workgroup modes. The setup process and server management are largely the same from both modes. Standard mode is intended for when there is no larger infrastructure present (such as in a single office), while workgroup is designed to integrate with a larger network that contains a directory services infrastructure such as Apple's Open Directory or Microsoft Corp.'s Active Directory.

In a larger networked environment, directory services store shared-user accounts that can be used to log into multiple servers (and often workstations) throughout the network. Most directory services also provide single-sign-on support where users are asked to only enter their usernames and passwords during log-in.

Workgroup mode allows you to "import" user accounts from a directory services system in addition to creating users on the server. You can import individual users from a directory services environment, or you can import all users that are members of groups that exist in the directory.

This import process creates accounts on the server that provide access to services hosted on that server for file sharing, instant messaging, shared calendars, etc. However, the usernames and passwords for these imported accounts are actually managed by the directory services system that they originally came from -- Open Directory or Active Directory, in other words. Leopard Server will periodically check to ensure that its password information is synced with the larger directory services framework.

To facilitate functionality with directory services, during setup you will be asked to specify a directory server as well as the username and password of an account that has permission to query the directory server. You will also be asked to choose which services to provide. Finally, in addition to being able to create new accounts, you will also be asked if you want to import accounts from the directory server before completing setup.

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