What's new in Leopard Server

Apple focuses on ease of setup and administration

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Server Admin has gotten a much more dramatic redesign than Workgroup Manager. The new interface allows administrators to create groups of servers for easier administration. Categories can include so-called smart groups that are updated in real time and that display only servers meeting specific criteria, including the types of services that are running, a particular IP address and specific network throughput or CPU usage.

Server Admin
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The Server Admin screen. (Click for larger view.)

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In larger environments, these features will greatly simplify server identification and management. Similarly, only the services currently enabled and/or running on a server are displayed in the server's list; services that are running at any given time are indicated by a green dot.

This is very handy for environments where only one or two services are used on each server. Server Admin now also supports tiered administration, so administrators can designate users or groups that are permitted to manage specific services.

Perhaps the administration tool that has gotten the biggest makeover is System Image Utility, used to create image sets -- specially preconfigured disk images and supporting files -- for Mac OS X Server's NetBoot and NetInstall. The new System Image Utility is completely rebuilt and much more automated than it was in previous versions. Basic image creation can now be done in two or three clicks and involves little more than selecting a source volume.

System Image Utility
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The revamped System Image Utility. (Click for larger view.)

More advanced setups are created with OS X Automator-style workflows of available actions. Actions include tasks such as enabling automated installation, creating user accounts and partitioning a hard drive in preparation for Apple's Boot Camp. Without a doubt, this is a huge improvement of ease-of-use, but the approach is so different from previous releases that it will take experienced Mac administrators some time to get used to. The difference, which is largely in interface and not actual functionality, is similar to the hassle of filling out an application form for a passport -- with plenty of questions that must be answered in long form -- and ordering from a menu where you simply check off what you want.

Shared calendar

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In Leopard Server, Apple has shipped its first shared calendar. Based on the open CalDAV standard, iCal Server integrates with Leopard's iCal and with any other CalDAV-compliant applications. Currently, this does not include Microsoft Outlook. Like so many other services in Leopard Server, iCal Server is very easy to manage; users can be configured to access calendar information from one or more servers within a network. This allows load balancing of shared calendars among multiple servers and the distribution of iCal Servers across multiple locations separated by slow network links. It also allows for logical grouping of users attached to specific calendar servers based on department or other resource and access restrictions.

Note: iCal 3, included with the client version of Leopard, is required to access shared calendars on iCal Server. Alternate CalDAV-compliant tools, including OSAF's Chandler, can be used with earlier Mac OS X versions.

From a user perspective, iCal Server is a natural, almost seamless, progression of use from Apple's iCal. When used with iCal Server, users can schedule events with and view free and busy time for each other. Server-based calendars are displayed separately from nonshared calendars and users can choose whether or not to create events on their iCal Server.

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Enhanced collaborative tools

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In addition to iCal Server, Leopard Server includes Web-based collaborative tools and a new organizational information tool called Directory, explained in more detail below. New Web-based tools include an easy-to-configure wiki and blogs that can be created for any group. Group calendars offer a very slick and polished Web 2.0 interface that both looks and functions excellently, and the choice of several site templates. As with all versions of Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server, Web services are handled by Apache.

Newly Enabled Wiki Under Mac OS X Server
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The newly enabled wiki under Mac OS X Server. (Click for larger view.)

The new Directory application included with Leopard gives users access a wide variety of organizational information about users, groups, office/school locations and other types of available resources. It maintains both general user contact information, including address and phone number, as well as organizational information such as who reports to whom.

Location information can include maps, address and descriptions, and can be as granular as a person's desk location within an office. Resources can include anything from copiers to company cars. Resources and locations can even be scheduled, thanks to integration with iCal Server.

Directory
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The new Directory. (Click for larger view.)
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Directory offers an option for creating a single-source reference for employee, departmental and organizationwide information. The option for employees to edit their own information -- including photos of themselves -- and the breadth of material that can be included are impressive.

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