Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

Summary: OS X Lion Server is brilliant in concept and seems to work like a champ when it comes pre-installed on a Mac Mini. Unfortunately, the same can't always be said when it's installed on a Mac from the App Store. Bummer.

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When Apple axed its XServe series of dedicated servers, I was none too happy that a highly usable, school-friendly server was probably going by the wayside. I should have known that Apple would come up with a cooler way to do servers, though. OS X Lion Server is simply an add-on for any Mac running Lion. Great idea -- I love the idea that any Mac running the latest version of OS X can be turned into a full-fledged server with everything from a wiki to network backup to iOS profile management. It helps me justify the price I pay for Mac hardware and makes what should be an incredibly user-friendly server available to schools at a rock bottom price. The problem is that, for me at least (and many other users), it simply doesn't work.

This isn't to say that I can't get it to work. I probably could with enough Googling, tinkering, playing, and, most importantly, time. But the whole idea, whether as a home user, a small business user, or school IT staff, is that I buy Lion Server from the Mac App Store, it installs itself, and then it runs. That's what Macs do. Apple tells us this all the time: "They just work." 99.9% of the time, that's completely true.

In this case, though, it just isn't happening. The server software (actually just a collection of apps now, bundled together for about $50 in the App Store) installed without a hitch, setup is wizard-driven and very simple for anyone with even a very modest background in networking, and the console is dead simple.

Pretty slick, right? Setting up sites, directory services, and just about everything else for which schools use on-premise servers is all contained in one simple console.

Installation and setup, though, were the last things that I found simple about OS X Server. First, certificate errors prevented me from accessing profile management tools from my iPad. Being able to manage my iPad (or hundreds of iPads) should have been as easy as logging into the server from Safari on the tablet and accepting a few conditions. I couldn't get to the web-based iOS profile administration console either, even from the server itself, because of the certificate problems.

A change to the secure certificate settings not only didn't solve the problems, but managed to ensure that, for some reason, all web-based services handled by Lion Server were completely inaccessible. This thread on Apple's discussion forums shows that 1) I'm not the only one with this problem and 2) the problem remains unresolved.

"So," I say to myself, "Self, let's just do what we'd do in Windows: Reinstall the software!" Except you can't. You can disable OS X Lion Server, but it can't be simply reinstalled. For some reason, the App Store knows that I'm running Lion Server, but it claims it wasn't purchased from the App Store (my bank account says otherwise) and can't be managed there.

It's too bad. A server like this has incredible potential in schools, especially as computers get repurposed and reused. I expect that these problems will be resolved in time, but for now, if you must have OS X Server in your school (or office, or living room), make sure it's preinstalled on a new Mac. It's not, I'm afraid, quite ready for prime time at the App Store.

Topics: Software, Apple, Hardware, Mobile OS, Operating Systems, Servers

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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43 comments
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  • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

    If this had been a Windows release all of the Bloggers would have skewered it. Let's call a spade a spade this thing is Junk!!!!!
    jatbains
    • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

      @jatbains Yep, and no Jobs around to save it!
      slickjim
    • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

      @jatbains

      Did you think to ask for help?
      john_gillespie@...
    • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

      @jatbains

      It's called a straw man argument. It is a logical fallacy.
      .DeusExMachina.
  • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

    I seriously hope they are not using Macs as servers in schools. I can't see how that would be beneficial to anyone except Apple. You're not going to get any real world experience. Apple servers... ahahahaha!
    kstap
    • Yep no one uses apache, ssl certs, wikis

      Cmon it's a server for users typically anyway.

      Forget the windows reboot/reinstall. Try the unix way of identifying then fixing the problem. The link to the 4 user issues on the apple forum doesn't help. I'd be looking at the apache, particularly ssl configuration (particulary http virtual servers and ssl, ie won't work). Maybe you can post here.

      Not good enough Apple.
      Richard Flude
      • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

        @Hasam1991 Considering Windows dominates Linux in servers, despite what Linux and it's fanboys tell you, I doubt it.

        The stats that I find (several sources, all just by googling) tell me that the Unix/Linux environment in Server go between 63%/79% (80% of it is Linux, the rest is divided by Unix, Solaris and BSD) and the MS environment is between 20%/36%, even that in commercial servers (ie. Servers sold, both with the hardware and the software, the MS leads with 48% to 66% (says Gardner and IDC) and Linux just 17% to 23%, but you know that the most part of Linux Servers are just sold hardware and the OS is downloaded from the Internet for free.

        Get your numbers!!!
        pisquinho
      • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

        <nt>
        .DeusExMachina.
    • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

      @kris_stapley@... As a loyal Apple user, I agree, it makes more sense to go with Linux in any server environment. The only place I would use OSX server is at home but my Windows Home server runs perfeclty... no need to change...
      Hasam1991
      • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

        @Hasam1991 Considering Windows dominates Linux in servers, despite what Linux and it's fanboys tell you, I doubt it.
        jhammackHTH
      • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

        [i]@Hasam1991 Considering Windows dominates Linux in servers, despite what Linux and it's fanboys tell you, I doubt it.[/i]

        No doubt you'll come up with some FUD to support that, right?
        ScorpioBlue
    • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

      @kris_stapley@...

      Could be worse ... I remember the NT server fiasco
      john_gillespie@...
      • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

        @john_gillespie@... your comment is outdated by about 20 years...
        pupkin_z
      • So a problem effecting the software of 2011 is acceptable

        @john_gillespie@...
        because a competing product 4 versions and 20 years earlier had problems also?

        How does this help you today?
        :|
        Tim Cook
    • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

      @kris_stapley@...

      The pasco county school district uses Macs and Xserves to run there network.
      Viper589
  • You want a web framework that works? And cheap tools to go with it?

    Go here: www.dreamspark.com

    Seriously Chris. You're a closet Mac lover but your budgets tell you it's not an option, and yet when you look for cheap alternatives, you're always talking about obscure Linux solutions.

    Why don't you teach students on products that businesses actually use, so that they can be productive when they enter the job pool?
    Joe_Raby
    • Because computers in schools aren't about teaching kids

      computers. They are about helping kids learn OTHER things. Like Math. And Reading. And Writing. And History. And Civics. The Business Computing class would be the one where they learn to use computers. And that one should teach them all the platforms because the one they wind up using depends on what their field is in.
      baggins_z
      • No.

        @baggins_z

        In the business computer class, you learn how to use business applications, not how to use a computer. It's like learning how to raise a child without knowing where it comes from first.

        When you went to grade school, the first thing you learned was how to use writing implements. Before you could write words, you learning the alphabet, how to print and cursively write letters, and so on. Even before that, you learned how to hold a pencil.

        A computer is a lot more complicated than a pencil and a piece of paper, but you learned how to sharpen a pencil when it didn't work.

        Kids should get a basic understanding of how a computer works before they become productive with it. Just like how they should understand how a car works before they learn to drive it.
        Joe_Raby
      • Yes

        @Joe_Raby<br><br>News flash: You seem to be unable to read. This article is NOT about computers used in business class. It is about servers used to administer school-wide networks. Someplace you, apparently, did not see enough of.
        .DeusExMachina.
    • RE: Apple OS X Lion Server...The best server that doesn't work

      @Joe_Raby

      It's funny you should say that. I was taught VMS on a VAX in school because that's what everyone used. I was taught COBOL because that's what everyone used. Later, we were taught DOS because that's what everyone used.

      What you don't seem to understand is that if you teach concepts of computers then the students will be better off than teaching what people are using now.

      There is a great Wayne Gretzky quote regarding skating to where the puck is going to be rather than where it is. You should look it up. It is very relevant.
      winski