Server to server: MacOS X vs. Linux

Server to server: MacOS X vs. Linux

Summary: When you compare MacOS X server to Windows servers the Apple product wins on reliability, cost, and ease of use but when you compare it to Linux very different rules apply - because Unix is Unix and you're really choosing between two expressions of the same ideas.


Please note that I have not had a chance to see and use the new MacOS X "Leopard" server release. Comments specific to Leopard Server here are, therefore, based on third party reports.

It appears that the big changes in the server version focus on ease of use, particularly with respect to network setup, and on getting along in a predominantly Windows environment.

As a result the new MacOS X Server is much more competitive with Linux than "Tiger" was - and especially so for very small businesses with little or no professional IT support and the courage to look beyond Microsoft.

When you compare MacOS X to Microsoft's servers the big issues are reliability, ease of installation, licensing cost, and operational complexity - with licensing cost the most important for small businesses because these tend to focus on initial capital costs. Thus Apple's decision to include free ecommunications software with the server coupled with its inability to charge client licensing makes MacOS X increasingly attractive as the number of clients grows.

When you compare MacOS X server to Linux, however, the key advantage for small businesses isn't capital cost, it's ease of setup and use. Fundamentally that comes down to the issue of how the small business gets its servers to work: because the difference between clicking through a GUIfied process and calling a script is enormously valuable if you don't know what scripts to call, and pretty much valueless if you do.

In other words, Apple's ease of use advantage over Linux depends ultimately on an impersonal sales and deployment model: if joe average small business guy gets his Intel server delivered by FedEx and then has to set it up himself, Apple's software can really help - but if Jane's Computers hands it over it all nicely set-up and running, then it will take long term customer behavioral change before the customer sees any benefit from Apple's systems management software.

For larger businesses, neither licensing costs nor set-up costs are likely to drive the decision. Instead, at least in most cases, what's likely to drive the decision is a a basic difference in philosophy between the Mac and Linux camps.

That difference comes down to this: the Linux focus is on replacing other technologies, and particularly those from Microsoft, where Apple's focus is on using its server software to make it easier for MacOS X desktop users to co-exist in Wintel dominated environments.

Thus Linux scores its greatest successes against Microsoft by competing for data center dollars and accommodates Wintel clients as part of the cost of doing that. Apple, in contrast, competes best with Microsoft on the desktop and accommodates Wintel servers as part of the cost of doing that. Think of the Linux desktop as a parallel to Apple's data center servers and you get the superficial part of the picture. Look deeper, however, and what you see is a key difference: Apple uses its servers as part of a viral marketing campaign aimed at making it easier for minority Mac users to live, work, and proselytize in Wintel corporate environments - but the Linux community doesn't use its server room advantages to push the Linux desktop.

This would seem to be as much an artifact of community structure as anything else but the deeper roots of this come down to a difference in philosophy: the Mac started as a better desktop, Linux as a free x86 Unix - and both continue those traditions. Thus Apple's latest server technologies are all aimed at helping desktop users work in Wintel environments but no such co-existence strategy exists on the Linux side - indeed the general Linux approach to the data center is closer to that of science fiction's homogenizing swarm than that of the symbiote.

To a wintel manager facing user demand for Macs, Apple's strategy produces both fires and frying pans: fires because "Leopard" makes it even harder to argue that letting Macs into the environment will disrupt the smooth functioning (!) of the Wintel networks and servers in place - and frying pans because the new features make it much easier for users to silently augment Windows data center servers for file, print, and authentication functions with their own machines running MacOS X.

Nowhere is this difference clearer than in the murky world of "identity management" where Linux is clearly about Windows services replacement while Apple's multi-technology mash-up is equally clearly about protecting Windows services in Mac desktop deployments.

Unfortunately Apple's co-existence strategy leads to a major problem in that it makes Apple a follower - forced to play catch up whenever Microsoft changes its technologies. In other words, companies which try to take advantage of Apple's strategy will eventually find themselves trying to hold off both their internal wintel enthusiasts and Microsoft's stealth upgrades while waiting for Apple - and because that won't work they'll suffer the usual consequences in terms of organizational disruption and mutual finger pointing.

That's why my bottom line on MacOS X Server versus Linux is simple: ordinary users don't have a choice, if wintel is an organizational given then Apple's co-existence strategy makes MacOS X preferable to Linux, but for anything bigger than a mom and pop shop, the right data center solution is Linux, not MacOS X. Why? tecause when it comes to cleaning the Augean stables front end loaders just work better than perfume spritzers.

Topics: Data Centers, Apple, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Servers, SMBs

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  • Rudy are you bitter??

    I love Apple products but OSX is nowhere near Linux as a server solution. With you it's always about how much better Solaris is than linux or in this case OSX.

    Linux has a proven track record from embedded devices to the largest supercomputers and is improving at an unmatched rate
    Linux is the future Rudy, stop fighting it.

    I will say that so far Apple is the defining tech company of the 21st century. Apple=cool Sun=not cool
  • Please qualify

    This statement - "That difference comes down to this: the Linux focus is on replacing other technologies, and particularly those from Microsoft, where Apple?s focus is on using its server software to make it easier for MacOS X desktop users to co-exist in Wintel dominated environments"

    Please qualify this. It appears to be a purely personal opinion, plucked out of mid-air and presented as fact. Linux is not a company, there are no "spokespersons" diseminating the roadmap. Where did you conjour this "fact" up from?
    • And when answering...

      ... I expect that Murph will also deal with the often-asserted (including by Linux publications) observation that Linux replaces primarily Unix rather than Microsoft servers.
      Anton Philidor
      • Primarily, but not exclusively

        Large organization (~$850m/yr) I was associated with early in the decade had fixed on HP as server source, with HP-UX as default standard, but much of the software was outsourced development or off the shelf. Lower cost Intel servers were Windows (exclusively, I think) at that time, so the server floor became something of a hodgepodge.

        New CIO settled on Red Hat as the unifying standard and over the next few years, through the normal upgrade cycle, the server farm migrated. Windows servers were not replaced, they were "repurposed" with Linux. I'm sure they still showed up in statistics as Windows servers, reflecting the originally-installed OS. Migration fnally stabilized, there are still the Exchange servers and the like, but generally there is only one server OS to be maintained.

        Agree with your use of the term "primarily." It's just that there are exceptions.
        • This whole "linux replaces Unix" business is nonsense

          Linux is Unix. When a company changes from HP-UX to Linux or upgrades from AIX to Linux or (God forbid!:) ) drops Solaris for Linux they aren't changing their OS, they're changing suppliers.
          • They're also changing costs.

            Exchanging ( ;-) ) Unix servers for less expensive devices is a way to save money. And the differences between the operating systems can affect the staffing requirements. That can have an impact on employment, current and prospective.

            The "nonsense" is arguably a signifcant change in the way IT operates.
            Anton Philidor
        • I was referring to the sales numbers.

          Windows servers are said in some articles to be "dominating" the market. Sales are approaching if not surpassing the numbers for Unix and Linux combined. Servers have become the third main contributor to Microsoft profits, trailing Windows, partly because of higher expenses, but competing with Office for second place.

          You're right that once received a server may be "repurposed". But by then Microsoft has received the money.
          (Similarly, organizations have paid for Vista but are not distributing it until SP 1 has been provided.)
          Anton Philidor
  • There is reality and then there is murph

    [i]That difference comes down to this: the Linux focus is on replacing other technologies, and particularly those from Microsoft, where Apple???s focus is on using its server software to make it easier for MacOS X desktop users to co-exist in Wintel dominated environments.[/i]

    Uh huh. I've been in [b]far[/b] more organizations that have a mix of Windows and Linux than organizations with a mix of Windows and Apple. Apple seems to be a religious choice and as such, will not tolerate the existence of other viewpoints. Linux seems much more to be about "getting the job done" and as such, will work well in any environment. Linux is flexible. Apple is not.

    A theory of gravity that states objects fall upwards on earth seems neato until you actually drop the "apple" ;) and see what happens. You theory is neato but the real world disagrees. I'll follow the real world. :)
    • DUDE!!! Apple has not seriously been in the server

      business for more than a few years now. So the fact that there are any Apple servers
      to be found is somewhat remarkable considering the lead others have had in Market
      Share and mind set for what now 20 plus years!?! Man you do try however I'll give
      you that much...:P

      Pagan jim
    • You'll follow dragging your feet

      NonZealot writes: "I'll follow the real world."

      When Leopard's collaboration services become popular and companies you work for
      want you to install them, what will you do then? Quit? Commit suicide?
      • I'll let you know when it happens

        Much like the assertion that there is no malware out there for OS X (which is demonstrably false), I'll worry when I see even 1 company move to OS X servers! Note, I'm not suggesting that [b]no one[/b] has ever installed an OS X server, but it is so rare that most mortal men will never witness it first hand.

        snicker, smirk :)
        • I can name one, sorta

          Well, I can't remember the name but I remember Apple mentioning that one of the
          major credit card verification centres in the US uses a cluster of Xserves running OS X

          And as for the malware thing, yes there is malware out for OS X, finding malware for
          OS X is easy. Finding people affected by malware on the other hand isn't. When there
          is actually malware that seriously affects people, then people can start making a case.
          Martin Pilkington
        • Most mortal men

          Will never witness a server first hand.
          Erik Engbrecht
        • A less important mortal's days are numbered

          I don't know about most, but the important mortals in IT are making the switch...

          • The fact that this made news shows how rare it is!!

            Also [b]HILARIOUS[/b] is the date: July 16, 2007. Great job finding 1 (one) company that has switched in the last 6 months. [b]THIS IS THE YEAR WINDOWS DIES BECAUSE 1 COMPANY SWITCHED!!!!11!!1one1!!![/b]

            And now, to [b]really[/b] piss you off, sink your teeth into [url=] this [/url]

            [i]The editors of, a popular Macintosh website and longtime Mac enthusiasts, have switched to Ubuntu.[/i]

            You are so focused on Windows that you forget Linux is nibbling away at OS X's marketshare. Between Windows and Linux, OS X offers [b]nothing[/b] good.

            snicker, smirk :)
          • Two obvious points in this article to think about.

            - "This is not a vengeance case," Frantz says, referring to his 2006 tangle with Microsoft over threatening letters from the vendor that made false accusations about unlicensed software.

            - For Apple, which declined to comment for this story, the move represents a feather in its enterprise computing cap.

            Firstly, when someone says "this is not a vengeance case", what it really means is... "this definitely a vengeance case". Secondly, why would Apple decline to comment?

            Also, note the following:

            "AWC?s main client/server software, VIPS (Vehicle Inventory Processing System), will continue to run on Microsoft SQL Server on the back end."

            Hardly the clean break you elude to.

            "But function by function, AWC will rewrite all VIPS client software in Java 6.0 or higher so it can run at the front end on Apple Macs."

            Good choice, java apps are fast and stable during the planning stages. I guess he's also hoping Apple will deliver Java 6.0 for Leopard eventually.

            And to top it off, he's planning on a 12-18 month timeframe to rewrite all of it, great cost savings there.

            This guy is set to lose his pension along with his job.
        • Start your worrying NonZealot

          NonZealot, you are sooooo out of touch with reality it is staggering. Are you one of the internet challenged and can't figure out how to search the web???? Dude... Here is a video on you tube you should go take a look at.

          The white papers for that video were released back in 2005. If you do a search on oracle and apple you will come across a ton of stuff, and a ton of those white papers are hosted right here on zdnet. I know this because I worked for Oracle for 5 years. Florensis ran into nothing but problems on Windows, Linux, HP_UX, etc. Oracle 10G installed on Apple X-Serves running 10.3 Server. It was the only combination powerful enough to meet their needs. Every day, more and more companies are making the switch to Apple. (not just universities and schools)

          And something so painfully obvious that both you and the author of this lame blog are too stupid to realize is just why OS X is wintel friendly. Because not many companies can budget replacing all their servers at once. It allows companies to gradually make the budget friendly transition. Read the articles that are out there. They have been anxiously awaiting 10.5 Server. They want to see an X-Serve in action, the ability to bring them in one at a times works for budgeting as well as allowing themselves a learning curve (not that the learning curve is that hard)... 10.5 Server is an awesome server OS, for any size company, especially if they don't want to have an army of linux developers on staff.

          Sure that type of awesome power and reliability do not come cheep, but without per seat liscensing, and the cost you save in labor and downtime, they more than make up for that. For companies like Florensis, it was the only soultion powerful enough to handle their needs, for mom and pop shops, it doesn't require an IT staff at all, and for everything in between, it is the sweetest thing you have ever seen... that is except for the dumb moron who will be out of work in the future because he is too dumb to see the simple truth...

          Yeah.. I guess that would be you NonZealot.

          snicker, smirk :)
          • watch closely at 2:54 in the video.

            Sure looks like an XP window to me, look at the top right-hand corner.

            Care to explain?
          • I watched it again, not XP

            watch closely at 2:54 in the video.
            Sure looks like an XP window to me, look at the top right-hand corner. Care to explain?

            I watched the video over again and again.. I see nothing that looks like XP... Just an Oracle window running on OS X 10.3

            Are you familiar with what OS X looks like and what an Oracle window looks like?
  • RE: Server to server: MacOS X vs. Linux

    Doesn't it depend on WHAT you are serving? For web
    serving, I would say Apache on Linux is best; cheap and
    fast. For basic file and print serving, I say OS X is the
    easiest to set-up, maintain and is by far the cheapest
    compared to Windows (no per seat licensing). I wish
    Murphy would have made the distinction.