Apple revs Mac OS Server update

The industrial-strength version of the Mac OS is getting a technical and cosmetic facelift and will be due out this spring

While the desktop version of Apple's Mac OS X has dominated the limelight over the past year, Mac OS X Server -- an industrial-strength version of the operating system designed for Web, mail and multimedia serving duties -- will reportedly receive a technical and cosmetic facelift early in 2001.

Beta testers report that the software is currently dubbed OS X Server 2.0 during its beta cycle, but Apple representatives said the final version will be called simply OS X Server, when it is released later this spring, possibly a month after the desktop version of OS X ships on March 24.

The operating system will inherit Mac OS X's Aqua interface and integrate features of earlier versions of OS X Server, as well as AppleShare IP, Apple's file, print, mail and Web services package.

In fact, according to Apple representatives, the company plans to combine the features of both products in the next version of Server and place them on top of OS X's Darwin core, which is based on BSD and the Mach microkernel.

Users reported that the next version of OS X Server will extend features and administration tools inherited from early editions of the operating system, such as NetBoot, QuickTime Streaming Server, and WebObjects, adding a DHCP server; a basic IP firewall; support for the upcoming WebObjects 4.5.1 and Java-based WebObjects 5.0 (complete with a WebObjects 5.0 runtime environment); and more.

From AppleShare IP, OS X Server will gain new, OS X-native versions of the Network Assistant, Network Admin and Macintosh Manager tools, as well as various file services.

In addition, an Apple representative said, OS X Server will have an "advanced Directory Services architecture" that will use either the built-in NetInfo directory system or standard LDAP servers.

Also in the next version of OS X Server will be Samba for sharing files with Windows-based clients, full support for Perl and CGI as well as Apache and new extensions for it, included the ability to cache static pages.

Sources familiar with the new server OS have expressed enthusiasm about the upgrade, especially considering the software's checkered history.

The first commercial release of Mac OS X Server -- the first product resulting from the marriage of Apple and NeXT Software -- shipped in March 1999.

It was aimed at server administrators and developers -- both those who were interested in creating software for Apple's next-generation operating system, and those who had long worked with NextStep, the OS progenitor of all upcoming flavors of OS X.

The interface was generally considered an awkward conglomeration, borrowing from both NextStep and the classic Mac OS, but the underpinnings -- BSD Unix 4.4 and a Mach 2.5 kernel -- were pure NextStep.

Initial versions of OS X Server offered only limited ability to run existing Mac OS applications, placing them in a separate emulation layer called Blue Box -- an early version of OS X's Classic environment. However, the company recommended against using Blue Box, as it rapidly drained system resources.

In a move new to Apple, the company made available the core of OS X Server (the Mach kernel, the Apache Web server technology and more) as open source.

This core, called Darwin, allowed developers and hobbyists alike to examine and modify the underlying code. Apple representatives have commented publicly that such contributions have made their way into what will be the final release of OS X.

However, the growth of OS X Server has not been uniformly smooth. Over the past two years, there have been long delays in updates and bug fixes for OS X Server; incompatibilities with Power Mac hardware, designed as servers; and the feeling among developers that they were seen by Apple as "cannon fodder" for the desktop version of OS X. Perhaps the most visible reaction was on the Stepwise Web site, long a nexus for WebObjects and Next developers; the broadside "Head for the Ramparts", published in early 2000, expressed the collective anger at what was seen as these developers' abandonment by Apple.

However, even some of the most disgruntled developers seemed to have had most of their concerns addressed in recent builds of OS X Server. The new, integrated features, promised support for most of the new Apple hardware and even a public Web site for OS X Server all point to a higher profile for and commitment to the operating system.

"I'm really quite excited by OS X Server," said Scott Anguish, the editor of the Stepwise Web site and a long-time developer. "I had originally planned on just running OS X 1.0 for my servers since I didn't think I'd need the extra features...but the extensions that have been made to Apache (caching of static pages, is a big one) really does make it attractive."

Apple representatives declined to comment on pricing and whether OS X Server will be available as a package to install over the desktop version of OS X, or solely as a stand-alone OS, although beta testers have reported evidence of the former.

In addition, the upgrade path from the current version of Mac OS X Server (which, oddly, will put users in the position of moving from the existing "OS X Server 1.2" to "OS X Server") is still not clear.

"OS X Server can utilize and maintain existing file and Web content, mail data, and user and group information from both AppleShare IP 6.3 and OS X Server 1.2 installations," an Apple representative told ZDNet.

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