Launched in August and compatible with all the Intel-based Macs, Apple's Snow Leopard Server is a full 64-bit server OS: for the first time in OS X's history, the kernel, the apps and the drivers are all 64-bit software. This makes for better performance on the same hardware, and Apple has produced an impressive set of benchmarks to prove it.
But for most people, server performance is not the key issue, and Snow Leopard Server considerably increases the list of things you can do.
Snow Leopard Server's Wiki Server 2 makes it simple for users to create wiki pages.
For example, a new Wiki engine makes it remarkably easy for anybody to create Wikis for specific projects, and control who can read and update them. The iCal calendar server has also been updated with new CalDAV support and an impressive new web access system to complement the iCal tool included on every Mac desktop. Although many of these features are similar to those available on Microsoft's Windows products, the OS X alternatives don't incur additional licence fees for server components or client access licences.
The iCal calendar server has been updated with new CalDAV support and an impressive new web access system.
Other tricks are unique to the Apple platform. Most notable is the brand-new Podcast Composer 2, with which server administrators can define workflows that enable users to record and publish video podcasts with just a few mouse clicks. This could revolutionise the way people produce training and marketing materials. Anyone with a Mac on their desk and a Snow Leopard server in the datacentre could produce podcasts more easily than PowerPoint presentations.
Similarly, creating wiki pages with other web tools is often a tricky process for the uninitiated. By contrast, Apple's Wiki Server 2 makes it extremely simple to create and link pages. We set up a four-page wiki explaining how Windows users could connect to our Snow Leopard iChat server, and the whole process took just a few minutes.
Next we created a few user accounts so that people in our labs could connect to the server and use its resources. The only details required were a username and a password, and having clicked the Save button the new user could access resources such as the iCal and iChat services. We tested this by connecting various users to the iChat service and exchanging instant messages between them.
Although we were very impressed with Snow Leopard Server, there were a one or two features that we simply couldn't get to work. For example, Apple told us that the new Mail 2 server software supports push notification to iPhones. But we couldn't get this working in our lab tests. This Apple document describes push email support on the iPhone but does not include Mail 2 push configuration. Push notification to common mail clients — including Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird — worked perfectly, and lack of iPhone push notification won't be relevant to everyone, but we were disappointed by the apparent contradiction between Apple's claim for the product and our experience in the lab.
Similarly, Apple told us that the new iChat 2 server supports voice calls to Mac and Windows clients using the industry-standard and open-source XMPP protocol. If it actually did so, Snow Leopard would be one of the cheapest and simplest ways to roll out simple VoIP-style telephone services. But although we could configure Mac OS X iChat clients to make such calls, we couldn't make Windows or Linux software do the same thing. Again, Apple didn’t have any documentation to help. By contrast, it was straightforward to get Windows-based XMPP client software such as Pidgin to exchange text-based instant messages using the Snow Leopard iChat server.
No review of Snow Leopard would be complete without a mention of the extremely poor webmail interface, which is based on the PHP SquirrelMail package. Although this is robust and easy to use, the look and feel is very basic and completely out of character with the rest of Snow Leopard Server's web components, such as Wiki Server 2 and the web-based iCal interface.