Apples Tiger Earns Its Stripes

 
 
By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2005-05-30
 
 
 

Apples Tiger Earns Its Stripes


Mac OS X 10.4, better known as "Tiger," is a great upgrade for existing Macintosh installations and merits strong consideration from non-Mac shops as well.

eWEEK Labs tested the server and workstation versions of Apple Computer Inc.s Mac OS X 10.4. In both cases, we were impressed by the mix of well-integrated open-source software components and new Apple-developed productivity and management features.

On the workstation side, new features such as the Spotlight search tool and Automator workflow builder offer individual users the means to take more control of their work spaces and applications. On the server side, Tiger offers a comprehensive set of network services, matching or beating what you can get from most Linux distributions or from Microsoft Corp.s Windows Small Business Server 2003.

However, making the move to Tiger—either from a previous Mac OS release or from Windows—wont be trouble-free. For one thing, changes in the new operating system, which began shipping last month, have resulted in the breakage of several key applications, including Cisco Systems Inc.s VPN client. (Since our testing, Cisco has released a Tiger-compatible version of the VPN. We expect other vendors to follow suit shortly.)

Another issue reported by many early Tiger adopters involves problems accessing Windows shares using Apples implementation of Samba—problems we also encountered in our testing. As with any new operating system release, careful testing is the key to a successful deployment, particularly where cross-platform integration is concerned.

The workstation version of Mac OS X 10.4 sells for $129, with no upgrade pricing. Tigers price is a bit lower when purchased in bulk: For 1,000 or more licenses, Apple charges $99 per license. For an additional $207 per seat, Apple sells three-year maintenance agreements that entitle buyers to all OS X upgrades that ship during the maintenance term.

Click here for the Executive Summary for Mac OS X 10.4 Workstation.

Mac OS X Server 10.4 sells for $999 per system with unlimited client access licenses or $499 for a 10-client version. The 10-client limitation applies, however, only to concurrent file-sharing connections, not to users of the operating systems directory or other services.

Click here for the Executive Summary for Mac OS X 10.4 Server.

Just before press time, Apple released an initial update, 10.4.1, to both the workstation and server versions of Tiger, including a slate of minor fixes.

Both versions of Tiger run on Apple systems with PowerPC G5, G4 or G3 processors and require at least 256MB of physical RAM. The workstation version ships on a DVD, so a DVD drive is required for installation. Our Tiger server copy came on regular CD-ROMs.

We tested Tiger workstation on an Apple G5 workstation; we tested Tiger server on an Xserve with dual G4 chips.

When run on Apple machines with PowerPC G5 processors, Mac OS X now takes fuller advantage of the chips 64-bit capabilities. For instance, on the right hardware, both 32-bit and 64-bit processes on Tiger can address more than 4GB of memory.

Much of Mac OS X, including all graphical elements, remains 32-bit, although developers may call on a set of 64-bit libraries for creating 64-bit native applications.

The fact that Mac OS X still runs only on Apple machines significantly limits a companys hardware purchasing options and may be the biggest barrier to deployment of Tiger in organizations running mostly x86-based machines.

Mac OS X lacks the breadth of available applications that Windows enjoys. Tiger ships with an X11 server and has a Unix foundation, however, so most open-source applications will run on it. Weve had good success teaming Mac OS X with Fink, an application for locating, downloading and compiling open-source applications for the Mac; Apple also provides a download point (www.apple.com/down loads/macosx/unix_open_source) for acquiring many open-source applications.

Next page: Desktop flash.

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Tigers most exciting feature is Spotlight, a built-in search facility. Spotlight is similar to Google Inc.s Google Desktop for Windows and the Beagle indexing application for Linux, but Spotlight offers much tighter operating system integration than either of those applications.

For more on Beagle, click here.

Spotlight made it easy for us to troll through much of the data stored on our test system, and the application did a good job of helping us sort through the results that search requests returned.

While Spotlight sets Tiger apart from its client rivals, room for improvement remains. Specifically, while we expected Spotlight to serve as a one-stop search spot, there were parts of test systems that Spotlight could not reach.

For example, we couldnt find the smb.conf file that contains setup options for Tigers Samba file-sharing component. We also were surprised to find that Spotlight wouldnt turn up results from Tigers help resources; we had to search from within the operating systems help application to find that information.

Another feature that sets Tiger apart from its desktop rivals is the Automator application. Using Automator, we could automate repetitive computing tasks, such as applying Spotlight keywords to groups of files, by dragging and dropping program actions into a workflow.

The Automator interface was easy to navigate and offers users who arent shell-scripting-savvy the opportunity to take more control over their systems. Apple also provides a site for downloading Automator workflows that other users have created: www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/automator.

Among the more eye-catching features of Tiger is an application called Dashboard. It runs in the background and, when called on, overlays the Tiger desktop with a work space for miniapplications such as clocks or stock tickers.

We found many of these miniapplications, called Widgets, fairly handy, but they could provide an avenue for mischief-making software. Built out of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and JavaScript, Tigers Widgets are easy to create and easy—too easy, perhaps—to install. Thats because Apples Safari Web browser is set by default to open "safe" file types automatically. As a result, Web pages can be written to auto-install Dashboard Widgets. (The 10.4.1 release changes Safaris Dashboard Widget behavior.) Users and administrators need to make sure that they can trust the providers of particular Widgets before installing them.

Next page: You got served.

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eWEEK Labs was impressed overall with the server edition of Mac OS X 10.4, which rolls up a comprehensive set of network services under a set of slick management interfaces.

Through its implementation of Samba Version 3, Tiger provides access to Windows file shares, printers and authentication services—all of which, according to Apple officials, are available to Tiger users without requiring any changes to the Windows servers in question.

However, we had mixed results during our tests of Tiger with Samba. We were initially unable to access a file share on a Windows Server 2003 machine from our test Tiger system. To connect to the share wed created, we had to change the security setting on our Windows box that, by default, encrypts client connections (a workaround we found through a little searching on Google). After making this change, we were able to connect to Windows shares normally.

Our troubles with Samba and OS X werent over, however. While connecting to Samba shares hosted from Linux machines, the Mac OS X Finder application would sometimes hang completely, forcing a restart. With other Linux-hosted Samba shares, we could connect normally. (Apple has posted a Knowledge Base article that deals with Samba problems related to accessing unencrypted password shares at docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=301580.)

We were able to log on to a Windows Server 2003 Active Directory domain from Tiger without a hitch. However, when we configured an Active Directory user with a home directory hosted on our Windows server, Tiger would hang at the log-on screen, with the Mac OS X "spinning wheel of death" cursor our only feedback until we reset the test system. We were still experiencing this problem as of press time, as the 10.4.1 update did not resolve this issue for us.

On the flip side, we were able to access the Samba shares wed created on our Tiger box from Linux and Windows machines without a problem.

Another feature that enhances Mac OS Xs interoperability—with Windows in particular—is support for access control lists compatible with Windows NTFS (NT File System) file systems.

Mac OS X 10.4s system and network management tools do a good job of condensing a lot of configuration options while presenting them in a form thats fairly simple to navigate. These tools also put an integrated management face on the mix of open-source software components that Tiger server includes—particularly those for providing network services.

We used Tigers Workgroup Manager to administer local and directory-based user accounts, including configuring mail options and locking down user access to particular applications.

The first application to which we wanted to restrict access was Dashboard. However, we were disappointed to see that, upon logging in as a Dashboard-restricted user, the application started up automatically anyway. The application managed this end run apparently because its default is to start automatically and run in the background. Once we removed Dashboard from our test users dock, that user could not open it again.

We were able to restrict access to Safari—which doesnt load automatically—without trouble.

While we liked Tigers lockdown options, wed prefer to have the option of drilling down to per-application settings.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlists: Related Products.

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Mac OS X 10.4 Workstation Evaluation Shortlist

Microsofts Windows XP Professional While less innovative, Windows XP offers many more hardware and software options than does Tiger (www.microsoft.com)

Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 SuSE runs on more hardware than Windows or Mac OS, and SuSE ships with the best of what the open-source software community has to offer (www.novell.com/suse)

Mac OS X 10.4 Server Evaluation Shortlist

Microsofts Windows Server 2003 Also offers easy-to-use administration tools but with wider support for both proprietary and open-source software (www.microsoft.com)

Novells SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 and Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 These enterprise Linux distributions offer much wider hardware compatibility than the server edition of Tiger, but they dont match the smoothness and integration of Tigers graphical management tools (www.novell.com and www.redhat.com)

Sun Microsystems Inc.s Solaris 10 Doesnt match the slickness of Tiger servers interface but does provide more hardware options and server-focused technologies, such as DTrace and Containers (www.sun.com)

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on Apple in the enterprise.

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