REVIEW: Snow Leopard Server Provides Powerful Feature Updates

Mac OS X Server Snow Leopard deserves a top spot on IT managers' evaluation list for system updates in creative departments where Macs predominate. Snow Leopard Server could be considered for general enterprise deployment, but its built-in creative and communications functions make the operating system best suited for use where high-value content is produced. Of note are the updates to the Podcast Producer, Wiki and Mobile Access components.

It was easy to miss the release of the server version of Apple's Snow Leopard amid all the hoopla over the client version, but Mac OS X Server Snow Leopard deserves attention.

While the client release of Snow Leopard was primarily a 64-bit engineering refresh (see my review here), Snow Leopard Server is focused on features. IT managers should put Snow Leopard Server on their short-term evaluation list when considering system updates in creative departments where Mac systems predominate.

For a look at Snow Leopard Server in action, check out this eWEEK Labs Gallery

Snow Leopard Server started shipping on Aug. 28 and costs $499 with unlimited client licenses. It is licensed to run only on Mac hardware. For my tests, I used a newly minted Xserve running two quad-core Intel Xeon 5540 processors and 6GB of RAM. I also tested the OS on an older Intel Xeon-based Mac Pro.

Snow Leopard Server could be considered for general enterprise deployment, but its built-in creative and communications functions make the operating system best suited for deployment where high-value content is produced.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the second-generation enhancements I saw in the Podcast Producer, Wiki and Mobile Access components included with Snow Leopard Server.

The Podcast Producer 2 workflow in Snow Leopard Server is presented in a seven-step process that takes much of the complex, command-line work out of creating and publishing podcasts. My work with Podcast Producer 2 showed that even an IT person without much experience with technical creative applications can get the workflow set up and working correctly the first time through the system's wizard.

Also new in Podcast Producer 2 is the ability to use dual inputs, combining camera and screen content.

I used a MacBook Pro running the client version of Snow Leopard to easily create podcasts using the included Podcast Capture utility. Using screen capture and the computer's camera was a surprisingly simple operation. Podcast Capture on my MacBook then easily found and connected to the Podcast Producer 2 server component.

From start to finish, my first simple podcast was completed in less than 10 minutes. Integrating material from other sources, including Windows-based machines, is possible but not nearly as simple as when I used the MacBook.

Wiki Server 2 adds Quick Look and iPhone support to the group collaboration component in Snow Leopard Server. For IT administrators, the full integration of Wiki Server 2 access controls with an organization's existing directory means reduced maintenance overhead. A single change in the directory will enable and deny users access to the wiki platform when they come into and leave an organization, respectively.

Apple added a cool way to preview content in the wiki called Quick Look, a feature I talked about in my Snow Leopard client review. Basically, a user can hover over content produced by a variety of widely used applications-including Microsoft Office apps, Apple iWorks apps, Adobe Acrobat and QuickTime-and see a preview of the content. All of this happens without downloading the content.

There is new support for collaboration when the wiki is accessed from an iPhone. Templates in the Wiki component make it possible for users to log in and, among other things, view confidential wiki pages, track content updates, tag pages and view comments from an iPhone.

In addition to adding iPhone access to the Wiki Server 2 component, Apple has significantly improved the components used to enable outside access to Snow Leopard Server. While VPN access is still supported, new in Snow Leopard Server is Mobile Access Server. Mobile Access Server is basically a reverse proxy that enables remote secure file access for devices that are connected over the Internet. As with Wiki Server 2, the Mobile Access Server component integrates with an organization's existing directory service for authentication and even single sign-on support. (I used a Windows Server 2003 system running Active Directory to provide directory services.)

In Mac-oriented shops and departments, the new Address Book Server component in Snow Leopard Server will be a productivity booster. Address Book Server uses CardDAV, which is a protocol for contact information exchange.

It's important to note that Apple provided integrated support for Microsoft Exchange Server in the Snow Leopard client. For organizations that want to standardize contact use without putting the widely used Microsoft Exchange Server, or a rigid LDAP-based directory offering, at the heart of the solution, the Address Book Server could be just the ticket. With it, IT administrators can enable users to add contact information to a central repository that is accessed and used by Mac computers and iPhones.

Further supporting group communications and collaboration, Apple updated iCal Server in Snow Leopard Server. The calendaring component of Snow Leopard Server now includes a Web-based calendar client that enables users to view and update information over a variety of widely deployed browsers, including Safari, Internet Explorer and Firefox. iCal Server 2 has also gained the ability to push updates, including schedule changes and invitations, so that users see the most up-to-date information.

My experience with setting up the Address Book and iCal server components was similar to my experience with Snow Leopard Server in general: Setup of the components was neatly integrated with central services, such as directory and e-mail components. The Mac's clean user interface, made possible in large part by controlling both the hardware and software platforms, ensured that things "just worked."

Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at [email protected].