Following the release of Snow Leopard, we take a closer look at Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server.

Time was, if you needed a server for anything from a small business to a college, or an enterprise-level corporation, you were looking at a complex computer system, negotiated through a command-line interface.

Today, a server is more likely to have a graphical interface to setup and maintain it, and likely derived from some version of Microsoft Windows NT. Powerful and robust server systems requiring knowledge of console commands are still popular, often for free as open-source software, but many modern-day sysadmins fear to step outside their graphic-interface comfort zone in order to embrace the command line.

While bullet-proof Unix and Linux server systems may now also sport GUI layers for easier configuration, Apple's Mac OS X Server, like it's popular client version, has a very forward-facing and friendly graphical user interface. But if you want to roll your sleeves up and use a Unix terminal, OS X 10.6 Server is a complete POSIX-certified flavour of Unix that will respond to control through the default bash Terminal.app interface.

Snow Leopard Server new features

Now, to match this year's Snow Leopard installed now on all new Macs, comes Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server. While the upgrade to 10.6 on the client side added few entirely new features, the same is not true of the server version.

Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server features several new facilities that will sit well in Apple's core server markets of education, creative audio/visual media and small businesses. And it also scales up well to corporate installations. Like the client version, it majors on 64-bit performance to improve security and address huge amounts of memory. In SPEC benchmarks, Apple has shown that v10.6 Server is up to twice as fast than 10.5 in key operations such as file serving.

Read our comprehensive review of Snow Leopard

Installation is straightforward, with an easy step-by-step wizard guiding the initial setup immediately after the OS software completes its installation. A typical Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server would be based on a rack-mount Apple Xserve or a Mac Pro - but it will also happily run from a Mac mini, as we found. In fact, Apple is now even selling Snow Leopard Server pre-installed on a new optical-drive-free Mac mini. Administration can be made with a headless setup, using either Macs' built-in Screen Sharing app, or the separate Apple Remote Desktop 3. Or you can simply use an open-standard VNC application.

The Mac server can be sited behind an internet modem router; or using the Mac server as an internet gateway, assuming you have at least two ethernet interfaces, taking advantage of the Mac's firewall and DHCP functions. Note that when it comes to the system firewall, while System Preferences shows the familiar On/Off slide switch, you'll need to go into Server Preferences to configure this fine-grained ipfw firewall.

If installing Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server on a computer previously using client Mac OS, make sure your router hasn't reused the old system's DNS name, as happened to us, or you may experience network connectivity issues. We logged into our router and manually edited the Mac server's DNS name, and were then happily back on track.

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Following the release of Snow Leopard, we take a closer look at Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server.

Computers on the local network are setup as Users of the server, allowing them to access a shared Address Book, iCal and File Shares, as well as use a local version of iChat. This uses the open Jabber protocol, so staff can IM inside the network without having to use any external server. A mail server is included, allowing you to bring your email service in-house, and now including server-side rules

Also new is a Wiki Server. With this, users can create and contribute to personal and communal web pages, helping the sharing of information around a company or institution.

Even more focused on education markets is the new Podcast Producer 2 feature. Hidden in the Utilities folder of all regular Snow Leopard Macs is the Podcast Capture app, introduced in Mac OS X 10.5, which lets users easily create audio or video podcasts with multiple cameras and screen recording. The edited content is uploaded to the Mac server, which takes care of rendering and processing each project into a final downloadable podcast.

Read our comparison of Snow Leopard and Windows 7

The iCal Server uses the open CalDAV protocol to format and manage data, and users can access and edit calendars from any modern web browser. For remote access, Snow Leopard Server supports VPN with L2TP/IPSec tunnelling, allowing workers to securely access a private network from beyond its internet router.

This new Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server supports Windows PCs well with email, calendars and address books all available to networked PCs through a modern web interface; and Macs additionally through built-in apps such as Mail, iCal and Address Book. For best results though, clients should also be on OS 10.6 to take advantage of easier configuration options.

Other key features of Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server for sysadmins include System Image Utility, to build unified OS images for rolling out in a Mac-based network, and Workgroup Manager for managing policies and preferences for client computers on the network.

Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server sells with an unlimited client license for £399. There are manifold Windows Server packages on sale, with a greatly varying number of client licenses either included or requiring to be paid for separately. Compared to such options with their labyrinthine license agreements that limit how many computers can be served and what hardware it can be installed on, this is a cheap and effective server solution.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Server [PC]: Specs

  • Intel-powered Apple Macintosh PC
  • 2GB RAM
  • 10GB available disk space
  • DVD drive for installation
  • Intel-powered Apple Macintosh PC
  • 2GB RAM
  • 10GB available disk space
  • DVD drive for installation

OUR VERDICT

We found Snow Leopard Server to be a powerful but simple to use server solution, with the stability and power of Unix, topped with an intuitive interface familiar from Apple’s accessible Mac OS X client operating system. The adoption of open standards, along with a focus on technologies that well support the company’s expanding iPhone platform and media lab technologies, provides useful advantages over competing products. Snow Leopard Server’s extensibility and attractive pricing system alone may seal the deal, especially in education, publishing and media creation settings.

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