Mac OS X Server costs 5% of what it cost just three years ago. Whatever your needs and whatever the software’s shortcomings, this is hard to ignore. Leopard Server cost $999 for an unlimited-client license, Snow Leopard Server cost $499, and Lion Server costs $50.

For this reason alone, Lion Server will (and should) attract the attention of people who have never been in the market for server software before - home users, in particular - but it has to do so without alienating the business and education customers who currently rely on the software. These are Lion Server’s challenges: is there a real point in having it at home? And as a comparatively-dirt-cheap App Store download, is it lacking in features and power compared to previous versions?


I want to clarify a couple of things before I dive into the review proper: First, just like previous versions, Lion Server is very much just OS X with server functionality laid over top of it. In appearance, performance, system requirements, and operation, it is mostly identical to OS X client. I’ll point you to our massive review of Lion if you need to know more about any of that.

Second, know that I’m approaching this review from a different angle than the Lion client review - while most people interested in an OS X review have at least a passing familiarity with the software, this review will be the first exposure to OS X Server for many of you. For that reason, among the descriptions of Lion Server’s features and comparisons with past versions of the software, I’m going to be going a little more in-depth about how to actually configure the services. Hopefully the newbies among you can use these instructions as jumping-off points as you explore the software on your own.

Last, OS X Server can do a lot of things - some (like mail and DHCP) can be handled by many different products, but others (like Open Directory, NetBoot, or the OS X and iOS management features) are pretty unique to OS X Server. I’m going to try to at least touch upon every single service and tool in OS X Server, but I’ll generally focus more on the unique stuff for the purposes of this review.

Got all that? Good! Let’s jump in.

Installation
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  • the_engineer - Thursday, August 04, 2011 - link

    Indeed, and that's the plan, assuming nothing else I like more comes along. I was really sort of tantalized by the possibility of software RAID in OSX, and still haven't been able to get a straight answer on it. Currently it is looking like it's a no go. Reply
  • tff - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    As a home user, I've been frustrated by the inability to have two users edit a shared calendar in OS X/iOS without using 3rd party software.

    How would it differ using Lion server to accomplish this rather than Lion and iOS 5 clients using iCloud?

    Typical Mac home user- iPhones, iPads, Mac laptops.
    Reply
  • Omegabet - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    You can install server.app on a client. Just copy the app over from the server. The first time you launch it, choose connect to a server. It will then run server.app from your client. Otherwise it will upgrade lion to the server version. This was recommended in the apple documentation (can't remember where though). Reply
  • qiankun - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    One instance I found frustrating is that non-HSF+ volumes like NTFS and exFat cannot be accessed from other computers using SMB or AFP. You can add the volume to the file sharing list, pick whatever protocol you like, but when you try to access it you'll get an error. Same thing applies to the bootcamp partition.

    I like to use NTFS or exFat on external drives, for simple fact that whenever needed you can simply disconnect them from the mac server and plug into a PC. I know there are software that allows reading HSF+ partitions on windows, but it's not installed everywhere, very unlikely if you want to use the drive on a random computer you or your friend uses.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    Windows Home Server. That's all I have to add. Reply
  • justinf79 - Friday, August 05, 2011 - link

    WHS isn't even in the same league... Reply
  • rs2 - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    I've used a number of different wiki solutions, and the one included on OS X Server is a toy compared to most other popular wikis. There's just no comparison between the OS X wiki and something like Confluence or MediaWiki. Reply
  • gamoniac - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    At first glance, this looks impressive, given the price tag and the myriad of features provided. However, the author should note the huge maintenance costs of this at best rudimentary product. Anyone who has used Apache or IIS 7 knows the Lion web server is years away from catching up.

    What good is a cheap product if you have to to spend, say, 40 hours, trying to get something to work. The TCO is too high even at $10/hour, and even for home users.
    Reply
  • gamoniac - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    PS: Good article nonetheless. Thank you AT. Keep them coming! Reply
  • repoman27 - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    What's good about a cheap product with a myriad of features is that if even one or two work as advertised out of the box, it was worth it. If not, you're only out $50. I configured Snow Leopard Client on a MacBook Pro to work as a NetBoot / NetRestore server because I happened to find that functionality useful, and although it was trivial to do so, I'm perfectly inclined to shell out the $50 for Lion Server going forward rather than monkey around with another client version.

    In general, you're right though, it's stupid to cheap out on a capital expenditure and then spend an order of magnitude more trying to get someone who knows what they're doing to make it work.

    Really, though, who doesn't spend at least 40 hours setting up a new server for the first time?
    Reply

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