Apple OS/X 10.3

The lion is the king of the jungle, but which big cat would you rather have inside your Apple server, a jaguar or a panther?

I tested Apple's OS/X 10.3, codenamed Panther, and found that it provides better functionality, VPN support, Microsoft network compatibility and ease of administration compared to 10.2, codenamed Jaguar.

The biggest difference between Jaguar and Panther is that Apple's previously disjointed management applications have been replaced by one Server Admin application that offers greater control over most of the system. However, Xserve RAID subsystem management still requires an extra application. Server Admin feels similar to Microsoft's Management System (MMS) but lacks plug-ins and multi-server administrative appeal.

Several open source applications have been ported and polished for Panther. Sendmail is out, and Postfix is in. Apple also added open source client interfaces from the Cyrus product that include support for both Post Office Protocol and Internet Message Access Protocol mail. There is also an open source mail list manager called Mailman. Managing all of these elements collectively was quick and simple using Server Admin.

Apple also has added integrated Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) support to facilitate IPSec-based VPNs. Lacking an X.509 server to generate the VPN key exchanges needed for dynamic keys, Apple's IPSec implementation accepts only pre-shared keys that Kame generates and therefore lacks the appeal of variable-key infrastructure in the Protected Extensible Authentication Protocol (PEAP) vein. Kame is an open source IPSec/IPv6 initiative.

Panther includes Apple's first distribution of Samba 3.0, an open source directory service application that emulates a Windows NT primary domain controller. This lets Windows and Macs use Apple's Open Directory service to perform many of the tasks that typically are completed by a Windows Active Directory server.

Apple has added some fleet rollout capabilities to this revision. The first is the ability to build images for Mac clients that can be delivered from a Panther distribution server, called NetBoot. Building the images was comparatively simple using NetBoot and the new Network Image Utility.

Another new feature called Network Install uses NetBoot methods to roll out applications and updates. It bundles applications and/or folders into packages that can be distributed in a number of different ways. Fleet server update/rollout for Panther is managed on Xserve systems via another new element called Server Assistant.

In terms of security, Apple has made it easier to manage how files get encrypted with the FileVault file encryption software that comes bundled with its operating system.

While we found only nominal performance increase - our performance tests yielded nearly identical Web-based and disk I/O numbers as that seen with OS/X 10.2 tests - Panther shows a determination on Apple's part to be taken seriously in the server operating system market.

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