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.

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  • ex2bot - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    Upgrading OS X is not much of a pain, as Repo says. Plus, it's practical to skip at least every other upgrade. So, upgrading every four years (2 + 2) at $60 isn't a big deal and the improvements are worth it.

    I especially appreciate Expose', Time Machine, Spotlight, and Quick Look and use them regularly And every Mac user has benefitted from Quartz GL (uses 3d graphics card to speed up screen draws).. There have been myriad "invisible" or subtle improvements as well. See Apple's "Mac OS X" section for details.

    Four years between OS upgrades is not bad, as I said. Longhorn was supposed to come out about 4 or 5 years after XP. Microsoft just had eyes bigger than its stomach and it was delayed. But Windows 7 was worth the wait. Especially features like the display compositor + aesthetically pleasing UI + improved security (and no more yellow speech bubbles popping up all the time)

    Automated System Process
  • ex2bot - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    BTW, Expose's successor is called "Mission Control."
  • Sahrin - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    a reduction in advertising, if you guys are going to do all these paid reviews for Apple.
  • Johnmcl7 - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    It's getting a bit of a joke these days that anything with the Apple badge will get a news article, preview, in depth review the moment it's out dwarfing everything else which barely seems to get a look-in. I get that Anand likes Apple stuff and if I don't I should go elsewhere but I like the non-Apple reviews when they do occasionally get published.

  • ex2bot - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    It's no joke. Check Anand's mailbox some time*.


    *Crazies, please don't mess with his mailbox.
  • ex2bot - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    I know for a fact that Apple employees stuff money into Anand's mailbox*. Lots and lots of money. They use $20s and $50s straight from Jobs' car, who burns them to light his cigs.

    Currency Calculating Mac Fanbot

    * Anand, I don't really believe this. I was kidding, as I'm sure you've figured out. Actually, I'm sure they are $100s, not $20s and $50s. After all, he's a Billionaire.
  • the_engineer - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    Thanks for this great in-depth look at Lion Servers new & continued functionality, I learned a lot reading this. However, I'm still very confused at where XSAN fits into the picture. As a storage power-user I've used software Linux raid, semi-hardware windows raid (Intel, Highpoint), and I've lately dabbled into ZFS because it seems like it's really got everything I could ever want as far as straight storage capabilities are concerned (I'm running a raidz6 with 6 750GB drives currently running on Nexenta). I'd really like to put Lion Server on a mac and install a generic SATA card and add 6 3TB hard drives and do a great big raid5 in a mac pro, but am very confused as to whether or not this will work. I was very hopeful that Lion Server would integrate 'software' RAID5 or similar functionality, but it's not clear anywhere whether it does this or not. Simply put, Do I still need to buy a dedicated raid5 card to have a redundant array of inexpensive disks on a mac or am I missing something still?

    -Looking for a great user experience AND a ton of redundant storage
  • HMTK - Wednesday, August 3, 2011 - link

    Why not set up a NAS with iSCSI or NFS ?
  • the_engineer - Wednesday, August 3, 2011 - link

    LONG story short, geting a deidciated NAS box means spending more money than ought to be necessary at this point (I have an i7 desktop and a core2 desktop, both capable of running Lion, Windows, FreeBSD, you name it... Just fine, as well as plenty of vanilla SATA ports & cards available). I'm Trying to weigh all purely software options available to me, with ZFS/BSD sitting on top of the heap for storage features but OSX sitting on top of the heap from a usability standpoint. The longer I look at it the more likely I am to end up running one huge 20-drive ZFS based NAS under FreeBSD but was trying to avoid getting to this point.
  • HMTK - Wednesday, August 3, 2011 - link

    If you put it on the network you can access it with all decent OS's. I've got a little HP mini proliant just for that.

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