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In depth with Apple's Snow Leopard Server

In depth with Apple's Snow Leopard Server

We dig in to explain the new networking, performance and collaboration improvements

Wiki Server finally comes of age

Apple's Wiki Server has finally matured as a central collaborative environment in Snow Leopard Server. Although it was a functional wiki and blog service before, the ability to have full access to a range of collaborative technologies -- including e-mail and shared calendaring in particular -- is a huge improvement. Access is through a Web interface. Wiki Server also serves as a functional wiki for projects and departments, and provides individual user blogs in a clean and generally easy-to-navigate interface.

A couple of specific points of improvement include enhanced search capability and integration with Apple's Quick Look. A technology that emerged on the Mac OS X desktop, Quick Look allows users to preview files without opening them or even needing an application capable of opening them.

The new Wiki Server includes Quick Look and functions largely like Quick Look does on the desktop. If a user attaches a file in any one of number of common formats -- including PDF, Microsoft Office and Apple's iWork and QuickTime -- all wiki users can preview the content without downloading it. This can be a great tool for tracking documents, viewing reference content and being sure what a document contains before downloading and working with it.

Easier Podcast Producer workflows

Another Leopard-introduced technology that has gotten an update is Podcast Producer. This is a way to create podcasts using Mac OS X Server. Podcast Producer allows an administrator to define completely automated workflows for users to generate podcasts.

In Snow Leopard Server, Podcast Producer has been updated and it now includes a new tool called Podcast Composer. Podcast Composer offers a quick and easy way to string together common operations needed between the step where a user records video and when it is made available as a podcast in one of varying formats. This can include things like copying the video to a server running Apples Xgrid clustering platform, formatting the video for specific devices, including company-specific watermarks or custom introductions and credits and generating the RSS feed for the completed podcast.

Much of the functionality in Podcast Producer existed in Leopard Server, but the interface for creating workflows has been dramatically transformed and simplified. It now resembles that of workflows that Mac users can create with the Automator tool and allows for quick and easy creation of multiple customized workflows.

iPhone support and push notifications

The iPhone gets some special attention in Snow Leopard Server in a few different ways. First and foremost, Apple's updated mail engine and iCal Server 2 now can send push notifications of new events or messages to iPhone users.

This is a pretty major step that Apple really needed to take. It allows the iPhone to be supported by Apple's own server platform and still maintain a lot of the features that previously would have required an Exchange Server.

Apple has also crafted a wiki template specifically for iPhone users. The "My Page" feature, as Apple has dubbed it, is formatted for easy viewing on the iPhone's mobile browser and lets users easily track additions of content specific to their job roles. iPhone users can also edit content.

Secure remote access without VPN

Moving away from collaborative tools, Snow Leopard Server introduces an alternative to VPNs for users who need to access internal resources securely from outside a network. Mobile Access Server, which makes its debut in Snow Leopard Server, allows you to create secure connections using a reverse SSL proxy. This allows users on unsecured networks like a public Wi-Fi hotspot or a mobile carrier's cell network to connect securely and to access several common internal services like Web-based intranets and wiki/blog sites as well as e-mail and other collaborative tools.

While these can be secured with SSL individually, having a single point of connection, and having single sign-on easily available and hosted by a server other than the servers storing the data, make the process both simpler and more secure. It also alleviates setting up VPN access -- which is, of course, still available -- especially if users need access to a limited number of services.

For remote users, you may still want to consider a VPN for access to a broader range of services.

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