StarNine Technologies has made waves with the recent release of the new WebSTAR World Wide Web server software for Macintosh and Power Macintosh. The software is a new version of Chuck Shotton's MacHTTP server utility, with quite a bit of additional functionality and performance, a cleaner user interface, and StarNine's marketing muscle behind it. Apple has taken WebSTAR to heart, including it at the core of the company's ready-out-of-the-box Internet server machines.
Naturally, WebSTAR is a Macintosh application first and foremost. It brings configuration and control directly to the user in very Mac-like ways, combining intuitive dialog boxes and informative displays with a remote administration tool that network administrators will fall in love with. The WebSTAR Admin application uses Apple's Program Linking feature (which debuted along with File Sharing in System 7, but has gotten far less attention) to monitor and control the Web server's activities and features from any Macintosh on the same AppleTalk network. The only flaw in this arrangement is that administrators ought to be able to perform the same tasks via TCP/IP over the Internet, where AppleTalk connectivity isn't always feasible. Since Timbuktu Pro works via TCP/IP and is a common tool in net managers' arsenals, this shouldn't pose too much of a problem.
Like any good Macintosh application, WebSTAR runs on just about any member of the Mac family. Sites with simple needs could use a low-end Mac as their Web server (WebSTAR requires a Mac with 4 MB of RAM and System 7, as well as a full-fledged connection to the Internet), though of course a faster Macintosh will offer better responsiveness and much smoother multi-user performance. The software is available in both 68000 and PowerPC versions. Our tests show that WebSTAR performs without apparent slowness while handling multiple requests on a Mac IIsi and a Centris 610, two computers from Apple's past that were never considered particularly speedy. Reliable sources say that WebSTAR "really cooks" on a Power Macintosh 9500/132, but that's no surprise.
One frequent comment we've heard is that "serious" or high-traffic Web sites should stick with traditional Unix computers running NCSA's httpd or Netscape's server software. Judging on a cost basis alone, we disagree; it would be less expensive to set up a rotating pool of Mac-based Web servers than a single high-horsepower Unix server. According to MacHTTP author Chuck Shotton, "If you compare $10,000 worth of Macs versus a single $10,000 Unix workstation, you can buy or re-use several Macs and, with mirrored copies of WebSTAR installed on each, create a powerful array of computers that behave like a single Web site to browsers on the Net and easily outpaces the performance of a single Unix workstation."
Some sites on the Web already use multiple Unix workstations to handle heavy loads, so this approach isn't too non-traditional. Shotton also stresses that there's a large expense inherent in hiring or training the Unix expert(s) needed to run a Web server, making WebSTAR even more affordable. As an example, downloading the 2 MB WebSTAR compressed archive from StarNine's Web site via modem took longer, by far, than installing it on a Mac and getting it running, ready to serve Web pages.
A comparison less likely to draw comment from Unix aficionados relates to security concerns. Some Unix-based Web server software in the past has allowed browsers access to directories and files that were never meant to be published. WebSTAR carefully avoids this scenario by allowing only files and directories contained within its folder to be accessed. As with MacHTTP, the administrator may configure the WebSTAR server to require username and password authentication for access to some or all material, and can limit access to certain domains and IP address ranges.
WebSTAR works in conjunction with a variety of other programs, both commercial and not, to make your Mac Internet server act in many ways like a fully-functional (dare we say it?) Unix machine. A good example is StarNine's own ListSTAR, their new mailing list software available in SMTP and LAN-based mail flavors. The fully scriptable ListSTAR can work well with WebSTAR to generate mailing lists with a forms-based subscription front end on the Web. Naturally, WebSTAR also works well in conjunction with other IP server utilities such as MailShare and FTPd.
For database searches, StarNine says its WebSTAR server isn't limited to interacting just with scriptable database applications such as FileMaker Pro. EveryWare Development Corporation's new ButlerLink/Web is designed to serve as intermediary between WebSTAR and SQL compliant database engines like its own Butler SQL package. This toolkit is included with Apple's new Internet servers, and is available from EveryWare and its resellers. (EveryWare is also working on OpenDoc-compliant database tools, which were on display at last month's PC Expo.)
WebSTAR also now supports pre-processing and post-processing of URLs received from Web browsers, so that the URLs may be redirected to any application via AppleScript, and allows custom actions based on the filename extensions of requested URLs.
If you've been meaning to try WebSTAR but had given up thanks to last Friday's expiration date on StarNine's demo version (see TidBITS-282), take another look. The company has extended its free demonstration version, available from their Web site, to work until 01-Aug-95. Coincidentally, that's the same day WebSTAR's prices go up, so you'll want to move fast.
Speaking of prices, WebSTAR bears a $349 introductory price through 31-Jul-95. After July ends, the price goes to the published list price of $795 for new users. (MacHTTP users who registered before 02-May-95 may purchase the software now for $99, or after 31-Jul-95 for $495.) Discounts are available for educational institutions.