Apple today announced the addition of pre-configured Internet servers to its PowerPC-based Apple Workgroup Server bundles under the top-heavy name "Apple Internet Server Solution for the World Wide Web." These bundles are based on the Apple Workgroup Servers 6150/66, 8150/110, and 9150/120 (which Apple announced last week), run Mac OS 7.5.1, and include an extensive CD-ROM software bundle especially for setting up World-Wide Web services. The machines don’t come with any connection methods or hardware – so don’t look for modems, ISDN, or routers in the box – but all have built-in Ethernet and (in the case of the 9150/120) more expansion slots than you can shake a stick at. The idea is to offer inexpensive Web servers that are easy to set up, easy to manage, and don’t require administrators to learn Unix. Apple hasn’t provided specific pricing, but costs for the servers are estimated to start at $2,900 for base models, running up to $8,700 or more for high-end systems.
Lucrative Software Bundle — Part of what makes these Internet Servers appealing is their software – the bundle alone goes a long way toward justifying the cost of the machines. First on the list is WebSTAR from StarNine Technologies, which Mac users who are already running Mac-based Web servers will recognize as Chuck Shotton’s much-anticipated MacHTTP 3.0. WebSTAR enables the Mac to respond to HTTP requests from the Web, serve data to clients, and execute CGI (Common Gateway Interface) scripts to handle image maps, forms, and other custom interactive features. The bundling is utterly logical: MacHTTP is the pre-eminent HTTP server available for the Macintosh; however, unlike current versions of MacHTTP, WebSTAR is threaded, which should result in significant performance improvements because individual actions within WebSTAR can multitask within the application.
But wait – that’s just the beginning. The Internet servers ship with AppleSearch 1.5 – itself a $1,400 product – enabling rapid searches through a wide variety of information sources, including Internet-based WAIS databases. The Internet servers also come with Adobe’s Acrobat Pro and runtime versions FileMaker Pro, HyperCard, and EveryWare Development’s Butler SQL – any or all of which could prove valuable in producing or serving information via the Web. In addition, the servers ship with AppleScript (handy for writing custom CGIs), the Netscape Navigator Web browser, and a version of Bare-Bones Software’s BBEdit with HTML extensions for authoring Web pages (see TidBITS-202 for a somewhat dated review of BBEdit). And wait, even if we sound like a Ginsu knife advertisement, there’s more – the servers also include custom CGIs for handling email, image maps, and HTML forms, as well as a CGI similar to AppleWebSearch to let WebSTAR use AppleSearch for searches and database queries.
The only piece missing from this attractive collection is MacDNS, a Macintosh-based domain-name server. MacDNS is in beta right now and is reportedly available for the asking for those who purchase the Internet Servers; Apple expects to make it available on future Internet servers and as a software update to current customers.
Why Not Go With Unix? Sources at Apple indicate that they expect the lower-end of the Internet server line to be especially interesting to smaller sites that don’t have high-bandwidth connections to the Internet. After all, putting a 9150/120 on a 28.8 Kbps external link is nothing but an efficient means of overkill. This strategy is supported by the 9150/120’s inclusion of an internal DAT backup system, whereas the 6150/66 and 8150/110 don’t ship with built-in backup devices. Why? Apple and others expect the lower-end servers will have an appeal as "swarms" of low-cost, mirrored machines once MacDNS is available. MacDNS will enable "round-robin" DNS load balancing, permitting server requests to a single Internet address to be distributed to an array of identically-configured Macs. In this manner, a bank of 6150/66’s could significantly outperform a much more powerful (and much more expensive) Unix server. Since each machine is identically configured in this scheme, there’s no need for each machine to have a built-in backup system.
On a price/performance basis, these servers are downright cheap, especially considering the street price and utility of the bundled software. These are also the easiest Web servers available anywhere as far as installation and setup are concerned, and they don’t require Mac-based sites to learn and configure a whole new platform. Additionally, Apple is expected to offer the same extensive technical support options for Internet servers as it does for its Workgroup Servers, including on-site support. And, frankly, another point in favor of these machines is that they don’t run Unix, making them immune to the vast majority of security threats faced by administrators of Unix-based Internet machines.
All in all, Apple seems to be moving forward in promoting the Macintosh as a viable Internet platform, an these servers and software bundles go a long way to making that point financially appealing. Although this first crop of Internet servers aren’t quite a plug-and-play solution – users still need to work out the details of a dedicated network connection and DNS service, and the Apple Internet Servers don’t come with server software for email, FTP, or Gopher – they’re certainly a step in the right direction.