For over a year now, I've been following the development of Mac OS X Server 10.5 Leopard and testing betas, and anticipating upgrading from Tiger Server on a dual 1.25GHz Power Mac G4 to Leopard Server on a dual 2GHz Power Mac G5. Over the weekend I had a change of plans, though.

Although I support Mac OS X Server at Rockefeller, I don't recommend it for most requirements, as Linux compares favorably for transparency (some of the MOSXS internals are unique and poorly documented), server software compatibility (although Macs are quite good here too), and price/features at the low end. A Core Duo Mac mini has plenty of juice to saturate our 768kbps/3mbps DSL circuit, but adding a couple drives more than doubles its price, and Apple's software RAID is quite broken; Linux software RAID is apparently quite good; I might eventually switch to hardware RAID. An Xserve is a great piece of hardware, but it's a bit exotic and I can get a fast generic PC cheaper; I don't want all the high-end features for a box that sits in our apartment.

Additionally, I've read perhaps 600 pages of docs on Leopard Server, and had at another 400-1500 yet to go. This is an investment I was finding hard to justify. The migration process is quite complicated, and Apple doesn't support migrating accounts from a Tiger system to a Leopard system -- I don't want to do an upgrade. I could clone the G4 to the G5 and upgrade it there, but I prefer to handle upgrades as scratch installations with manual migration of applications, so I know exactly what's been done. A lot of this is masked by upgrade procedures.

As part of this, I've decided to invest a bit more time in learning RHEL5 -- we have a couple systems at Rockefeller, but not much in production yet, and now seems like a good time to dig in some more.

Fortunately, all the services I've been using on are available on Linux (and FreeBSD), so aside from another incredibly inconvenient password change cycle (for which it is arguably time anyway), the switch should be largely transparent to users, although I still have plenty of research to do.

A brief timeline of

  1. 1999: I left the National Audubon Society, and bought the Power Mac 7300 with accelerator card I'd been using there. I set it up with LinuxPPC and Apache, and started offering free web hosting to friends & family. LinuxPPC was eventually discontinued.
  2. I upgraded from LinuxPPC to Yellow Dog Linux, which was better than LinuxPPC, but had serious flaws.
  3. 2001: I was working on a couple remote FreeBSD machines (as admin of the Info-Mac server, and a user on the Apache Software Foundation userhost), and decided to learn more; I bought a cheap Celeron PC and installed FreeBSD 4.3 (IIRC); I upgraded through about v5.1 and a Pentium 4 (giving the Celeron box to the Info-Mac Archive, where it became the Info-Mac server for a while). I learned a lot about FreeBSD and UNIX in general, but eventually realized I was investing more time learning FreeBSD than I could justify. The best thing about FreeBSD is not a technical feature, but rather that the user community is so rich with knowledge. Reading the FreeBSD-STABLE list was amazing, as there was so much depth, freely shared with the community. While running on FreeBSD, I added mail services to the web services I had been offering. Note: Disruptions to personal email service are much worse than problems with personal web service.
  4. 2005: It became clear that I needed anti-spam, so I began researching SpamAssassin. While I was figuring out how to build the SMTP sandwich, with a public untrusted Postfix listener on port 25 & 587, and a filter, and then a listener on a high port like 10025 to accept and deliver mail to actual users, I installed a beta of Mac OS X Server 10.4 "Tiger", which had the whole thing implemented, plus ClamAV as a bonus. I started testing heavily before the release, and switched to MOSXS 10.4 shortly after it was finalized. It's been very good, but as time has passed, I've had more and more problems. In particular, Apple chose to use Cyrus as an IMAP/POP server, and Cyrus is complicated, but Apple ignores the complexity; this can make troubleshooting impossible. The SpamAssassin installation is slightly broken; it's a bit too old to offer the newer SpamAssassin self-upgrade mechanism. Server Admin is great, but has a bunch of bugs around SSL certificates, some of which destroy the certificates. Blojsom was nice, but Apple's installation was very unstable; I eventually moved my blog to WordPress hosted externally.
  5. 2008: I intend to switch to CentOS 5.1, which is basically a (legal) no-charge clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.1. This should make future upgrades a bit more straightforward, as I won't have to deal with Apple's Open Directory (OpenLDAP); it will also give me a bit more experience with RHEL5, which is a better investment for my time than Leopard Server.