A couple of days ago, just as we were updating our Macs and other Apple devices, Apple quietly announced the death of one of its major products: macOS Server.
Of course, that’s not how Apple phrased it:
macOS Server is changing to focus more on management of computers, devices, and storage on your network.
In the course of ‘changing’ macOS Server, Apple is ‘deprecating’ almost all its services, with effect from spring this year, and will remove those services from a future release. The list of services due for ‘deprecation’ in a couple of months is long, and includes
Looking at the current version of macOS Server, that leaves only Open Directory and Profile Manager.
High Sierra already replaces the former Software Update service with its client caching service, and its Time Machine service allows others to back up to your Mac. When Apple implements these ‘deprecations’, the new macOS Server will be such as shadow of its former self, and provide so few services, that it will effectively have ceased to exist. It will essentially be an iOS device manager.
The current macOS Server may not appear to be a major product, and has been in severe decline. It’s worth remembering that Mac OS X Server 1.0 was the first version of Mac OS X to ship, almost nineteen years ago, a full six months before the public beta of Mac OS X the client.
Until July 2011, Mac OS X Server was a separate product, and a complete system installation in itself. For nine of those years, it shipped on Apple’s own server hardware, the Xserve, one of the most wonderfully-designed Macs of all time. Mine is still mounted in its rack upstairs, but hasn’t been powered up for a decade or so.
Xserves not only ran Mac OS X Server, but had their own Server Monitor app, which let you check on their hardware status from anywhere in the world.
As a server operating system, Mac OS X Server made a big difference to many smaller businesses, who could run quite sophisticated setups without having to employ specialist staff. Although Apple put a brave new interface on many of its services, key features like DNS were never finished to the standard of competing commercial products. Simple setups were incredibly simple, but as requirements grew more complex, they quickly became just as admin-heavy as traditional Unix servers.
The solution seemed elegant: wrap Server up as a self-contained app, and almost give it away in the App Store, which is what happened in the summer of 2011 with Mac OS X Server 10.7. Count the services here and you’ll find twenty in all, which have been steadily whittled away over the last six years.
As if to emphasise this abandonment, Apple’s article provides a long list of suggestions for replacement products to provide comparable services to existing users of macOS Server. It stops short of suggesting server operating systems such as Microsoft products, Linux and Unix servers, which are most likely to be the choice of Apple’s former customers.
Of course there’s nothing to stop those customers continuing to run Macs from non-Mac servers. Many do. But when Apple left High Sierra’s SMB unusable between 10.13.2 (6 December 2017) and 10.13.3 (23 January 2018), there seem very good reasons to standardise on something better cared-for.