Before I get to the subject of this week’s column, I’d like to do
something you don’t often see in this space and report some good news
about Mac OS X Server.
I recently upgraded my Open Directory Domain Controller from Mac OS X
Server 10.3.9 to 10.4.3. I had waited until 10.4.3 for some fixes I
needed to upgrade. I decided to do it as an in-place upgrade, just to see
if it would work. I have backups in place, so if I had to go the ‘Nuke
and Pave’ route, I could do so. But I wanted to see if the upgrade would
work. I hadn’t seen many success stories, so my expectations were low.
It went beyond swimmingly well.
It was the most frighteningly easy and painless upgrade I’ve ever done.
No problems — not a one. Not even a hint of a problem. As Apple
PR likes to say, ”It just worked.”
Note that I went to 10.4.0, ran the server setup, then ran all the
updates to get me to 10.4.3 and all the patches. I didn’t have a single
problem. It’s an upgrade to die for. I had blocked out the entire week of
Thanksgiving for this upgrade, but it only took five hours, and two of
those were due to my own overly cautious nature.
I do feel, with all the criticism I level at Apple for the things I think
they do wrong or poorly, that when they do something right, or make
something like a server upgrade work well, I should praise them for doing
things so well you don’t realize how complicated the thing you just did
could have been.
So good job, Apple, on helping my upgrade take five hours instead of my
planned 40 to 50, or more.
However, that’s not the main thrust of today’s article. Today, I
really want to talk about Apple’s IT Documentation, or more correctly,
the lack of it. Apple, for all its enterprise push, really doesn’t get
that timely, complete technical information for IT people is critical.
Apple’s made some baby steps with their IT Pro section, at http://www.apple.com/itpro/, but
that is really more of a marketing area. Oddly enough, it’s not even in
the ‘Pro’ section of Apple’s site, but in the Business section.
The biggest problem with IT Pro is that it exudes a ‘marketing people
designed this site’ feel. It’s pretty. It’s streamlined, but there’s not
a lot of meat there. It’s not a place that makes answering technical
questions or finding information easy. From my viewpoint, it’s not
terribly useful at all.
There’s really no decent knowledge base or real technical documentation
along the lines of HOWTOs. (I, personally, find the discussion forums
painful to use, and when I do use them, they only help me about 25
percent of the time). The technotes are good, but there aren’t enough of
them, and they’re rather generic. That’s not completely bad. You don’t
want to be too specific on a technote, but at the same time, there has to
be real meat.
It’s not like Apple doesn’t have a great model for what the IT community
needs. They do. Apple’s developer site, the Apple Developer Connect, is a
great model. And that’s good because, ironically, most of the real meaty
technical documentation is in the developer documentation.
For example, if you wanted to see if you could Kerberize the Mac OS X
10.4 Server VPN, and you did a search across Apple’s entire support site,
you’d think there was no documentation for it. Even if you searched for
‘Kerberizing the Mac OS X VPN Server’, you wouldn’t find anything. But go
to the Developer site, and search for that phrase there, and you
get an instant link to it.
What’s the name of the document? Mac OS X Server Administration Topics.
What’s the URL for this document? http://developer.apple.com/documentati
It’s listed as a programming guide. If you didn’t know that all of
Apple’s HOWTO-ish documentation is in the developer site, you’d never
think to look there. It’s almost like someone at Apple is afraid to let
go of technical information unless they label it ‘developer’. Well, aside
from some AppleScript and some shell, I’m not a developer. I don’t use
Xcode really for much of anything beyond hobby stuff.
This hurts Apple, because it looks like they don’t have any real
resources for IT pros beyond marketing fluff. If you compare it to
Microsoft’s TechNet, it’s not even in the same league.
For example, here’s what you get with a TechNet Plus subscription, (MSRP
of $1,269, so it’s less than half the price of a Premiere ADC membership,
this is via DVD, multiple discs):
- Technet Information Library
- Technet Subscription
- Speech Server 2004 R2
- Speech Server 2004 R2 Standard
- Windows Services for UNIX 3.5 – English
- Systems Management Server 2003 International Client Pack 2
Multilingual User Interface – Multilanguage
Technical Training 2003-2005 – English
- Security Updates –
- Office Live Communications Server 2005 with Service
Pack 1 Enterprise Edition
- Office Live Communications Server
2005 with Service Pack 1 Standard Edition
- Office OneNote 2003
with Service Pack 1
- Office Small Business Accounting
- Virtual PC 2004; Windows XP Professional with Service
- Windows XP Professional x64 Edition – English
- BizTalk Server 2006 Beta 1; BizTalk Server 2006 Beta 1 (Installation
Instructions and Known Issues)
- Internet Explorer 7 Beta 1
for Windows XP with Service Pack 2 – English
- System Center
Data Protection Manager 2006 Beta Disc 1 – English, German,
- Windows “Longhorn” Professional Edition Beta 1 –
- Windows “Longhorn” Professional x64 Edition Beta 1 –
- Windows “Longhorn” Professional Edition Beta 1
Windows Automation Installation Kit – English
the server stuff is not time limited. And note that this is not a developer
subscription, which is good, because the high-end MSDN programs give you
a copy of pretty much everything Microsoft makes. Even for the ADC
Premiere levels, you aren’t getting the same thing from Apple. The MSDN
Team Suite Premium Subscription may cost you almost $11,000, but go to
DN subscriptions chart page and see what that gets you.
What do I get from Apple via the $3,500 ADC Premiere program?
- Free copies of Mac OS X 10.4
- I can lease
an Intel Transition Kit (For $999)
- A free ticket to the
- Seed downloads of some pre-release software
- Eight Developer Technical Support (DTS) Incidents
- If I
happen to live in Cupertino, Beijing, or Tokyo, thrice-monthly access to
Apple’s Compatibility Labs
- Discounts on hardware
- Regular updates of OS X free, and downloads of OS X Server
- Regular SDK/DDK updates
- Email News
for a lot more money, I get a program that really is not designed for IT
pros, and a lot of stuff that just goes in the coaster collection. Note
that I can get most of of the Premiere program in the Select program, for
$500 a year. Even adding on the free WWDC ticket, I still pay less than
Premiere. The closest thing Apple has to an IT pro program is the Apple Consultants Network,
(ACN), but, while a good program for consultants, the ACN is woefully
inadequate for enterprise IT needs. And take notice that I just compared the
programs. If you go to the TechNet Web site,
and compare it to Apple’s IT Pro section, the differences are
astounding, and not in Apple’s favor.
needs an Apple version of TechNet. We need something with IT incidents.
We need discs full of HOWTOs, not SDKs. We need DVDs with every
product Apple makes so we can support people using those products. We
need access to betas of not just the OS, but of every product Apple
makes, so we can make sure before it’s released that we know at
least some of what to expect.
We’ll sign NDAs. That’s not a
problem. I sign them all the time. I can’t remember a time since 1997
when I haven’t been testing something under some NDA. But we need
information — detailed, technical information. We need summaries of what
Apple SE’s see and fix, ala IBM’s Redbook concept.
Ironically, the less
often we have to call support, the more sanguine we are about paying when
we do call support, because we’re happier that we’re not being
used as a cash cow. I’ve worked in places where we paid IBM almost $50,000 a
year, and rarely had to call them because we never needed to. When we
did, it was critical, and the support rocked, so we always signed that
check. But if we had been forced to call IBM every time we needed even
basic technical information and assistance, we would have resented it far
Enterprise IT needs Apple to start recognizing that even
with Unix, you can’t just lump us in with developers. We have different
needs and requirements. It’s not like there are no numbers to support
a TechNet-ish program. Out of more than 120 sessions at the 2005 WWDC, there
were almost 50 in the Enterprise IT track alone, and another 10 to 15 of
direct interest to IT pros. That’s half the conference. And I can tell
you that the Enterprise IT sessions we quite crowded.
Finally, Apple needs to really, truly understand that they have to
provide useful technical information to IT pros, just like they do for
developers. Apple needs to stop fearing the release of solid technical
information in a timely manner. This can be done without giving away
upcoming products or directions. It can be done without revealing what’s
happening in Apple’s version of a ‘Skunkworks’ division. But it has to be
We simply cannot keep trying to make mailing lists, personal connections,
and extrapolation act like proper technical information. This is a
critical issue for Apple, and one that hurts them daily in their quest to
expand market share.