The Only Interesting Thing Apple Announced Today

Well, today was the start of Apple’s 2006 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), and they kicked it off with the usual spectacle of rolling out new products.  And of course, like all things Apple, it was blogged obsessively.

Mostly, the announcements were a big yawn, at least for the non-hardcore.  There’s an Intel Power Mac (I’m sorry, Mac Pro) now — big surprise, eh?  Oh, and some improvements to OS X.

There was one announcement, though, that I thought was pretty cool — and, amazingly, it’s one that seems to have been nearly completely overlooked in the blog blitz, so I thought I’d point it out here.

In their list of new features added to their OS X Server product, we find this:

Introducing iCal Server, the first calendar server for Mac OS X Server. Now it’s easy to share calendars, schedule meetings, and coordinate events within a workgroup, a small business, or a large corporation. Built on open standard protocols, iCal Server provides integration with leading calendaring programs. And unlike other calendaring solutions, iCal Server doesn’t impose a per-user license, so your business can grow without having to pay for additional licenses…

Using iCal Server, colleagues can propose and set up meetings, book conference rooms, and more quickly and easily…

iCal Server uses open calendaring protocols for integrating with leading calendaring programs including iCal 3 in Leopard, Mozilla’s Sunbird, OSAF’s Chandler and Microsoft Outlook.

Wow, that sounds like a pretty credible threat to Microsoft Exchange to me — especially for small businesses, given that (a) it works with their existing calendaring client (Outlook) and (b) unlike Exchange, you don’t have to deal with paying a fee for each user you connect to the server.

Of course, the acid test will be whether it’s as easy to work with and administer as Exchange is.  But assuming it doesn’t suck, this could be very good news for all of us who have waited for years for a real challenger to Exchange.

UPDATE: In the interest of fairness I should point out that, in inimitable Apple fashion, their server offering is ludicrously overpriced. $3K for a 1U server with one (obsolete) CPU, 1GB of RAM and a single SATA hard drive is a tough pill to swallow.

UPDATE THE SECOND (Aug. 8): Good discussion going on in the comments. Sandy points out that a refresh for the XServe line was announced at WWDC too — starting in October, that same $3,000 will buy you a dual Xeon XServe, rather than a pokey single G5.

That’s good news, and it makes the basic XServe a better deal. I still think there’s issues with Apple’s XServe strategy — the fact that they let the XServe go so long between updates illustrates some of the risks of being completely dependent on a single vendor for your technology. If you’re a Linux shop and Dell is dragging its feet on updating its hardware, you can go to a million other vendors; not so with Apple. That’s less of a concern for low-end workgroup servers than it is for things like application and database servers, though.

And Oscar points out that part of the reason you pay a premium for OS X servers is because Apple has invested in making administration easier than it is on your typical Linux box, reducing the need for a dedicated high-skill sysadmin.


Sandy Smith

August 7, 2006
8:38 pm

There’s also an instant messaging (iChat) server. And a wiki.
I pretty much could take an XServe and replace our internal infrastructure in a day.
BTW, while the Time Machine combines not-new concepts with a spacy graphic, the capability is quite cool–it’s complete versioning for your desktop–as is the Exposé-like management of virtual desktops.

Jason Lefkowitz

August 7, 2006
8:56 pm

It would help if the Xserve wasn’t as overpriced as it is, though. $3,000 for a 1U server with one (slow) CPU, one ATA disk and 1GB of RAM? That’s almost twice as much as a comparable Dell. Ouch.

Sandy Smith

August 7, 2006
9:42 pm

? The base XServe has two dual-core Xeons.

Sandy Smith

August 7, 2006
9:44 pm

That iCal server software is also open source under the Apache 2 license:

Jason Lefkowitz

August 7, 2006
9:47 pm

The base XServe _you can buy today_ has a single G5. The shiny dual Xeon model has a button that says “Notify me when this product is available.” And (AFAIK) no word on pricing either.
Cool to see them opening that iCal server, though.

Sandy Smith

August 7, 2006
10:00 pm

Er, the pricing in the Apple store says $2999, available in October.


August 8, 2006
1:39 am

$3k does sound way too much for a server. But with Apple its always more about the software than just the hardware. Check out and go see what is under “Included Services”, that’s a ton of services already configured and ready to work, I’m imagining with some fancy front end interface that they call “Server Admin”.
If you don’t have a sys admin or someone who wants to learn the ins and outs of Samba/Cifs, OpenLdap, Postfix+Cyrus+SquirrelMail, Apache + MySql and Tomcat, Quicktime Streaming Server, and all the other acronymns on there, then this might be a good fit. Maybe, I’m mostly guessing here.
From my experience just setting up mail services on a new box is at least half a day’s work, at least on a Debian box with apt using precompiled packages. Depending on what your time is worth, getting all this ready to go would make up for the hardware premium.

Sandy Smith

August 8, 2006
9:17 pm

That’s clearly the market they’re going for. This is the first thing they advertise in their “sneak peak” at Leopard Server:
Their catch phrase is, “Know the Mac? Then you know Leopard Server.”