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A Possible Successor to macOS Server

Graphic displaying the Zentyal server dashboard on a Mac
Screen shot of Zentyal Dashboard, courtesy of Zentyal

There’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon for small and medium-sized businesses that use macOS Server to provide services like DNS, email, calendaring, file sharing, web serving and more. After Apple dropped full support for macOS Server, many system administrators were left scrambling for a solution to cover their business needs. Now a group is looking at porting Zentyal Server (a popular Linux server distribution) to macOS to offer a solution to those in need of a Mac-based server.

The project is being touted on Indiegogo as a way to give Mac server admins a native Mac solution rather than needing to support a Linux server as well. It’s a perfect time for a Mac-based server solution, what with Apple’s recent announcement of the new Mac Pro as powerful hardware for large company deployments.

For smaller businesses, macOS Server used to run well on a Mac mini. It may be too early to tell what the performance of Zentyal Server would be like on a Mac mini, but with a 25-user license estimated at $199, the two could make a fine match.

A pre-owned 2014 Mac mini with a base price of $449 makes an excellent small office “headless server” (no monitor), while larger businesses with a need for more capacity and speed would find a “trash can” Mac Pro a bargain starting at $1,679.

All of this is dependent on the ability of the crowdfunding campaign to raise enough funds to at least begin work on the Zentyal Server port, so it’s not a done deal. At least there’s a possibility that a Mac-based server solution may arrive soon.

Steve Sande
the authorSteve Sande
Contributing Author
Steve has been writing about Apple products since 1986, starting on a bulletin board system, creating the first of his many Apple-related websites in 1994, joining the staff of The Unofficial Apple Weblog in 2008, and founding Apple World Today in 2015. He’s semi-retired, loves to camp and take photos, and is an FAA-licensed drone pilot.
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  • I would love to see this project come to fruition. As someone with experience using Appleshare, Appleshare IP, and OS X Server (on XServe) I appreciated just how much I could achieve without really knowing what I was doing. (I think that means I appreciate ease of use over most things.) It saddened me to see Apple’s desultory approach to servers (and business and education for that matter) alternately hype and crush these product lines.

    So all power to you Sam Klambour for giving this a shot. Any progress reports for us spectators?

  • As a small business looking for a calendar to share workflow with staff of 8 on desktops and iPads, I am at a loss. This popped up on my google search and was hopeful of a macOSserver option.
    My desire is to stay away from cloud based systems. We have a server for Filemaker and now need a calendar to track orders from filemaker. Family sharing is an option for 6 users via iCloud, but would rather not. Any suggestions welcomed. Another mac mini in the server cabinet is not a problem. Of the many jobs I handle server admin is not my strong suit. We have had linux server in the past, and am wanting to stick to mac with limited windows hardware where its necessary.

    • Zentyal macSERVER:

      2019 has been a tough year of spadework. The outcome of the crowdfunding campaign – moneywise – sure has delayed things. On the other side it has allowed us to refine the plan and to sort out DOs and DON’Ts.

      As a result I can confirm that we’re intensively working on the Zentyal macSERVER project. Our next steps in 2020 focus on working out a first smart prototype.

      I can also confirm that any mental support/feedback from Mac Admins for the Zentyal macSERVER is indeed helpful. A lot more than you might think in the first place.

      Last but not least, I am firmly convinced that the Mac Admins around the globe (including myself) NEED a macOS based turnkey macSERVER. We have our expert know-how on macOS, much like Windows SysAdmins have their expert know-how on Windows and Unix Admins on Linux (flavors). So why on earth should we have to switch to Windows or Linux based Servers, losing much of our profound platform macOS know-how?

      I am not shy of diving into Linux and the Linux version of Zentyal these days but I will never have the same detailed expertise on Linux as I have on macOS. And pretty much any (honest) Windows or Linux Admin will confirm that the same holds true for them when diving into macOS.

      Thus, the Zentyal macSERVER is instrumental for us the MacAdmins. Apple’s macOS Server (.app) was ill-fated because it had relevance somewhere around rank 548 within the giant company and its plethora of products and services.

      Apple’s macOS Server exit in the longer run actually is benficial for all of us, including Apple. Because the much smaller Zentyal can exclusively focus on the all-in-one Server product and the NEEDS of SMB and SOHO customers. At Zentyal the macSERVER already jumps from rank 548 to rank 2. A leap-frog.

      And I can guarantee you that it will share rank 1 together with the Zentyal Linux Server Edition in the future if you, the MacAdmins jump on the macSERVER bandwagon.

      Many of the MacAdmins (rightly) complained that Apple didn’t/doesn’t listen to them with regards to Mac Server needs. With Zentyal, you now have the chance that your voices are heard more directly than ever. With your (supportive) voices, 2020 will become a copernican turn in the Mac Server tale.

      Sam W. Klambour

  • I used MacPorts to provide a basic, working, configurable DNS, VPN, Mail, and Calendar and Contacts server on macOS. This replaces—and improves upon—the services deprecated in macOS Server. Installation:

    sudo port install dns-server macos-vpn-server mail-server calendar-contacts-server

    The DNS server uses BIND.

    The VPN server is the macOS-native L2TP VPN.

    The mail server uses postfix for the MTA, dovecot for the MDA—complete with APNS support for iOS devices, solr for fast search, Rspamd for a milter, and clamav for email virus scanning. These are all installed and configured automatically when mail-server is installed. Surrogate TLS and DKIM configurations are created during the installation. The configuration files in this port are a combination of macOS Server version 5.7’s Mail server setup, with many newer capabilities added.

    In my experience, this MacPorts-based mail server configuration far outshines the old Mail server:

    • Search from mobile devices is lightening fast (thank you, solr), unlike Apple’s old dovecot configuration.
    • There are no issues with mail rejection/spam filtering to major email providers from one’s tiny email domain after SPF/DKIM/DMARC are all configured and deployed—in my experience even if you have an ISP-assigned dynamic IP that doesn’t match reverse DNS lookups.
    • Rspamd is impressively fast and effective and easy to train—just copy items to the per-user folders Spam_train and Notspam_train.
    • Modern dovecot features for efficient mailbox storage and common attachments are used.
    • Postfix is run in chroot where it belongs, and both postfix and dovecot are on the latest versions.

    The Calendar and Contacts server is a port of Apple’s ccs-calendarserver, the very same used in the old macOS, and integrates well with the MacPorts mail server.

    This is all running smoothly on a 2018 Mac Mini configured with OWC memory and Mini Stack backup drives.

  • The vast majority of Mac Admins have their profound knowledge/expertise on macOS neither on Linux nor on Windows. This is just as it should be. A Windows Sysadmin has his or her profound knowledge/expertise on Windows. This is just as it should be. Same holds true for Linux Admins.

    It’s simply super odd that Mac Admins should not have a single all-in-one Mac Server (software) available on their platform, that is, running natively on their macOS. Whether Window Server or Linux based servers, to us the Mac Admins, it will always be a foreign platform. There are very, very few people who really know two platforms on the same professional level. One platform almost always is the principal platform.

    And for us, the Mac Admins, of course this is macOS. I’m Mac Admins myself, taking care of some 20 – 30 servers of SMB customers. I’m not talking in theory.

    As for the existing and mature Zentyal Server, Linux Edition, you can request a trial serial number (1 month) and download the full server as many times as you wish. All for free. Moreover, there is always a Zentyal Server Development Edition which never expires. I am not posting the direct links because I don’t want to create any notion that my comments are sales-driven. You can go yourself to the Zentyal weppage and find the appropriate links. When I started looking into the Zentyal Server (Linux Edition) I did it exactly this way, testing both editions. Development Edition is for experienced Linux folks, commercial trial version is better suited for us, the Mac Admins.

    Is a crowdfunding campaign the right approach for the Zentyal macSERVER? I do see cons, quite a lot of cons. If we were a large company or swimming in money, we probably wouldn’t have done it and instead had developed the native macOS version of the Zentyal Server straight forward. Since neither of the two comfort premises applies to us, we decided to jump in the cold water. And the water was ‘darn’ cold, I can tell you. Other folks would have ditched the project/campaign after three weeks. But because I really care for the needs of Mac Admins and Small and Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs), I relentlessly kept on. You can ask Chuck Joiner and Steve Sandes.

    Apple as a large enterprise company is doing great on maintaining and evolving a major world-wide platform, that is macOS. As for the OS X/macOS Server (.app) Apple was doing poorly. A small company that can focus on ONE core product – such as FileMaker (Apple owned notably but an independent company for more the twenty years), Rumpus FTP or Zentyal, empirically seems to be better suited for server products, aimed for Small Offices and SMBs. On the other side such small companies have less financial means and human resources. Thus, bringing an all-in-one Server to the Mac Admins and macOS is quite an undertaking. It’s a LOT easier to critize such an endeavor than working hard to make it become reality.

    I think from my comments you can see, this project is human. It depends on people, real people not business numbers and marketing plans. If we, the Mac Admins want back a decent macSERVER for our macOS, then we must join our forces. It’s a real shame that Windows and Linux Admins have many server options on their platform while we don’t have a SINGLE all-in-one server available on our macOS.

    I will fight to the last day that we will finally get a decent, professional and affordable macSERVER on our macOS!

    Sam W. Klambour

  • Maybe the crowdfunding would be more successful if they offered a free version for 5 users. One can do this on desktop macOS, correct?

    We can of course do this on Linux for free which is what many of us do. Plenty of free support online and paid.

    I’m a macOS guy for non servers, but believe Linux is the better server. I tried using OS X server many years ago at a client site and was disappointed in it’s capabilities compared to Linux. I could not make it route between interfaces that were on different subnets. Even Apple support could not do it. Perhaps that was fixed at some point but it really soured me on Server.

    • Robert – I know what you mean about macOS Server. I struggled with issues – particularly in getting DNS and directory services to work properly – for years, worked with Apple support and they’d just shake their heads and tell me to rebuild the server from scratch. Linux servers were much less expensive and just seemed to work. As for the crowdfunding, I think the biggest issue is that these guys really didn’t know how to market the idea. I agree with the free version for 5 or less users; that would get a lot of interest.


  • It all depends on how friendly its SMB implementation is. Still running 10.6.8 Server as my VMware users and Native Windows users SCREAMED when I made an attempt at running 10.11 Server. Apple’s SMB code was a nightmare for us. Thankfully, I learned long ago, never upgreade the Boot HD for a server, clone it and upgrade that! Thankfully, 2009 MacPros are affordable and long lived.

    Apple’s new hardware will be MASSIVE overkill (processor and graphics) for running server services. The only perks would be the integrated modern ports.

  • The campaign has been up for almost 2 months and they raised $564 of their $120,000 goal… so who are we kidding exactly?

  • I am very tentatively excited about this.

    To the point that i installed a trial on a virtual machine just to play around with.

    The crowdfunding options are a bit odd to figure out in terms of users vs. cost, but the fact that someone is doing something is excellent.

    Meanwhile, i am back to trouble shooting server 5.6.3 on 10.13.6 & file sharing issues that reared their head with client 10.14.5 updates…. ugh.

  • As someone not happy with anything with the work ‘cloud’ in in it, I run a home server for family calendars and other services and have been reduced to using a fairly old version of MacOS to do this as server has become more lobotomised. I would certainly welcome such a solution!