End of the road: Apple is ending macOS Server, the place where Mac OS X began

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Aurich Lawson

Apple today announced that macOS Server is officially retiring after 23 years. The app, which provides device management services and a few other features to people using multiple Macs, iPhones, and iPads on the same network, can still be purchased, downloaded, and used with macOS Monterey. It is currently still available at the normal retail price of $20, but will no longer be updated with new features or security fixes.

Server was never as widespread as the consumer versions of macOS, but macOS Server has a rich history dating back to Apple’s acquisition of NeXT and its NeXTSTEP software in the late ’90s. NeXTSTEP was transformed into a project called “Rhapsody”, which added support for some long-standing Apple software and a more Mac-like user interface, and was originally released as Mac OS X Server 1.0 in March 1999. This first version of Mac OS X Server shared many fundamentals with what would later become Mac OS X, but predated key user interface elements like the Dock and the Aqua theme, introduced two years later in the first consumer version of Mac OS X was introduced.

Mac OS X Server remained its own, entirely separate version of the operating system from the introduction of that first version through Snow Leopard Server (version 10.6) in 2009. Beginning with Mac OS X Lion, Apple began selling the server software as downloadable software Add-on app for every Mac, coinciding with the death of Apple’s last rack-mounted Xserve hardware. This transition also lowered the price of the software; A single Snow Leopard Server license costs $499, while the server app is only $50.

Apple continued to develop the Server app over the following years, releasing major new versions roughly in step with annual Mac software updates. But the software gradually began to lose features, starting with services like DNS and email that weren’t specific to Macs. Apple did continue to offer unique features for Mac and iDevice users in Server: Mobile device management for IT admins; a Time Machine backup service that could enforce per-device storage quotas to prevent a Mac from filling a server’s entire hard drive; and a caching service that could save bandwidth by storing app and OS updates and offering them to other devices on your server’s network, rather than downloading things multiple times from Apple’s servers.

Apple notes that Time Machine, caching, and file sharing services are all now included in all macOS installs, and have been since the release of High Sierra in 2017. For mobile device management, Apple links to a couple of pages for choosing the third -Party MDM software and migration from one MDM service to another, rather than providing more specific recommendations or offering specific tools that could expedite migration from Apple’s MDM service to another.


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