Last summer, the Rocket Yard ran a 7-part series on macOS Server and how it could be used to provide a variety of services — calendar, contacts, mail, messages and so on — to small businesses or individuals. Little did we know at the time that Apple was preparing to remove the majority of those services. A recent support document from Apple notes that “macOS Server is changing to focus more on management of computers, devices, and storage on your network. As a result, some changes are coming in how Server works. A number of services will be deprecated, and will be hidden on new installations of an update to macOS Server coming in spring 2018.”
The document goes on to say that if you’ve already configured one of the services, you’ll still be able to use it after the spring 2018 macOS Server update. However, it goes on to say that “These deprecated services will be removed in a future release of macOS Server, so those depending on them should consider alternatives, including hosted services.”
Looking at the services that are disappearing, it’s obvious that macOS Server will no longer provide the majority of services that most administrators use it for. These services are the “meat” of macOS Server, and they’ll be gone in a future release:
Why Is Apple Doing This?
That’s a good question! Sadly, there’s no real answer available from the company. It’s known that in many cases, the services used by Apple were “officially-supported” open source projects, and the versions found in macOS Server often lagged badly behind the open source versions. As a result, many administrators would actually replace the old Apple versions with newer open source ones.
One other reason could be the size of the market for macOS Server. Keeping the app up-to-date and supported takes significant resources, and the number of actual users of macOS Server is probably quite small. Add to this the fact that Apple doesn’t really sell server-specific hardware anymore, and it’s rather obvious that they want out of the business. The updated Mac Pro still has no firm delivery date, and the Mac mini — which has been the server hardware of choice for many small businesses — has been ignored for years.
So What Will macOS Server Actually Do In The Future?
The comment that macOS Server is “changing to focus more on management of computers, devices, and storage on your network” seems to indicate that the company realizes that there are many hosted services that actually do a better job than macOS Server — we even alluded to that in Part 7 of the 2017 macOS Server series, when we discussed the “All-Cloud Solution.”
It could be that Apple is thinking of macOS Server becoming more like the powerful JAMF services that are used by enterprise and small businesses alike to keep track of computers and mobile devices. JAMF doesn’t provide the standard services like those in the list above, so if Apple is considering changing macOS Server to a JAMF-like server, the company will be going against a well-established and respected competitor.
What Are The Alternatives?
In the support document, Apple provides three alternatives for each service that will be deprecated. Most of those services are open source and in many cases are what savvy macOS Server admins have been using anyway. For those who are just thinking about setting up their own servers, however, the thought of downloading, configuring, and maintaining a grocery list of open source apps could be daunting.
Perhaps Apple is considering expanding the iCloud services — Mail, Contacts, Calendar, iCloud Drive, Notes, Reminders, iWork and so on — to workgroups and enterprises, with administrative tools that would make it possible for a company or workgroup to set up individual users and groups, keep track of devices through Find iPhone, and even use a custom domain name. This is pure conjecture, but it would be a logical step for Apple. When would this happen? Probably not until 2019 at the earliest if Apple is still considering future releases of macOS Server.
Our “All-Cloud Solution” from last year’s series provides some possibilities for organizations that are either thinking of setting up a “server” or that will need to move from macOS Server in the near future. That solution includes moving small workgroups to iCloud or larger organizations to Google’s G Suite, using alternative web hosting services like Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly, and taking advantage of collaboration tools like Dropbox and Slack.
My Company has a macOS Server. What Should I Do Now?
For the time being, you’re OK and things will run as they have in the past. Even when the Spring 2018 macOS Server update arrives, it appears that your services will continue running for a time. However, the writing is on the wall and it’s obvious that Apple wants you to consider alternatives to macOS Server. Now’s the time to start looking at those alternatives and developing a plan to move your organization off of macOS Server. It’s better to consider making a change while there’s still time instead of waiting until the services disappear from macOS Server.
Those who were considering adopting macOS Server would be wise to consider another solution before expending the time and resources to building and configuring a server, as you may find that the services you wished to provide are hidden from view in the next version of macOS Server.