Small Biz Mac, Small Biz Mac focuses on using Mac as the foundation of a small business--the operating platform, the market, and more. This blog will discuss both the challenges of operating a business on Mac hardware and software, and the impact of the broader Mac market on business.

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Kevin Walzer and Lori Jareo, publishers, software developers, Mac/iPhone users, and small business owners.

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Wed, 24 Jul 2013

OS X Mavericks server--good for business?

At its World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June, Apple announced the next iteration of Mac OS X, 10.9, code-named "Mavericks." The OS will be released in the fall of 2013 and seems to extend the influence of iOS on the Mac platform. More details on Mavericks can be found at ahttp://www.apple.com/osx/preview/.

One question that the WWDC discussion did not touch on, however, is the server version of Mavericks. Will Apple continue to support and improve its server platform?

According to Mac journalist Peter Cohen, it will. Cohen discusses the server-specific features of Mavericks here. Among the features include greater support for iOS devices such as the iPad, and improved communication for developer groups working on the Mac platform. He summarizes:

OS X Server in Mavericks is pretty much going to be a continuation of what we've seen - enhancements, rather than a major upheaval, designed to facilitate better workgroup communication in areas where OS X Server is really useful.

We've spent a great deal of time tuning Lion Server on our network to address issues with server lockup and e-mail hanging, so we may opt to pass on this upgrade. A production server requires a fundamentally conservative approach to upgrades and the new features specific to Mavericks Server don't seem to specifically benefit us, a small two-person business with a half-dozen machines on the network. However, it's good to see Apple continuing to support and enhance the server OS, and we encourage other Mac-based business to take a close look.

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Customer communications

Like many companies, my business makes use of mass e-mails to communicate with customers, and our Mac OS X Server setup plays a useful role in this communication. We use two types of tools for customer communications: a monthly newsletter and one-off messages. The tool we use depends on the type of message we are sending.

For our monthly newsletter, which customers can sign up for at our website, we use phpList, a popular open-source mailing list program. phpList is a good fit for us, because it is web-based and can be installed and configured on our server without much difficulty. OS X Server supports web serving, databases, e-mail, and the PHP programming language out of the box. phpList allows you to send nicely-styled HTML e-mails to customers, and provides complete management of the contact database, allowing customers to sign up and unsubscribe with no trouble. phpList provides considerable cost savings over commerical customer mailing lists services like Constant Contact, allowing us to communciate with our customers without incurring additional expense.

For the books we publish, we typically send an announcement about the book to an e-mail list of the author's friends and family, provided by the author. Using phpList for this type of communication isn't really appropriate because the messages are sent only once, and the e-mail addresses are not retained in any database or used for subsequent communications. For this purpose, we have started using a more lightweight tool called mailmerge. Rather than being web-based, mailmerge is a single Perl script that is run from the command line. It is very simple, requiring only minor configuration in the script itself, a list of e-mail addressed saved in a file called "data," and the text of the message savied in another file called "template." It doesn't allow HTML e-mail, just regular text, but for simple announcements it is more than enough and is, in my view, more professional than sending out a large batch of e-mails using the "BCC" function of an e-mail program. The script is very convenient because, again, OS X Server comes with Perl installed, and so it's simple to run.

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Configuring Server.app

Here is an excellent overview of configuring Mac OS X Server in its Mountain Lion configuration: http://arstechnica.com/apple/2012/07/the-server-simplified-a-power-users-guide-to-os-x-server/. It's the most comperehensive discussion I've found, and is typical of the insane depth that Ars Technica brings to their discussion of OS X.

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