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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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Sun, 06 Mar 2016

Updates

It's not for lack of activity that we've failed to update this space for a long time. In fact, it's a reflection of how busy we've been. Here are a few updates:

Windows: Ironically, we had decided to keep our software products focused on the Mac, but then reversed course and are now slowly porting several software products to Windows. The only reason we can offer is that the potential upside outweighed the hassles. So, a lot of work is being invested in these Windows ports, and they are being rolled out slowly.

Backup: Time Machine has worked beautifully. No more rsync. Great work, Apple.

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Tue, 27 Oct 2015

Keynote speaker at Tcl/Tk conference

Last week I was the keynote speaker at the Tcl/Tk conference, the major annual gathering of Tcl/Tk developers. I discussed my work as maintainer of Tk on OS X, talking about the business case for supporting Macs, the history of Tcl/Tk on the Mac, the current landscape, best practices for deploying Tcl/Tk apps on OS X, and what faces us going forward.

Slides of my talk are here: http://www.slideshare.net/KevinWalzer/the-universal-developer-deploying-modern-tcltk-solutions-on-the-mac .

I'd like to thank the Tcl/Tk conference committee for the invitation. It's a real honor and I'm glad to share what I've learned.

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Installing Macs is cost-effective

In news that will surprise no one who uses Macs on a regular basis, but which may be surprising for large companies that mainly deploy Windows PC's: Mac users are far less expensive to support than Windows users.

IBM announced a partnership with Apple a year or two ago to deploy the iPad on a widespread basis at IBM, and to provide support for iPad apps customized for IBM's use. IBM has also been rolling out Macs for use in the enterprise, and the numbers are truly eye-popping:

Bottom line from an IBM official: "Every Mac that we buy is making and saving IBM money."

More information: http://appleinsider.com/articles/15/10/15/only-5-of-mac-users-at-ibm-need-help-desk-support-compared-to-40-of-pc-users

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Thu, 16 Jul 2015

Why I prefer the Mac, developer edition

A few years ago I spent several months porting one of my Mac apps to run on Windows. I went through the entire development and release process, including rewriting portions of the app to conform to Windows UI conventions; converting app resources to Windows format, such as icons; deploying the app in a Windows-standard fashion with an installer; and releasing and promoting the app via a website, submissions to download sites, and so on. The app went through one update in addition to its initial release.

The app really didn't sell at all on Windows or even generate much in the way of downloads, so I decided to discontinue the Windows verison after about six months. I did enough work on the app, however, to gain experience with Windows development, and form an opinon of Windows development: It is a very uncomfortable experience.

I'd like to provide a bit of context on my experience. I'm a longtime Mac user and developer, working on OS X for more than a decade. My particular interest in the Mac is its combination of Unix power and Mac UI polish. That lack of UI polish is why I don't target platforms such as Linux, and the lack of a Unix foundation is why I had not previously considered targeting my apps to Windows. My main development work uses a cross-platform language and GUI toolkit, so I'm not the conventional Mac/Cocoa developer, but my apps and their supporting libraries are highly optimized for the Mac platform and do not focus on cross-platform features.

Given all this, I'm something of a hybrid between a Unix developer and a Mac developer--the same hybrid as OS X itself. Apple's development stack is hybrid in the same way. I am highly comfortable in the Unix environment using Apple's command-line tools (compiler and debugger, also ported as open source to other Unix platforms), but can move higher up in the stack to use Apple's IDE, Xcode, when necessary; under the hood Xcode calls the same tools. The integration between the UI layer and the command-line layer, and the ability to move between them, is what makes the Mac my favorite development environment. Moreoever, all of my development projects and languages (Perl, Python, and Ruby in addition to Tcl/Tk) fit seamlessly into this environment.

Windows does not provide the same harmonious integration of developer elements. Most Unix tools, compilers and debuggers have been ported to Windows and run just fine there, but they are not well-integrated into the environment, so using them feels a bit awkward. Microsoft's own tools are powerful and impressive, and do feature a great deal of integration of the development stack across the command-line and GUI layers, but not all projects make use of them. Using my customary Mac approach on Windows would require setting up a different toolchain environment for each toolkit I wanted to use: Tcl/Tk, Perl, Python, and Ruby. An alternative approach would be to use pre-built binary distributions of each of these languages, which reduces a lot of complexity, but also takes much control of my development environment out of my hands. It's a tough call.

When I contemplated moving back to Windows this year, a lot of these discomforts came back. Building Perl, Python, Ruby, and Tcl on the Mac is a straightforward process. I might have to customize a few settings, but mostly it boils down to running "configure, make, make install" in a terminal. Setting things up on Windows was proving far more time-consuming. Each language requires a different combination of compilers, build commands, and installation settings, and keeping track of them grew very frustrating. I realize I could have avoided some of those issues by using pre-built binaries, but I prefer to run my own builds from scratch.

In the end, I opted to stay off Windows. I am so much more productive on the Mac that it just makes more sense for me to focus there. And that's what I will do.

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Shifting backup method

We are late to the Time Machine party. We've long run an rsync backup of business data on our OS X server to an external hard drive, which is periodically switched out and moved offsite. This is good for data backup but does nothing to help with restoring a corrupted system, which we had to do last weekend after an aborted update to OS X 10.1.4. (The server hard drive died last fall and was replaced under warranty; fortunately, this issue was just a bad installation that was fixed by a reformat of the drive!) While the re-installation process is smoother than it used to be, it is still a major investment of time to reconfigure all server accounts and settings. We read, with envy, how Time Machine users can simply restore their entire system from the Time Machine backup.

This provides a good occasion to update our external hard drives, which are now several years old; prices on 1-terabyte hard drives, twice as large as the installed drive on our server, have dropped tremendously, and will give us plenty of room for Time Machine backups.

We'll report soon on how all that goes.

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Sat, 25 Apr 2015

Backup of Server with Time Machine

Here's a useful article on using Time Machine to back up a Mac Server. It's a more complex, but arguably more robust, method than using tried-and-tested Unix tools like rsync to back up data to external hard drives.

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Sat, 07 Feb 2015

Take Control of Yosemite Server

"Take Control of OS X Server" by Charles Edge has been updated for Yosemite. Check out this book if you need a helpful guide to using Yosemite Server.

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Thu, 06 Nov 2014

Yosemite Server

This blog has been pretty quiet recently, without much discussion of Yosemite Server. The best thing I can say is that the upgrade was seamless, and in this regard, no news is good news.

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Thu, 10 Jul 2014

Is the Mac really invading the enterprise sector?

An interesting article at Tech Tell highlights the degree to which Macs are making inroads at large businesses, or "the enterprise." The article notes that Windows remains the predominant computing system in large businesses, but Macs and other Apple products--especially the iPad--are grabbing market share. This is a result of the iPad's overwhelming lead in the tablet space, to the point where the iPad is the de-facto industry standard for tablets, and also because of the trend toward "bring your own device" in the business world. And this development is also providing some coattails for the Mac to ride.

Apple had almost no presence in large businesses outside creative fields a decade ago; it's gratifying to see this changing.

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Sat, 19 Apr 2014

Three local backup solutions for Mac Server

Here is a useful guide to three methods of data backup for OS X Server: Time Machine, Mozy, and CrashPlan. One option the article doesn't mention is old-fashioned rsync, run via a cron job, to an external drive, combined with offsite storage and rotation. That method works reasonably well for us, but if you have a more complex setup, one of these others might be of interest.

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Fri, 13 Dec 2013

Power Users Guide to OS X Server, Mavericks Edition

Ars Technica, which is famous for its exhaustive reviews of new releases of OS X, has brought the same level of scrutiny to Mavericks Server.

After providing a detailed discussion of each aspect of Mavericks Server, the review concludes by noting the recent transition of OS X Server from an "enterprise"-level product to one optimized for small and home businesses:

Is OS X Server for you? If your household or small business uses mostly Macs, iPhones, and iPads and even one of the services here piqued your interest, then yes. The barriers to entry (both financial and technical) are lower than they've ever been, and you didn't have to pay for Mavericks anyway. If you have a lot of Windows and Linux systems in the mix, OS X Server is not without its uses, but you should probably start your search elsewhere.

That's a fair assessment. Our experience with Mavericks Server has been very solid--it has definitely moved past the issues that we encountered with the Lion version of the server app--but we fit the small business profile Apple is targeting here. We never made much use of the advanced features of the older server setup, so now that Mavericks Server is operating smoothly, we don't miss the more expensive setup.

In any event, the Ars Technica review is a great resource in looking at Mavericks Server; check it out.

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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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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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Sun, 03 Mar 2013

Mac Mini quietly gains ground

Via Slashdot:

In 2005, the first business to offer colocated Mac Minis inside a data center made its debut, provoking criticism of everything from how the Mini was cooled to the underlying business model. Since then, more than half a dozen facilities are either hosting their own Mac Minis for rent, or offering colocation services for individual consumers and businesses. And although you may not find the Mini being used for high-performance computing, plenty of customers are finding them to be a cost-effective, dependable solution for Web hosting and other tasks.

Not a bad idea for small businesses who want to make use of a Mac server but don't want the headache of managing it in-house, or whose data needs are more sensitive than an in-office setup can afford.

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Thu, 17 Jan 2013

Mail issues

We've been struggling over the past year with mail server issues. Despite late-model hardware (2011-vintage iMac) and plenty of RAM (four gigabytes), the server has been locking up on a semi-regular basis, requiring a hard reboot. This has never previously been the case in a decade of running OS X server.

The culprit, as far as I can tell, is the server's e-mail component. OS X Server uses Postfix to send and receive e-mail. Postfix is the most widely deployed open-source e-mail server, and is widely hailed as robust, stable, and continuously improved, so the apparent problems I'm seeing with it are a real surprise--and a real mystery.

I posted a question to a Mac OS X Server mailing list describing the typical symptoms, and I've gotten some useful suggestions. What I've tried based on the feedback there is to disable greylisting, which may make the mail service's performance a bit snappier; and I've set the server app to dedicate server performance to server services, which hopefully will allow the system to better handle large surges in data load. Among other things I've previously tried are tweaking various connection settings in Postfix itself, including those settings that allow it to respond while being overloaded.

I'm hopeful that these changes will allow me to continue hosting e-mail on the server, as I've done for a decade. If they don't, I may have consider moving our e-mail to an outside hosting service such as Rackspace. Transitioning to a paid service is a big change, especially given Apple's recent moves in significantly lowering the price of OS X Server, but the loss of productivity because of lost-email and server issues is significant and can't be ignored.

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