Another Spotty Leopard Hatchet Job

December 12th, 2007

You have probably heard and read all sorts of Apple-bashing over the years. Some of it is subtle, some of it outrageous. While there are plenty of real things you can say to criticize Apple for the things it doesn’t do properly, some of these “professional critics” prefer to concentrate on myths and half-truths to ramp up their hit counts.

Now you’d expect Network World to be a responsible publication. It’s one that caters to the enterprise, and when they evaluate Leopard Server, this ought to be the last word in evaluating Apple’s business server solution.

But it’s not.

While I’m not necessarily an expert on Mac OS X Server — although I did co-write a book about it once — a little common sense is all you need to feel the sharpness of ones hatchet when they decide to trash a product with innuendo and misdirection.

In the case of the review in question, Apple’s Leopard is Spotty, written by Tom Henderson and Rand Dvorak (don’t know if he’s related to the notorious John Dvorak) of the Network World Lab Alliance, they trash Leopard Server as “buggy,” lacking flexibility and performance gains. The article, however, fails to support the title or the blurb.

Take the complaint about bugs. They admit that “most if not all are cured” with the 10.5.1 updater? So why call the product buggy if the problems have already been resolved?

All right, maybe the folks who write headlines and blurbs don’t actually read the copy, so let’s continue.

Leopard Server is also lambasted for lacking significant new features, and continuing to use such legacy applications as Apache, MySQL and so on and so forth. Understand that these opens source products are widely supported online and receive regular updates from developers and contributors. They are certainly not old fashioned or obsolete in any sense. In fact this site is run using the latest version of these and other popular Web tools.

So what’s the point? Do the reviewers feel Apple should somehow be embracing proprietary server tools from Microsoft instead?

It’s not that Leopard is bereft of useful new features. In praising the new Podcast Producer package, for example they found it “stunningly simple to use.” Time Machine, the new iCal and Wiki tools and the new, highly simplified setup routines were also found to be laudable additions to Leopard Server’s feature set. The new read-only support for Sun’s ZFS file system — which may some day replace HFS+ — was found to be “easy and trivial” to operate.

Despite these new features, Leopard Server was found to perform pretty much the same as Tiger Server which, itself, is a notable achievement, and something Microsoft cannot duplicate with its own operating system upgrades. Besides, I don’t see any momentous claims by Apple that Leopard Server would somehow knock your socks off with performance improvements. In addition to the known feature enhancements, just making it simpler to setup will appeal to smaller businesses that don’t have, and probably can’t afford, dedicated IT people.

To be fair, Apple is praised for opening up Leopard Server licensing to allow you to install multiple instances — virtual machines — on the same Mac. They correctly mention that virtualization software is not available, but didn’t do their homework. You see, a Parallels Server is in the final stages of development now, and VMWare is hinting at a similar solution in the near future. None of these developments are secret and this information is already part of the public record.

Although the reviewers admit the improvements are real, they complain that they “are incremental, with no earth-shattering single compelling reason to upgrade.” What about the sum total of the parts? It’s hard to know, because they don’t say.

Understand that the actual article doesn’t contain notable factual errors that I can see. It’s just the organization of the piece and the questionable conclusions that muddy the waters. Indeed, it’s all too easy to take a good product and cast aspersions with a some careful or perhaps careless editing.

So who is at fault for this travesty? Is it the reviewers who, actually, seem to have done credible work in terms of gathering and reporting facts? I don’t pretend to know, and it’s likely they wouldn’t dare criticize their editors for possibly slanting what may otherwise have been quite a favorable review. In the end, let’s stick with their scorecard, which grants Leopard Sever a 4.25 out of 5 rating, with lies just above “very good” and on track to the “excellent” category.

I do wonder, though, if there’s an ulterior motive behind all this or if the editors of Network World are trying to emulate CNET in finding questionable or non-existent faults with products in order to show they are being objective in their reviews.

Or can we apply the conspiracy theory that they crave all those advertising dollars from Microsoft and just don’t want to make Apple’s products look good? No, I won’t go there, because sloppy editing may be the culprit here, or just a misguided attempt not to be characterized as Apple fanboys if they happen to heap too many compliments on Apple’s server software.

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4 Responses to “Another Spotty Leopard Hatchet Job”

  1. Gerald says:

    Anyone who publishes a favorable review of a product they like without mentioning it’s flaws is suspect, regardless of what the product is or who makes it.

    The headline and blurb were “attention grabbers” LIKE ALL HEADLINES ARE!

    The assertion that Apache et al are old fashioned is an opinion they are entitled to, even if you and I disagree with it.

    As for improvements that are coming any-day-now, everything is vaporware until you can buy it, even things from VMWare and Parallels. Mentioning them would muddy the review of the product.

    The motives for the tone is speculative at best, but the review was hardly a hatchet job.

    It reads like a grudgingly good review. They couldn’t come out and say bad things that weren’t true, so they spun the good things as no-big-deal, highlighted the very real shortcomings that exist today, and failed to mention how quickly solutions were coming.

    The only companies I suspect bias from are Fast Company, The Street, and Ziff-Davis.

    The first two throw out glowing reviews and/or hatchet jobs to manipulate the stock prices of the companies they follow. This is not limited to tech.

    The third, Ziff-Davis (C-net,, TWiT, etc.), lists as it’s mission statement to promote and protect the interest of it’s advertisers and sponsors.

  2. Dave Barnes says:

    The headline is designed to drive traffic to the Network World website.
    All of these ad-dependent websites are desperate for eyeballs. So, you may expect to see more of this behavior from all the so-called reputable sites.

  3. Louis Wheeler says:

    What I see is happening with Leopard is fundamental. Apple jacked up the GUI and slipped a new 64 bit foundation under it. That, in five years, will result in leaving 32 bit software behind, including the Carbon API’s.

    The Carbon APIs were just a stopgap ten years ago; they were a bridge from MacOS 9 to Mac OSX (NeXTstep) programming. I’ve seen some amazing footage on YouTube of Steve Jobs demonstrating in 1995 what NeXTstep could do on hardware a tenth as fast as today’s.

    Then, you add in new developments such as Core Animation and ZFS. Fundamental changes are not sexy, but they do allow enhanced possibilities.

    Think of it this way, When the NeXT engineers took over Apple’s software development in 1997 they were forced to make a wide detour from the path they wanted to take. Rhapsody was a failure; the legacy programmers on Apple computers balked at totally re-writing their software. The NeXT engineers were forced to patiently gather up the old MacOS 9 programmers and users, then drag them along until those legacy users got used to the NeXTstep way of doing things.

    That detour is over now. Apple will ignore 32 bit development and gently push people into 64 bit software. Apple will force prople to use Xcode. I understand that 64 bit software will even make up for deficiencies in Intel’s hardware.

    The path is unblocked for great things to happen. Of course, you can’t expect everyone to see that.

  4. Daniel Ward says:

    Leopard Server _IS_ Buggy.

    The reason there are no clear-cut examples is because there are not a few clear-cut flaws that can be repeatedly demonstrated. The system would be better classified as unstable.

    I’ve had to reinstall Leopard Server about 20 times in Advanced mode. Each time, I wrote down every step I did so I could repeat it on the next re-install, avoiding the landmine that caused me to reinstall in the first place. While it is true that many of the bugs were corrected with the patch, it only got rid of the obvious ones.

    Workgroup Manager and Server admin are by far the buggiest. Workgroup Manager will constantly give you errors and die. Server Admin will stall and not refresh – or when you configure things incorrectly, it’ll down the Open Directory server, requiring a reboot (hope it comes back up). Try playing around with signing your own SSL certificate, installing it as a default system certificate, and adding your computer as a trusted host on the network .. crazy.

    I had the Advanced set up working well and I had 2 client machines (within my home) connecting to it. Whenever one of my kids (who are managed by Parental Controls) logs into the system, it made non-parental controlled individuals unable to log in – requiring the client to restart. I’d have to reboot the server one or two times a week because it wouldn’t authenticate anybody at all, despite everything looking fine – open directory crashed. Restarting the process didn’t seem to help. Only restarting the computer. I could only log on with local accounts.

    If you aren’t running Advanced Setup – it isn’t any picnic as well. Leopard is taking care of nearly all things in the background for you, leaving very little configurability. If it worked fine, I would say that it would be a nice set up for smaller companies. The fact is – even the non-Advanced setups don’t work. Calendar server produces errors when you try to access it, firewall rules seem to be dynamically updated that cut off services you’ve previously allowed … and lets not even talk about Jabber Server .. I’ve never had that working – period.

    If this message seems like one large rant .. believe me – its the tip of the ice berg. I used to be very pro-Apple .. but lately they’ve been abandoning the path to greatness, focusing more on being the “digital-hub” for the average household – I find myself pricing out windows server and it saddens me.

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