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Another Spotty Leopard Hatchet Job

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.