Apple will offer plenty of useful goodies for sysadmins when Leopard is released in late October. Plus: the strategy behind the iPhone SDK.
Two, two, two updates in one!
In moves that should surprise no one, Apple announced both a release date for Leopard and Leopard Server (Oct. 26th, 2007), and that there would indeed be a "real" iPhone SDK, along with a general availability timeframe (February of 2008).
The Leopard announcement should not be "news" in and of itself. Apple has been saying October for a while now, this just gives us all a day work with. Apple is of course, touting the "300+ New Features" in Leopard, and while I'm not going through all of them, there are some that should be quite welcome to sysadmins.
AppleScript, long a favored and, for many, a critical part of the OS gets some significant updates in Leopard. Among them: Full Unicode support, the Objective-C scripting bridge, which will allow for more languages to use the mechanisms that AppleScript has to such great effect, improved scripting support in various system preferences and applications, improved Folder Actions, and one that all scripters will appreciate, the long-awaited update to the AppleScript Language Guide. (How long you ask? The one I have was last updated in May of 1999. It's been a while.)
AppleScript, and scripting in general, are technologies that are hard to sell to the general public, but critical in the enterprise, so any improvements here are welcome. Along with AppleScript, Automator has picked up a some new tricks, including UI scripting recording, and a command line utility.
While much has been made of the new Menu Bar and Dock in Leopard, a new Desktop feature that I have wanted, literally since Mac OS X 10.0 has finally moved from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X. Namely, spring-loaded folders in the Dock, so I can drag items to subfolders of folders in the Dock. It may not seem all that great, but it's something I've dearly missed.
For those of us doing remote support for remote users, Apple has finally given us free built-in screen sharing in Leopard. No need to buy Apple Remote Desktop, or set up VNC just to remote into a Mac, it's now a part of the OS. Along with that, there's the Back to My Mac feature, that allows you store your current IP address in your .Mac account, so you can connect to a Mac over the Internet. If you've ever tried to walk a relentlessly non-technical user through giving you the connection information you need when they're in a hotel somewhere, you'll appreciate this. Another feature in Leopard that folks without a formal file server will appreciate is the ability to share any folder on your Mac, not just the specific ones Apple allowed you to share in Mac OS X 10.4 and earlier.
Since Mac OS X Server is gaining a calendar server in Leopard, iCal has been updated to support a more Outlook-like way of dealing with appointments, room reservations, et al. While it's not as full-featured as Outlook or say, Notes, it's also quite a bit easier to use.
New printing tricks include better print previews, kerberized printing, location-aware printing and more. (Apple buying CUPS probably helped a bit here.)
Next page: Active Directory. Plus: iPhone SDK
In the area of Active Directory compatibility, Leopard introduces support for SMB packet signing
. This makes life easier on Active Directory administrators, and makes it possible for Mac OS X to finally participate in more secure Active Directory networks without paying the ADmitMac tax. (Don't misunderstand, ADmit is a great product, but since the folks at Thursby like to eat, it's not free, nor, in large numbers, cheap.)
Spotlight now lets you have better boolean searches, can function as an application launcher, and in a move that I cheered when I read it, can finally search system files. Having to use locate or the command line "find" because Spotlight wouldn't play nice in Unix directories sucked.
The User Account preferences in Leopard finally, finally, FINALLY let you set group membership, home directories, UID, login shell and other such items without going into Netinfo. Considering the...joy...of Netinfo utilities in general, that's not a bad thing. Now, if the rumors of NetInfo's demise are true, that would be even better.
Terminal gets tabs ala Safari. If you like tabbed terminal windows, you'll be very happy. If you don't care, then not so much.
On the Unix front, as of Leopard, Mac OS X will be an officially certified UNIX OS, conforming to both the Single UNIX Specification (SUSv3), and POSIX 1003.1. This is not so much a technical improvement as a political one, as finally, Mac OS X will be "UNIX" not "UNIX-like." Leopard adds DTRACE, long loved by Sun admins and other high end Unix administrators for the amount of information it can provide on an errant process. The addition of AutoFS is a sign that maybe, just maybe, the bizarreness of Mac OS X 10.4's automounter, especially on laptops, might finally have gone away. Leopard gets other goodies here, such as Wide Area Bonjour, Kerberized NFS support, and it is 64-bit everywhere, not just at the low level, or in special versions of the OS.
Mac OS X Server
On the server side, Apple has revamped the administrator GUIs, to make running Mac OS X Server simpler, and added Dashboard widgets for monitoring your server(s). Server Admin now controls mount points and sharing, which makes more sense than having to set up all your protocols in Server Admin, then going to Workgroup Manager to actually manage the shares.
As noted in many other places, Apple is now including a calendar server, with the obvious name of "iCal Server." The server is based on CalDAV, and Apple is also a member of the CalConnect Consortum, which along with the standard "Everyone But Microsoft" collection, also now includes...well...Microsoft. This could mean good things for those needing to connect Outlook, and possibly Entourage users to iCal Server.The source for iCal server is also available via Mac OS forge, for those so inclined.
iChat Server gains improved federation support with other XMPP-based systems, such as Google Talk, store and forward ala ICQ, and chat archiving built-in, an important feature for private and public companies.
On the web server front, Apache 2 is finally a full player in Leopard.
Other items in Server: Initial ZFS support (No, It's not replacing HFS+, nor should it. ZFS is not ready to be a consumer FS yet, especially not on a Mac. Give it time). And in one of the best moves Apple could have done, you can get documentation for Leopard Server now, from the Mac OS X Server Resources site. That right there is a "run don't walk" link.
In other words, there's a lot in Leopard for sysadmins, and a lot more to come.
The iPhone SDK
The other....minor bit of news from Apple was the "Letter from Steve" talking about the Feb. 2008 availability of an iPhone SDK. It's a good move, but not unexpected.
A bit of thought would have shown many of the loudest protesters that they weren't getting an SDK until after Leopard. Steve's letter on Apple's Hot News site talks about this, and why there's going to be a delay. The truth is, Apple never said definitely "No, not ever" to an iPhone SDK, nor did they say "Yes, definitely". They really said, "we know it needs one, but we have to be careful about it."
In other words, they don't want the problems you see on Palm and Windows Mobile devices, where you are now dealing with malware, and applications that can, and do, crash the device. Apple is being quite smart in taking its time here. The obvious questions are: how much of the iPhone feature set will be exposed, and how easy/hard will it be to get ahold of one. I would imagine we'll see more of this around Macworld Expo in January.