Idea for macOS Server

Earlier this year Apple announced a shift for macOS Server. Since writing up that article I have been thinking about some directions that Apple could take macOS Server. I have a couple of ideas, and thought I would share them.

Per Apple, the primary focus for macOS Server going forward will be device and storage management. Device Management within macOS Server is handled through Apple’s Profile Manager service. One of the primary tasks with Profile Manager is to be able to restrict functions on iOS devices. With this being the focus, there is a possibility for some expansions. This is great for solution companies, but what about individuals?

Profile Manager can be installed, and managed by just about anyone. The tricky part is that some of the settings are not easy to understand and determine how they affect operating of an iOS device. Most of the setting are somewhat self-explanatory, for those more technologically inclined. What if Apple were to make profile manager non-techie friendly? This is my first idea.

User-Friendly Profile Manager

There are many different aspects to iOS that can be configured with Profile Manager, but many users are not like myself, and are able to understand what impact each of those settings could have, when they are set. I would love to see Apple create a cloud-based management portal for non-techies. In particular, one that can allow parents to manage their children’s iOS devices.

Many parents would love to see the ability to limit the days and times that the iOS devices that their child has can be operated. In addition, they would also like to be able to allow certain applications all the time, like apps for school work, or maybe evening learning applications.

In order for Apple to provide this type of service, additional and more granular restrictions would be needed for iOS, but providing this type of service, as well as the restrictions, would go a long way to helping parents keep an eye on what their children are using.

The reason for making this could based, instead of just iOS-based, would be so a parent could adjust settings from anywhere. It would also be useful to have an app for the

Cloud-based Profile Manager

One of the other ideas that I have pondered, is one where Apple provides a cloud-based profile manager, similar to its current form, just cloud-based instead of on-premise. This would not necessarily replace profile manager for those who host it within their company, but could allow smaller companies to get into Profile Manager without needing to have a server on-site.

Profile Manager requires an Open Directory server to connect to. This means that you either have to have one on the same server as the profile manager server, or one that can connect.

Providing this service would require an additional Open Directory server to be present on the Profile Manager server. This server could be a secondary server, but one would be necessary. If a company is only hosting their profile management server in the cloud, then it would make configuration a lot easier.

Providing a cloud-based profile manager server could be a benefit smaller companies who would want to be able to have the ability to control devices, but do not have the internal expertise to manage a macOS Server. Similarly, this could help Apple add to its services revenue, which could help in the long run.

These are just a couple of ideas for where Apple could take macOS Server. Only time will tell if this is the direction Apple will take macOS Server or not.

Additional White Rings Issues

Yesterday I wrote about the HomePod leaving white rings on surfaces. There are some additional clarifications regarding the white rings.

The type of surfaces that are affected by this are surfaces that have been treated with wax or oil. This issue does not affect Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) wood, or any sort of other treated wood. This means that most surfaces should be okay.

The second clarifications that is needed is that this is not an Apple-specific issue. This type of issue also affects Sonos speakers as well as Amazon Echo devices. So this is not exclusive to Apple, but it can also affect Apple products.

The primary issue that is causing these white rings is the interaction of the silicone base with the wax or oil-treated wood. The chemical reaction that occurs between the two surfaces is facilitated by the vibration of the device and is the primary cause of the white rings.

Ultimately, what this means is that users who have oil-treated or wax-treated woods in their home will need to put something under their home pods, or other speaker device, it could be something as simple as a cloth, or even a paper towel. I would recommend something soft, like felt.

Apple HomePod White Ring Issue

It appears that the HomePod is leaving white rings on stained wooden furniture. To put it bluntly, “why”? Apple has been testing the HomePod in employee’s homes for a couple of years, how could this not have been noticed before? This seems like an oversight on Apple’s part.

This was initially pointed out by The Wirecutter.

Be careful where you put it. The HomePod’s base left rings on wood finishes. The rings faded over time, but we wouldn’t risk it on good furniture.”

From Apple’s own HomePod support article:

It is not unusual for any speaker with a vibration-dampening silicone base to leave mild marks when placed on some wooden surfaces. The marks can be caused by oils diffusing between the silicone base and the table surface, and will often go away after several days when the speaker is removed from the wooden surface. If not, wiping the surface gently with a soft damp or dry cloth may remove the marks. If marks persist, clean the surface with the furniture manufacturer’s recommended cleaning process. If you’re concerned about this, we recommend placing your HomePod on a different surface.

If this was a product from another company, it would be one thing, but this is Apple. Apple is typically known for their quality hardware, but this seems like they should have tested this. Per the WireCutter review, Apple recommend “try cleaning the surface with the manufacturer’s suggested oiling method” — in other words, go refinish your furniture.” This is just unacceptable for most users, it would be for me.

I am not likely to experience this issue, as my HomePod is either sitting on a glass shelf or on carpet. However, if I ever put it on my computer desk or in my living room, which has hardwood, then I will need to place it on something. I am hoping that Apple will be fixing this in future versions. It may be simply fixed by putting a felt bottom on the HomePod, or even just providing a felt cloth. If I move my HomePod, I will put a felt cloth under the HomePod to avoid this issue. Regardless of a simple fix, Apple does need to address this issue.

Photo source: thewirecutter.com, Photo by Jon Chase.

Initial Thoughts on HomePod

At their World Wide Developer Conference last June, Apple announced a brand new product, and not just an iteration on one of its existing products. This product is the music speaker, called the HomePod. The HomePod officially became available on Friday. Despite nearly 11 inches of snow falling in the Chicago area, I ventured out to get the HomePod that I ordered for Pickup at the Apple Store. I was not sure if the Apple Store was even open with all of the snow, but they were. As a side note, my nearest Apple Store is just about five miles from my house and it can often take 25 minutes to go through with traffic, even with the slow driving, it was only a 15 minutes to get there, which is a nice change of pace for getting to and from my local Apple Store.

The Size

Almost every company will list the dimensions of their product, Apple is no exception. What you do not expect is the actual size of the HomePod. The device is quite compact and smaller than you might expect. The size makes it ideal for being able to place even in places with limited space.

The Weight

Within the diminutive space taken up by the HomePod there is a lot of equipment. The HomePod is surprisingly heavy at five and half pounds, or two and half kilograms. It is not unmanageable by any measure, but it is surprising how much they have packed in there. All of the technology is used to make the HomePod sound as good as it can. Before we can get to how it sounds, you have to set it up.

The Setup

The Setup of the HomePod is just as simple as setting up a pair of AirPods or a pair of Beats Solo 3 Wireless headphones. There are seven screens to the entire setup, The steps are: initial setup screen, location, personal requests, terms and conditions, account, and examples for what you can do.

The Sound

One of the things that I am doing, throughout most of the day, is listening to some sort of audio. It could be podcasts, audiobooks, or even music. The last twenty years have mostly been with headphones, and not on speakers that are not very close to my ears.

Apple has position the HomePod as a music speaker first and foremost. It is not easy to describe just how good the sound is. I have tested in four different rooms, the master bedroom, the second bedroom (which really is an office), the living room/dining room, and the bathroom. Each of these rooms are different sizes and have different materials in them. In all of the rooms the HomePod sounds good.

During my initial testing in the living/dining room, which has hardwood floors and is the most open space, it did not sound as good as the other places. Do not get me wrong, it still sounds good, just not as good. I would think that it might be better with two HomePods in that area, but it will not work until iOS 11.3 is available.

One of the tests that I wanted to make sure I did was using the HomePod as a speaker for the Apple TV. I did this with two different items. The first was the latest episode “My Next Guest” starring David Letterman. This was the episode with George Clooney. The second, and one I really wanted to test was a with a movie. In this case, Geostorm. With both of these, and both of these sounded really good on the HomePod.

Smarts

The HomePod is a high end music speaker and a smart speaker second. Siri on the HomePod is more limited in what it can do, as compared to an iPhone. It can perform some functions, particularly related music. If, during setup, you opted to allow personal requests, it can perform some of those tasks. When I tested adding information to an existing note, it did work, however it took several minutes for it to arrive, which is not typical when adding notes from other iOS-based devices, or even a Mac.

When using the phrase “Hey Siri”, the HomePod can most definitely hear further than any other Siri-enabled device. I was a couple rooms away and the HomePod heard me without any issues. This is really convenient. And I did not even have to yell, or even raise my voice in order to have Siri hear me.

Frustrations

The HomePod is a voice-only device, which in and of itself is not a problem, however with other iOS devices around, it can be an issue. Normally I have my iPhone wherever I go, and sometimes I have my iPad as well. When I uttered the trigger phrase, “Hey Siri”, the HomePod and iPhone would do a quick determination of who will take the request, which was usually the HomePod, the iPhone would dismiss Siri. However, the iPad never entered into this determination. It always perform whatever action I asked of the HomePod or iPhone.

Closing Thoughts, For Now

I have not determined where the HomePod will ultimately end up. I have been moving it between the master bedroom and second bedroom, depending on where I am doing things. The final answer may be for me to buy a second HomePod and keep two of them in different rooms, but this is not a cheap solution. So far, I am enjoying the HomePod. After I have had some extended time to test it, and really put it through its pace, I will write a full review.

Defining an app

Everybody has heard, and likely uses, the term “app”. In case you are not aware, app is short for application. A decade ago, prior to the release of the iOS App Store, an app was something that ran on a Mac or PC. With the ability for third-parties to create applications, the term “app” became part of the lexicon.

With everyone using the term “app”, the question becomes, how do you define an application? Having used technology for the last 25+ years, the term “app”, and all it encompasses and represents, has become instinctive and intuitive. Additionally, it is not often something I think about.

However, after listening to episode 259 of the Accidental Tech Podcast, I began contemplating the term. What prompted this is something discussed in the episode. Casey List said that he created a Mac app. John Siracusa argued that it was not a Mac app, because it was a command-line based.

This got me to thinking, “How do you define what is an application?”. I generally agree with John, on many things, but in this case I must disagree.

After some thinking, I think I have a way to define an “app. My definition is: “Any set of compiled, or interpreted, code, along with its supporting assets, that is run on a specific platform.” I think this succinctly sums up what an application is.

Some people would likely define an app as something that you interact with and has a graphical interface. Yes, a vast majority of today’s operating systems are graphical in nature, and it was a natural progression to make. However, anyone who requires an app to have a graphical user interface is doing a disservice, not only to themselves, but they are also ignoring a significant portion of today’s computing resources. The disservice is not only to non-graphical applications, but also to all non-graphical operating systems. Some of these operating systems range from most Unix systems, to the more mainstream ones like MS-DOS, BeOS, OS/2, and even Apple DOS.

With this definition, the interaction method does not make a difference. For instance, if you have a Mac app that is a command-line based application, to me, it is still a Mac app, because it runs on the Mac. It may also run on a Linux box but it is still a Mac app. Similarly, if an app runs on iOS it is considered an iOS app.

It may be seem like a small thing, and the grand scheme it is, but it did get me to thinking. Even though you may initially dismiss any command-line interface, you may also fail to recognize that a significant portion of things that you use on the internet every day runs using the command-line. Just some food for thought.

A Shift for macOS Server

The first version of what we call macOS was released in 2001, with the release of Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah. When Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah was released, a separate version called Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah Server was also released. At the time of its release the landscape of servers, and their utility, was entirely different from today’s landscape. Back then, high speed internet was generally limited to large companies and home users typically had dial-up, ISDN, or possibly even slow DSL connections. The roll out of cable-based internet was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today. Mobile internet was not even on the horizon for many users. That would come a half dozen years later with the release of the iPhone. Today’s internet landscape is vastly different. Mobile broadband as well as home broadband are more common than before. Of course there are some exceptions, but having high speed internet is the norm in many places.

The server portion of macOS has seen its share of changes over the years. At first, the Server version was a separate installation and had its own pricing structure. As time progressed, the features of macOS Server increased. As the feature set increased, the pricing of macOS Server has decreased. Initially, Server came in two versions, a 10-client and Unlimited Client versions. With the release of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, the unlimited version was the only one released. Its price was reduced to the price of $499, which was the original cost of the 10-client version. This is down from $999.

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion completely changed the server paradigm on the Mac. Instead of being a different version, the entire Server application was released as an application. The price was reduced again to $49.99. This was a substantial reduction from the previous price, a 90% price drop. With OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, Apple reduced the price even further to $19.99 for the app. This has been the pricer new purchases, but for the last few versions if you previously purchased macOS Server, each new version was a free upgrade.

macOS Server has had a standard set of services that it has provided, with a few additions over the years. The set of all services that macOS Server has provided over the years is as follows:

  • Caching Server
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • DHCP
  • DNS
  • File Sharing
  • Mail
  • Messages
  • NetInstall
  • Open Directory
  • Profile Manager
  • Software Update Server
  • VPN
  • Websites
  • Wiki
  • Xcode
  • Xsan

With macOS High Sierra (10.13), Apple moved a couple of these services to the core operating system itself. Caching Server and File Sharing were both integrated into macOS itself. Xcode Server was also removed from macOS Server and that service was integrated into Xcode 9, and its core functionality changed. Xcode Server removed the ability to host code repositories, instead relying on services like GitHub to do this for users. Apple has unveiled some new information about the future of its macOS Server application, specifically what the spring update to macOS Server will bring to those who use macOS Server.

macOS Server is changing to focus more on management of computers, devices, and storage on your network. As a result, some changes are coming in how Server works. A number of services will be deprecated, and will be hidden on new installations of an update to macOS Server coming in spring 2018. If you’ve already configured one of these services, you’ll still be able to use it in the spring 2018 macOS Server update.

These deprecated services will be removed in a future release of macOS Server, so those depending on them should consider alternatives, including hosted services.

The list of deprecated services include:

  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • DHCP
  • DNS
  • Mail
  • Messages
  • NetInstall
  • VPN
  • Websites
  • Wiki

Apple does provide a list of alternatives for each of the deprecated services, within the support article. These alternatives will require a bit more knowledge, and more likely more configuration, over the graphical interface provided by the Server application. This change will have the biggest impact on small and medium businesses who rely on macOS Server to be able to run their custom applications. It is not impossible to continue to use macOS to host these, it just will not be a elegant to do so.

The deprecation of these services leaves only a few remaining services. These service are:

  • Open Directory
  • Profile Manager
  • Xsan

That is all that remains of macOS Server with the next update in the spring. If you have any of the deprecated services already configured, these will still be available to be managed. Profile Manager, and by extension Open Directory, are still areas which Apple can differentiate themselves and management of macOS and iOS devices is an area that Apple still feels is very important. I think the writing was on the wall for macOS Server after the Software Update Service was officially deprecated. If one of the features that many institutions relied on was being deprecated, what about the other services.

The removal of Calendar, Contacts, DHCP, DNS, Mail, Messages, Net Install, VPN, and Wiki, honestly all make sense. The usage of these services by individuals and small businesses is probably very small. These services were big and much needed 15 years ago, but are not necessary today. The one that I would like Apple to keep is Websites, only because I tend to do some web development on my Macs. With the removal of Websites, packages like XAMPP are likely to become even more heavily used by developers.

As the article states, “These deprecated services will be removed in a future release of macOS Server”. It is my guess that these services will be removed in the version of Server that corresponds with the next version of macOS. Like macOS Server 6.0 that is paired with macOS 10.14. It is entirely possible that these remaining services will be integrated directly into macOS itself and activated similarly to how Caching Server is activated, through System Preferences, however since these services still require a bit of advanced knowledge, these are more likely to still be configured by a separate, albeit a much smaller, application. It is possible that Apple may even reduce the price further, to $9.99 or possibly even free. I know I am interested in seeing how macOS Server 6 is under the next version of macOS.

Source: apple.com.

HomePod Pre-Order and Questions

Apple’s music speaker, the HomePod, is now available for pre-order for $349. It is available for delivery and in Apple Stores on February 9th.

The HomePod will be my first “Smart Speaker”. I do not own an Amazon Echo nor a Google Home. I did think about buying an Amazon Echo, but decided to wait; which now in hindsight, I am glad I decided to wait. It is still possible that I might buy an Amazon Echo at some point in the future, but it is not something I need to get right away.

The HomePod is not for everyone. If you use a variety of devices, do not subscribe to Apple Music, and in particular do not have an iPhone, then the HomePod is likely not for you. Apple has positioned the HomePod to be a music speaker first, and smart assistant second. Unlike many, I am the absolute target market for Apple’s HomePod. This is because I subscribe to Apple Music and use Apple products almost exclusively. Plus, I am always up for writing about Apple, and the HomePod is the latest of Apple’s gadgets.

There are a few questions that I hope to be able to answer with the HomePod. These questions are:

  1. How well does Siri hear me while music is playing?
  2. Does the HomePod work as expected with adding items to To Do apps, lists, notes, and the like?
  3. How well does Siri work as compared to the iPhone when asking the same questions? How about as compared to the Apple Watch?
  4. What happens when I disable wireless on both my Apple Watch and iPhone, and then try to use the HomePod? What limitations are there?
  5. Will the HomePod play songs from my library, if I ask it to?
  6. How does the HomePod sound in a large room that has hardwood, as compared to a carpeted room?
  7. Can I use the HomePod as a speaker for the Apple TV? If so, how does that work and sound?
  8. How does the HomePod work with older iOS devices?

I have pre-ordered the Space Gray HomePod for pickup on February 9th. I will give my first impressions after I have used it for a couple of days, and a full review will come later down the road after I have had significant time to use it.

Are there any questions about the HomePod that you would like answered? If so, let me know on Twitter. If you do not want to publicly reply, you can also send me a DM.

iOS 11.3 Preview

It is not often that Apple unveils information about upcoming releases. However, they have been known to do so when the information is compelling. This case is one of those times. Apple has provided some new information about an upcoming release of iOS 11.3. There are a number of new features that Apple has mentioned.

Batteries and Performance

In December 2017, Apple announced that they were changing the pricing on battery replacements, for the iPhone 6 and later. What prompted this was the outcry by users who have experienced slow downs of their iOS devices, without really informing them that it was occurring. In order to allow users to have more control Apple is adding additional options. There are two new options. The first is a descriptor that allows you to see if your battery needs to be serviced or if something has gone awry with the battery. This is available on iPhone 6 and later. The second option is to allow you to enable or disable throttling. Disabling throttling could result in your iPhone spontaneously rebooting. The second feature is only amiable for iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7, and iPhone 7 Plus.

Animoji

One of the big features of the iPhone X is Animoji. Animoji are animated emoji and allow iPhone X users to send short 10-second messages to individuals. Upon launch of the iPhone X, there were only 12. With iOS 11.3, there is a 33% increase to a total of 16. The new Animoji include:

  • Lion
  • Bear
  • Dragon
  • Skull

The addition of these Animoji will provide users additional ways of sending messages and should provide more entertainment time for some.

Augmented Reality

One of the biggest pushes for Apple is Augmented Reality. To help developers create immersive AR experiences Apple created a framework called ARKit. While ARKit was capable of doing things that many did not expect, there were still some limitations to the framework. Some of these are being eliminated with ARKit 1.5. ARKit 1.5 will be capable of detecting vertical surfaces, which includes doorways. This is huge for Augmented Reality. This is not all, ARKit 1.5 is also capable of detecting signs, posters, and even artwork to provide more experiences. One of the features of ARKit is the ability to map out certain areas. ARKit 1.5 will be able to map more irregular shapes. Many expected ARKit to be updated with the next major release of iOS, but given that Apple has stated the Augmented Reality is a high priority, seeing incremental updates is a sign that they truly do mean this a priority.

Health Records

Many people are familiar with the idea of electronic medical records. Even if electronic records are available, they are scattered across multiple sites. Apple is hoping to be able to eliminate the need to visit all of these locations just to get your information. This is where the new feature, Health Records, within the Health app comes into play. Health Records is a beta and requires a participating institution. These institutions include:

  • Johns Hopkins Medicine – Baltimore, Maryland
  • Cedars-Sinai – Los Angeles, California
  • Penn Medicine – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Geisinger Health System – Danville, Pennsylvania
  • UC San Diego Health – San Diego, California
  • UNC Health Care – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • Rush University Medical Center – Chicago, Illinois
  • Dignity Health – Arizona, California and Nevada
  • Ochsner Health System – Jefferson Parish, Louisiana
  • MedStar Health – Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia
  • OhioHealth – Columbus, Ohio
  • Cerner Healthe Clinic – Kansas City, Missouri

With Health Records “consumers will have medical information from various institutions organized into one view covering allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vitals, and will receive notifications when their data is updated. Health Records data is encrypted and protected with the user’s iPhone passcode.” Privacy is important to Apple so protecting this data is paramount and is a no-brainer.

Business Chat

At their 2017 World Wide Developer Conference Apple unveiled a new feature called “Business Chat”. Business Chat allows customers to interact with businesses. Interactions could include order status, product questions, scheduling support, paying for products, and more. The businesses have been able to test their servers since last June, but customers will begin being able to use the service. Some of the companies that will be available during the beta are: Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s and Wells Fargo. It is likely that additional businesses will be added over time.

Other Features

There are a few other features that will be included in iOS 11.3.

Apple Music will soon be the home for music videos. Users can stream all the music videos they want without being interrupted by ads. This will be nice for users who want to see music videos.

Safety is an important part of everyday life. iOS 11.3 will support Advanced Mobile Location (AML). When making an emergency call, AML will allow a user’s current location to automatically be sent to emergency services. This feature will only be available in some countries.

Final Thoughts

Even though iOS 11.3 is not a major release, it will include a number of features and there is probably something for everyone. From things like battery monitoring to new Animoji to consolidated health records to Business Chat. iOS 11.3 is available for developers now, but should for Public betas sometime soon.