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Roughly Drafted
Daniel Eran

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The Apple Wishlist: Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard
4.4 New Workgroup Services : Personal sync & directory services
Syncing files in two locations is pretty trivial; syncing different kinds of data between lots of devices is far more complex, as anyone who's lost data with iSync knows.

If you haven't experienced the joy of struggling with conflicts and aberrant data in iSync, try plugging in an old Palm Pilot from a dusty shoebox, and dump thousands of event records from the Dot Com era into your Truth Database. I've done it, my clients have done it, and since you now know how fun it can be, you can do it too.

I really like iSync, and think it's great that Apple spent the effort to develop something that does not directly profit them. Still, the application should offer more options when running into bad data or other errors; if iSync stops working, it's hard to figure out what's wrong. It needs a repair tool that at least attempts to repair or salvage data on a confused device.

Portable Home Directory Sync
Apple delivered portable home directory sync in Tiger, which allows Macs bound to an OpenDirectory or Microsoft Active Directory server to automatically synchronize their user files with their personal network folder. A user can sync their desktop, then sync their laptop, and take their work files to go, then return and sync again.

Tiger's home directory sync works well. I have been using it to keep my desktop and laptop in sync with my Tiger Server at home, and I really enjoy not having to think about which files need to be copied up and down. I've also deployed it for clients using Active Directory.

iPod Home Directories
The same technology to sync files remotely at login should also be applied toward syncing a user home directory with an external device that has been registered with the computer. A user could sync up their iPod with their user folder and a security certificate on one machine, then install the cert on other machines. After appropriately registering, it would allow the user to log in, pull their user environment from the iPod, and sync back to it upon log out. Think: portable home directories for users without a directory server.

Preferences Sync
Still missing in Tiger however, is the ability to synchronize preferences and settings over the network (or iPod). As is the case with iSync's data sync services, there's a lot more involved with syncing preferences beyond simply syncing the preference files.

That's because some preferences and settings are machine specific (such as software authorizations), or hardware related (like Energy Saver preferences), and would not even be desirable to sync between machines.

Other settings that are very useful to sync across various machines, such as Safari's bookmarks, Mail settings, Address Book contacts, and iCal events, are currently tied to the .Mac service. Apple should package .Mac style services with Mac OS X Server, so that small companies could host their own web services locally for their users.

Small businesses are unlikely to buy .Mac accounts for all their employees, so offering an easy to set up bundle that includes .Mac's remote iSync services, web based picture and calendar publishing services, automated web page hosting, web access to email and contacts, the WebDAV iDisk, and Backup services would be a smart way to sell the web based tools they've already built.

This would also serve to accelerate the development of third party software that takes advantage of .Mac sync services. Suddenly, not only a subset of .Mac subscribers, but also lots of small companies could use the .Mac sync feature in their products!

Directory Server Appliance
Apple also needs to simplify OpenDirectory directory services into an appliance server (that same Xserve mini, which I'll get to in a bit), and bring managed preferences, the aforementioned personal archive version control, and other features of a centralized directory, to home and small business users.

Many homes have multiple computers, so presenting a way to link Macs and PCs together and provide appliance-style file sharing would be, not only a welcome feature, but also a way to migrate PC users to Macs. Think: pre-configured home networking that "just works."

Apple seems to be targeting their Xserve and Mac OS X Server at high end clients and large institutional buyers: education, video editing, and biotech. An appliance version of the Xserve (which I keep calling the Xserve mini) could be sold to a range of customers, from higher end home users with several computers, to small and medium sized businesses.

I'll dig into the Xserve mini later, after providing a few more reasons why it makes sense. The next reason is:

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Idea 5: Information ripping server


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