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photo Panther Server : a better NT than NT?
With Microsoft's support for NT drying up, Apple and Samba offer an alternative to Active Directory for thousands of Windows NT shops.
Panther Server, the internal name for Apple's Mac OS X Server 10.3 release, offers a series of new features meshing with the company's three bullet points for software development: support for industry standards, use of open source software, and adding value through innovation.

At a presentation last Monday, the company announced and demonstrated how these three points are reflected in Panther Server's feature list. Key among the new features is the inclusion and integration of Samba 3.0, which makes Panther Server an excellent fit for shops needing to upgrade their aging Windows NT systems.

Samba 3 integration was the biggest news of the presentation. It allows Panther Server to act as a Primary Domain Controller for a group of Windows machines, serving them roaming profiles, login scripts and home directories, in addition to file and printer sharing. Thousands of Microsoft shops have relied on the simple to configure and maintain network services Microsoft designed for Windows NT. However, Microsoft has terminated support for NT, and hopes to move NT users to the Active Directory model introduced with Windows 2000 Server.

Active Directory is overkill for many smaller and medium sized businesses who simply need an easy to manage network and do not require managing thousands of users in hundreds of locations with a complex security model. Moving to Active Directory is an expensive option as well, and locks users into a single vendor. Microsoft charges for the server, the client, and the privilege of the client using the server. Beyond the cost of Windows Server, Client Access Licenses add up quickly, with Small Business Server costing companies that use it around $100 per user.

In contrast, Apple ships its 1U Xserve with an unlimited user license of Mac OS X Panther. Since OS X Server is based on open source software, customers have the option of leaving Apple and migrating their Samba based infrastructure to any of a wide variety of other vendors supporting Samba. Apple is one of the first vendors to support Samba 3, and have worked with the Samba team to integrate the software throughout Panther Server.

In addition to Samba 3, Apple highlighted a series of new and improved functionality in Panther Server. For more information on the new features in Panther Server, see:

Panther at your Service

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