June 18th, 2008 • 3:45 pm
I am afraid it looks like Apple has made a blooper in Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard).
Regular Betalogue readers might remember that, as part of my job, I manage an Apple Xserve (G4 model) running Mac OS X Server version 10.3.9 (Panther).
It’s an old machine (over five years old), but it’s running fine, and we have no need to upgrade to a newer machine/system at present.
It is also a machine with few problems, which means that I don’t often have to access it remotely. The most frequent problem on it is that FileMaker Server (again, an older version) tends to lock up after a few weeks and requires a machine restart. I usually do this remotely via SSH.
All this is to say that, until today, I had not had to use Apple’s server monitoring/administration utilities (Server Monitor, Server Admin, and Workgroup Manager) in months. The last time I had run them was probably when I was still using Mac OS X 10.4 on my Mac Pro!
A few weeks ago, Apple released newer versions of the Server Monitor, Server Admin, and Workgroup Manager utilities (versions 10.5.3, replacing the older 10.4.7 versions), and I installed them on my Mac Pro, without even bothering to test them to see if they worked fine.
But today there was a problem with the mail server on the Xserve, so I went to launch Server Admin 10.5.3. The first surprise was that the application did not even have the address of my server anymore. This is the only server I manage with this utility, and usually Server Admin remembers it from one time to the next and automatically fills in the address and login information for me. But here there was nothing.
I figured that it was a problem with the Server Admin update to 10.5.3 and just entered the information again. Then I pressed “Connect.” And I got this:
My first reflex was to check if the web server was still accessible. It was. So clearly the Xserve was still running fine. It was just the mail server on it that was not working properly. But for some reason Server Admin was unable to connect to the server. It couldn’t even find it.
My second thought was that it was a problem with the Server Admin 10.5.3 update. I went to check the application’s preferences, but couldn’t find any strange new setting that might explain the problem.
I then launched Server Monitor (10.5.3), and, unlike Server Admin, it still had the address and login information for my Xserve, and was able to connect to it just fine. Workgroup Manager 10.5.3 also still had the address and login information, and was working fine as well.
The most urgent thing for me was to bring the mail server back to life. I wanted to check the status of the mail service using Server Admin, but obviously this was not possible. So I used SSH in the Terminal to connect to the Xserve remotely. I checked the users’ mail folders to see if any of them was full. (Mac OS X Server 10.3.9 does not handle full mailboxes very gracefully, and it can lead to a breakdown of the mail service.) But they were normal. None of them was full.
I then rebooted the Xserve via SSH. (When in doubt…) Thankfully, after the reboot, the mail server was working fine again. I don’t know what the problem was, but it was gone.
The problem when trying to use Server Admin in Mac OS X 10.5.3 to connect to the Xserve, on the other hand, was not. Even after the Xserve reboot, Server Admin still was not working in Leopard.
My next instinct was to try and reinstall the older version of Server Admin (10.4.7) and see if that version would still work. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that Apple has made it impossible to reinstall that older version of Server Admin, even though it works just fine under Mac OS X 10.5.x. The Server Admin Tools 10.4.7 installer simply fails to recognize the Mac OS X 10.5.3 volume as a valid volume to install the tools, and there is no alternative.
The final test was to reboot my other Mac Pro in Mac OS 10.4.10, which I still had installed on a partition. I then tried to run Server Admin (10.4.7) on that machine, and it was able to connect to my Xserve just fine and to show all the running services, including the mail service, which showed no sign of anything being wrong.
I then copied the Server Admin (10.4.7) application to a USB key and copied it from the USB key to my Mac OS X 10.5.3 system. I launched it there and, as expected, the application launched just fine. Unfortunately, when I tried to connect to my Xserve, I got a similar error message, to the effect that there was no server at the address entered.
My next step was to go to the Apple Discussions forum for Administration Applications for Mac OS X Server. I soon found that I was far from the only one with problems using Server Admin to connect to a remote server running an older version of Mac OS X Server.
It looks like it’s actually not an uncommon problem. Of course, as with all network-related issues, there is a myriad of possible sources for such connection problems. However, I think my own experience clearly demonstrates that there is something in Mac OS X 10.5.3 (Client) that breaks the ability for Server Admin (either 10.5.3 or 10.4.7) to connect to a remote server running an older version of Mac OS X Server (10.3.9 in my case). There really is nothing else that has changed in my own work environment, and I really do not think that there is anything that has changed in the Xserve’s own network environment in recent times, although of course I cannot be 100% sure, because that network is not under my control.
Is this a sneaky marketing ploy used by Apple to try and force us to upgrade our servers to Mac OS X Server 10.5? I seriously hope not. It is more likely that Apple broke something without realizing it. But it is also quite possible that if the problem only affects situations involving a remote server running an older version of Mac OS X Server—I am unable to verify this by trying to connect to a remote server running Mac OS X Server 10.5, because I don’t have one—then it is a bug that does not have a high priority at Apple.
I submitted my bug report, but that’s about all I can do. For now, whenever I need to connect to my Xserve with Server Admin, I will have to switch to my other Mac Pro, reboot it in Mac OS X 10.4.10, and run Server Admin from there. It’s not a huge inconvenience, but it’s an inconvenience just the same.
It certainly won’t be enough to make us switch from Mac OS X Server 10.3.9 to Mac OS X Server 10.5! This would be a costly upgrade, and we simply have no need for it at present. We will probably wait until the Xserve dies before replacing it with a new Xserve that comes with Mac OS X Server 10.5 (or possibly even the next version). But I still hope that my bug report will not go unanswered, and that something will be done to fix this pretty major bug sooner rather than later.