Macintosh Networking

The Macintosh interface is considered to be the easiest to use of all graphical user interfaces. Developed in 1983 by Apple, the Macintosh Operating System (or Mac OS) is seeing a resurgence of popularity with the introduction of several new models, like the iMac, the G4 Cube, and the Titanium PowerBook G4 Macintosh. Macintosh has always had a very loyal following, and with good reason.

The Macintosh OS (combined with the Macintosh hardware platform) is a very user-friendly computer. As such, many people who have never used computers before are buying Macs.

Here, you will learn about these topics as they apply to the Mac OS:

  • Features
  • Client support
  • Interoperability
  • Authentication
  • File and print services
  • Application support
  • Security


The Mac OS has gone through several major revisions so far, with each version having many more features than the one before it. No discussion of the Mac OS would be complete without a brief discussion of the major releases of the Mac OS:

System 1 When the original Macintosh was released in 1984, the Mac OS interface (simply called the Finder in those days) was pretty bare (similar to Figure). It contained the basic elements of the current Mac OS, but in non-color form. It had no support for color, but it did have a very powerful graphical user interface (GUI) that made many people go out and buy it.

System 6 System 6 was introduced around 1986 and quickly made the Macintosh world even more exciting with the introduction of color to the operating system. Depending on the video card, a Mac with System 6 could display thousands, even millions, of colors. This was very exciting stuff for the time.

System 7 As good as System 6 was, it didn’t have good support for multitasking. (It could switch between programs using a product known as Multifinder, but it wasn’t great.) Macintosh System 7, therefore, gave Mac users the ability to run multiple programs at once. In addition, it gave users support for TrueType fonts (automatically scalable fonts) and the ability to share out a disk onto the network so that other Mac users could access it. It also gave users the ability to use virtual memory (using a portion of the hard disk as memory).

A Basic Macintosh GUI

A Basic Macintosh GUI

Mac OS 8 In 1997, Apple made a few changes with the operating system. First of all, it now actively promoted the fact that the Macintosh system software was to be known as Mac OS. Also, due to a partnership with Microsoft (and an infusion of capital from the same), Internet Explorer was installed as the default browser. Apple also increased its cross-platform connectivity with the introduction of an updated version of its PC Exchange product, which now had support for Windows 9 x long filenames. Finally, the OS contained its own Java Virtual Machine for running Java applications.

Mac OS 9 With Mac OS 9, Apple brought the Mac OS up to speed with Microsoft’s multiuser offerings. It was now possible to specify different settings and environments for multiple users of the same Macintosh. Along with that, Apple introduced the Keychain, which stored the various online passwords for a user so that only one password was required when a user went online. Finally, it included a network browser so that a user could browse the network easily for a network server.

Mac OS X (OS 10) Amid much hoopla, Apple introduced OS X, the current version and first major rewrite of the Mac OS in years, in 2001. The basic interface still looks the same; however, the use of color, graphics, and moving graphics is much improved over previous versions. Also, it is based on a UNIX kernel (BSD with a Mach Kernel), which makes it more stable, more scalable, and generally more powerful than previous versions. Windows “fly” open and get “squished” onto a bar (called the Dock) when minimized. Also, for the first time, you can save directly to PDF format in most applications. This new OS, in addition to being extremely powerful, is also extremely user- and Internet-friendly.



Client Support

The Mac OS on the whole as a server platform is only somewhat limited in its client support. As you would expect, the Mac OS X Server supports Mac clients but, with its latest versions, includes Samba so that Windows clients can authenticate to a Mac OS X Server. Also, the Mac OS X Server can function beautifully as an Internet server because the core of Mac OS X is UNIX. And, as you might well expect, a UNIX server of any kind makes an excellent Internet server because of the close ties with TCP/IP.


As a server platform, the Mac OS is reliable and fairly scalable. It really can’t compete with the largest UNIX and high-end server platforms in the enterprise, but it makes for a good workgroup web server platform. In that respect, the Mac OS is compatible with many different clients. As a client, though, there is one major problem with the Mac OS: The predominant business client platform is the Windows platform. As such, most business applications are written for that platform, and translations of all those applications for the Mac OS are few and far between. Still, there are translations of the most popular business applications (e.g., Microsoft Word) for the Mac OS that make it viable to use in the workplace.

Another compatibility and interoperability benefit is the support of other server operating systems for Mac OS clients. Windows NT and 2000 have built-in support for Mac OS clients. In fact, the support is so good that Mac OS clients can’t tell the difference between a Windows server with Mac OS file and print support and an actual Macintosh server. Novell NetWare has similar support for Mac OS clients.


Authentication for Mac OS X is handled through the Kerberos authentication mechanism, which makes Mac OS X ideal in a networked environment. Additionally, Mac OS X includes a feature known as the key chain. The keychain is a storage location for all the passwords you might use on the Internet (website passwords, FTP passwords, etc.) or anywhere. When a user authenticates to the system, that procedure unlocks the keychain. From then on, any time the user revisits a location that has credentials stored in the keychain, the keychain will automatically provide them on behalf of the user.

In addition to Kerberos and the keychain, Mac OS X and newer versions include support for Apple’s Open Directory. Open Directory is a directory much like Microsoft’s Active Directory and Novell’s eDirectory. It allows all users to authenticate to a central database of users so a user has to authenticate only once to the Directory. From then on, the security settings stored in the Directory for that user dictate what parts of the network can be accessed and under which conditions.

File and Print Services

The Mac OS can perform many functions on a network. In addition to being a client, a Macintosh can be a file and print server using AppleShare (Apple’s proprietary networking software) as well as an Internet server using various Apple and third-party software. The advantage of having a Macintosh as a server is that it is extremely easy to administer. It is so easy, in fact, that many first-time users have no problems networking Macs and making them into file (or other) servers. Also, in small companies where there isn’t a budget for an IT staff or money for outsourced support, a Mac OS server can be managed by existing staff.

Application Support

Mac OS X has a unique position as far as application support is concerned. It can run older Mac OS applications as well as those written specifically for Mac OS X. Plus, it can run some UNIX and X Window System applications, provided they support the Mac OS kernel.

The Mac OS X platform, because of its UNIX underpinnings, makes for a very reliable workgroup and small business server. Therefore, many application developers are making small business suite packages for Mac OS X Server. In addition, Mac OS X Server comes with the Apache web server and MySQL 4, a very powerful open source web platform for developing data base driven websites.


The Mac OS offers reliable security. Mac OS X has local user account security built in as part of the OS. Network security has also been taken into account. Many services that would be susceptible to a hack are turned off by default, so a Mac is more secure than other OSes right out of the box. Additionally, there are many third-party security products (including some that implement Kerberos security, which is the type used by Windows 2000) that can make the Mac OS extremely secure over the network.

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