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5 Leopard Features To Make Your Sys Admin Happier

Volume Number: 23 (2007)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Systems administration

5 Leopard Features To Make Your Sys Admin Happier

Here are a few features that will make your life as a systems administrator easier

by Ben Greisler

Life as a Sys Admin

Being a systems administrator is hectic and stressful. Lucky for us sometimes we get a bit of help to make life a tad easier. With the introduction of Leopard, we have been given some tools that will help out just the little bit that makes a difference to our daily work.

Here are 5 features that are included in Leopard that while aren't earth shaking, will just help out. Some of these features have been available using third party software or simply by some home brew scripting, but they are now built-in and this means Apple has been listening.

Terminal 2

The two new features in Terminal 2 that I see as the most useful are tabs and window groups. Tabs fall into the "It's about time" category. As handy as tabs are in a browser, they are just as handy in Terminal.

After spending time setting up terminal windows just exactly the way that we want, it is now nice to be able to save all that work in multiple windows as window groups. A simple click brings those windows back to us.

Check out Ed Marczak's "Mac In The Shell" column this month on Terminal 2 in this issue for more information.

Screen Sharing

Sure you say, "I already have ARD. Why do I need Leopard's screen sharing?" The way that I see it, you are wandering around the office floor working with users and you need to check something else on another machine. Bingo! You just fire off screen sharing and off you go. It is as simple as clicking on the Share Screen button in a Finder window. This is a convenience feature that I am sure sys admin's will find great use for as time goes on. Screen sharing is based on VNC so plan accordingly.


Fig. 1. Screen sharing is now a standard OSX feature

Instruments

Instruments is billed as a code-debugging tool with the power of Dtrace, but I see it as much more. Designed to allow a developer to view various aspects of the system while an application is running, this is just what a sys admin needs when troubleshooting issues.

Instruments is part of the Developer Tools package and lives in the Applications folder within Developer folder. It has an interface that will be familiar to any Mac user and visualizes what happens when during the use of an application.

Please see Greg Miller's DTrace article and Dave Dribin's "Road to Code" column in this issue for more information.


Fig. 2. Instruments allows powerful inspection of applications while they run

Spaces

Another member of "It's about time" features is Spaces. A window manager similar to those available on any standard Linux install, you get to associate applications with virtual desktops. I don't know about you, but I never thought that Expose was a real answer to screen real estate issues, so I am happy to have Spaces as a standard part of the OS.

Life becomes more organized when you can dedicate a screen to a specific purpose. Combine Spaces with a tabbed terminal and you get a very manageable work environment. Combine that with a pair of 30 inch Cinema displays and you have quite the effective administration system.


Fig. 3. Configuring Spaces to give each app its own place to live

Server Admin Notifications

While we don't have as comprehensive notifications as I would like, the one simple notification for disk space is a great boon to those situation where wider ranging monitoring isn't in place. Sys admins/school librarians who are in charge of OSX servers will love this simple feature that will avoid filled drives that are all too common.

This feature is part of Server Admin in the Notifications tab within Settings. It is limited to sending an email when the free space falls under a defined amount and at this point it doesn't allow you to specify which drives to monitor, but it is a step in the right direction. The File Sharing pane in Server Admin makes a quick job of scanning disk space with the bar graphs and I hope they allow finer grained monitoring in the future. There is also a Server Admin widget for those who find Widgets useful.


Fig. 4. Enabling notifications for disk usage in Server Admin


Fig. 5. Monitoring disk space with Widgets

Conclusion

The release of Leopard shows us that Apple has been listening and is trying to give us tools that make managing OSX and OSX Server easier. Leopard is new and I am sure we will discover new features as Apple releases them. This is just a short list of items for the system administrator, but there is much more goodness in Leopard that isn't specific to the sys admin.

Items like external home directories can change the way we handle user data along with Time Machine. New versions of directory services, changes to launchd, collaboration software, clustering for VPN services, wide are Bonjour and improved Spotlight are all things that will positively impact our work and the user experience.

As I wrote this article I found more and more little items that I can see as being helpful down the road. It will take some time to find them all and see just how useful they will be, but I am liking what I see. The jury is still out on the simple setup feature of OSX Server, but I don't think too many sys admin's will be using it.


Ben has been everything from a Mac user to CTO of one of the leading Macintosh professional services firms. Besides writing an occasional article for MacTech, you can find him presenting at Macworld (including a session called "DNS: Demystified, co-presented with Doug Hanley) or consulting with clients around the world. You can reach him at ben@greisler.org.

 
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