Windows Server 2003 vs. Mac G5 Xserve

Which performs better? Check out this hands-on review.

June 24, 2004

4 Min Read
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As someone who uses a Mac to do my daily work, I was pleasantly surprised by how far Windows has come when I sat down to compare the latest server OS software from Apple and Microsoft. My comparison focused on several common tasks, including adding users, managing services, and setting up Web and e-mail accounts and configurations. I used the latest server hardware from Apple, a very sexy-looking G5 Xserve rackmounted server, and compared it with an HP desktop running Microsoft's Windows Server 2003.

You would think that the task of adding a new user would be simple, but with Windows I was stopped dead in my tracks. My roadblock was password failure. No matter what combination of letters and numbers I tried, I ran afoul of Windows' password policies. Even changing the policies didn't seem to matter. I never did figure out why I couldn't get it to work and eventually was forced to give up my task.

With the Apple G5 Xserve running OS X, I had an altogether different experience. I was impressed with its intuitive ease of use and the clean layout of the numerous server-monitoring and configuration screens. I had no problems creating a new user -- password and all. This thrilled me to death after my Windows experience.

Back to Windows. As a result of not be able to set up a new user because of the password issues, I coudn't set up an e-mail account for this user. So far Windows wasn't doing too well on first impressions. But in this respect, I had problems on the Apple side as well, and couldn't easily locate the menus for setting up the e-mail server.

I next tried to find the place in the configuration menus to start and stop Web services in both machines. As a newcomer to Windows, it was somewhat of a daunting task. When you know the right path to follow, you get there rather quickly and painlessly. Of course, along that path you start out with your usual "access denied." (It probably would have saved me some frustration had I found out my servers' names and paths before I actually tried to get there.)I was also able to find my way to viewing the amounts of various resources, such as memory, disk and processor usage on my Windows server. Interpreting them was another matter, and the graphs were hard to read and comprehend. While it gave me the information I needed to monitor the server's performance, such as application usage, environmental factors and temperature, it took a little deciphering and was not as visually intuitive as I hoped it might be.

On the other hand, Apple's server management screens were easy to find, visually intuitive and informative. There was no guessing or interpreting what was being seen. Green light, good. Red light, bad. It was all simple and self-explanatory. This was a welcome feature. I could get the performance information needed with a quick glance at the screen instead of having to sit and decipher it like the Windows Server.

Setting up automatic update features was painless on both systems and accomplished with just a few mouse clicks.

It was, however, slow going at first seeing the Windows server, just as it had been for Windows seeing the Apple server, but once the right strings were input, there was nothing to it. And changing the folder shared by the Web server was a piece of cake.

In terms of security, the Windows Server 2003 might be your better bet because of more restrictions on its password rules. However, since I couldn't even get through the password policies, it may have been a little too secure for my blood. Besides, just because the Xserve doesn't require the mix of letters and numbers doesn't mean you can't make it an internal policy. Setting up a new user on the Apple was definitely a faster process. Both machines seem to be on equal ground when it comes to starting and stopping Web services and with the proper information seeing the other server. Each server also had a satisfactory "server management" area.But visually, there's just no contest. The Apple G5 Xserve is superior to the Windows Server 2003. Apple's use of graphics made it quick and easy to get the information without having to spend time trying to figure out exactly what it was we were looking at to begin with.

So there it is. My choice? I'd have to pick the Xserve. Did I mention it was faster also? Hmm, easy maintenance interpretation, speed, quick user set-up; what more could you want from a server? Sorry, Windows fans, better luck next time. The Apple G5 Xserve is simply too impressive to pass up.

Daniella Abruzzo ([email protected]) is designer/production editor at VARBusiness.

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