Server vs. file sharing
September 22, 2011 12:03 PM   Subscribe

What's the difference between setting up a Mac OS X server and turning on file sharing on a regular Mac?

I'm not even sure if this question makes sense, I'm remarkably unversed in the networking/servering/etc of Macs (and computers in general).

I work in a small office where we share a lot of files pretty much constantly. Right now, people end up passing around a lot of flash drives when they need to get a file someone else has. I'm looking into ways to make our workplace not quite so ridiculous.

I was looking at this and it looks like a possible solution to our problem, to buy a mac mini and set it up as a server. But what's the difference between doing that, and just turning on all the file sharing stuff on one of the computers we already use?

I'm totally open to specific answers, as well as more general "read this to understand servers" answers.

Thanks a lot.
posted by hapticactionnetwork to Technology (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If all you want to do is share files from a single machine then, no, you don't need server. Of course, there are plenty of cloud-based solutions (e.g. Amazon S3 buckets) that can easily do that as well, without the need for hardware.

Depending on how wacky/granular your permissions needs are, OS X Server will make setting that up and maintaining it easier for you. For $50 (on top of OS X Client), though, it's a pretty cheap upgrade, and you get a lot of other bells and whistles.
posted by mkultra at 12:15 PM on September 22, 2011

Mac OS X Server is mostly, yes, fine-grainedness, as mkultra mentions. And lots of GUI tools to help you set up esoteric sharing services. It runs a webserver with a wiki thing which is connected to the users, and you can set up remote-mounted user home directories and so on ... Plus VPN stuff, where you can have traveling workers connect in directly and securely to your LAN.

It's all pretty much a pain to set up correctly if you do something wrong. (Used to be, at least.)

You do not need the extra stuff from the package-named-Server to do what you want to do. You can make any Mac Mini into an office server simply by turning on file sharing for it. You don't need the box from apple that says SERVER on it.

This is pretty confusing; I had to slog through learning the difference, and trust me, Mac OS X Server is great! But in your case, it is at best a waste of money, and at worst a burden on the admin ...
posted by krilli at 12:33 PM on September 22, 2011

In a nutshell: All that fancy stuff that happens on office and university networks when you log in and print out things in another castle? That's the type of stuff that Mac OS X Server does.

File and printer sharing? Normal OS X does that really well!
posted by krilli at 12:34 PM on September 22, 2011

If you've all upgraded to Lion, then you could just use AirDrop.
posted by FreezBoy at 12:43 PM on September 22, 2011

Or a shared Dropbox account.
posted by supercres at 2:25 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The main difference is that you can more easily set up and manage user accounts for your workgroup, providing gradations of access to file, web, print and other services that your office may find useful. At $50, it's now a no-brainer for workgroups.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:34 PM on September 22, 2011

Well for what you're doing I think you'd be better off with a middle solution, namely a NAS (Network attached storage).

This is basically a hard drive with just enough computing capabilities to connect to your network and show up as a shared drive. Everyone can drop stuff on to it, pull things off etc. Something like this $200 3TB of storage, plug it into your wall and your network and you've got local file sharing for everyone.
posted by bitdamaged at 3:51 PM on September 22, 2011

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