WebTen 3.0, by Tenon Intersystems
Posted: 22-Jan-2002

3 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Tenon Intersystems Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: INTERNET

What is WebTen?
WebTen is a robust, high-performance web server based on Apache. Because Apache is native to Mac OS X, WebTen is a good introduction to Apache. The browser-based interface shields Macintosh webmasters from the intricacies of Apache UNIX-style configuration files and obscure Apache directives, but under-the-floorboard WebTen creates the same configuration files that a UNIX Apache administrator would create. So in addition to being a powerful web server, WebTen can also be a learning tool for future Apache administrators.

WebTen is a pure Macintosh application with the networking strength and performance of UNIX. Using the Web browser interface, you can manage virtual hosts, access permissions, MIME translations and logging records from your desktop. Configuring WebTen is as easy as clicking a mouse. WebTen's blistering speed puts Macintosh squarely on the field against the fastest NT and UNIX boxes, affirming Tenon's absolute commitment to making the Macintosh a world-class Web server - unbeatable in speed and unmatched in features.

Setup
Despite being easier than UNIX, setting up WebTen to make it do exactly what I wanted was the most difficult aspect of the software. In fact, after working with technical support, I still was unable to get the software to behave the way I needed it to behave. I was very specific in my needs, both in terms of an HTTP server and as an FTP server. The FTP server I was able to setup okay, albeit there was some confusion during the process. Setting up the HTTP server to do exactly what I wanted proved to be a much more difficult task. For basic needs, it is not so complicated, but if you want full control over every aspect of your server (such is the nature of a Mac user), prepare to dive into some deep waters (lots of reading, experimenting, and frustration).

For UNIX administrators, the setup process is probably easier with WebTen than with Apache on UNIX. However, for us "spoiled" Mac users, there's still a lot of work that needs to be done with WebTen to bring in par with user-friendly Mac applications.

Creating users and groups is pretty straightforward, as is assigning file and folder access (by user names, group membership, or host name and IP address). WebTen also supports setting up virtual hosts (enter the new host name and click the Add Virtual Host button). WebTen automatically determines what type of virtual host is required, creates the root directory if necessary, and causes all the host settings to be inherited from the general system configuration. Individual settings can then be overridden as necessary.

Administrators use a Web browser to customize WebTen's configuration, as well as the plug-ins (such as FTP, DNS, cache, proxy, and security). WebTen's interface is crudely designed and can be confusing, and, as is generally the case with browser-based management, it is not as dynamic or powerful as a standalone application (limitations of HTML become limitations of configuration management).

In Action

Once the server was up and running, that's where the strength of the server shines. As touted, the software is based upon Apache, and it shows. For static HTML page serving, WebTen's performance is the best I've seen (with WebStar and MacHTTP a distant second, and Apple's Web Sharing trailing far, far behind).

WebTen supports its own variety of plug-ins (WEBmail, Squid, DNS, etc.), and it also supports WebStar modules, Apache modules and the perl scripting language. It's extensibility makes it a great server package, providing options that support a wide range of needs.

The downside of being based upon Apache, however, is apparent when booting up the server. No application I've seen takes as long to boot up as WebTen. This is because Tenon is in effect starting a UNIX operating system in order to layer the server on top of it.

This would not be a big problem, except that I also experienced stability problems. The server was crashing every few days, causing me to reboot enough times to really feel the hit on the the long startup times. This particular server also runs EIMS, AutoShare, and Hotline, which may have been the cause of the instability. WebTen is intended for a dedicated production web server. WebTen does not support Hotline serving, though it does have a mail server plug-in (WEBmail). WebTen's mail serving functionality, however, did not suit my needs; hence, having EIMS, Autoshare and Hotline running along side it. If you have no need for Hotline, and can use WebTen's mail server, you'll most likely not experience the stability issues.

One feature of Apple's Web Sharing (AWS) that I wanted in WebTen was viewing a directory. Using AWS, if you select a folder path in a URL, and there is no index.html in the folder, it automatically displays the files in the folder in a nice column format. It also makes the column headings links, such that if you click on any of them, the file list gets sorted by that column (such as name, size, or date). In WebTen, you get a File Not Found error by default. The work around is to have a batch script scheduled to create your index.html file listings in folders where you want this behavior to occur.

Documentation
Most administration questions can be answered with WebTen's extensive documentation. The documentation comes in three forms: a manual, an Adobe Acrobat file, and a compilation of HTML pages linked directly to commands in the administration screens. Although the documentation is extensive, it was not the easiest to understand (I found myself wrestling with the terminology).

Features at a Glance

  • Web-based Administration
  • UNIX-strength HTTP server
  • WEBmail ("Hot-mail" style e-mail client and server)
  • SSL 3.1 security
  • Squid cache (web site caching)
  • FTP server
  • DNS server
  • ht://dig, a high-performance search engine
  • Extensive plug-in support (Applescript, Perl, shell CGIs, WebTen Plug-ins, WebTen modules, and Apache modules)
  • PHP support
  • Access controls (over users and groups)

Summary
Under the hood, WebTen is the most powerful HTTP server I've seen on the Mac. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most difficult engines to "tune-up" and configure. It's extensive plug-in support makes it a server package that should be considered, but be prepare for a steep learning curve. Although the server did not meet all of my expectations, depending upon your needs, it may be just the server package you are looking for. Be sure that the product meets your needs as-is before purchasing, because technical support informed me that there are no planned upgrades.

Pros:

  • Best Mac performance seen in an HTTP server
  • Highly extensible with vast plug-in support
  • Web-based administration easier than UNIX-style admin

Cons:

  • Complex and cumbersome setup and administration
  • Steep learning curve
  • No planned upgrades


Overall Rating:

3 out of 5 Mice