The ANS, however, was a real honest to goodness server with hotswappable drive bays and fans, and (its most notable feature) an award-winning lockable translucent door so you could keep the unwashed masses out of your drives but still watch the blinkenlights. If you bought the bigger model, you even got dual power supplies and additional rear bays.
Also notable about the ANS was that they weren't supposed to run Mac OS, and were never sold with it, not least of which because the classic Mac OS wasn't really up to the task of being a server. Unfortunately, while A/UX supported larger needs on the 68K-based Workgroup Servers that could run it, A/UX 3 couldn't run on Power Macs even under emulation. The plan with A/UX 4 was to use a new PowerPC-native OSF/1-based kernel and possibly to also integrate portions of IBM's AIX operating system, but this plan (along with Taligent and other doomed projects) stalled out with everything else in Apple around that period. For a time Apple even considered using Novell NetWare on PowerPC; the port actually existed, codenamed Wormhole, but its tepid reception eventually led to the release of the weird Workgroup Server 9150 which just ran Mac OS. Eventually, to get to market Apple reached for what was then the only professional-level Un*x running on the new PowerPC architecture, which was AIX itself. Three Apple Network Server models were developed but only two (the "Low End" 500 and "High End" 700) were released; the 3U rack 300 "Deep Dish" remained solely a prototype, which I'd still love to acquire if its current owner ever gets tired of it. Oddly, even though they were only ever sold as AIX machines, they were initially demonstrated running a custom version of MacOS which was never released with them (I'd love to see this release myself), further confusing potential customers who already didn't want to buy Workgroup Servers. Introduced in 1996 at a retail cost starting north of US$10,000, which didn't even include the AIX license, they were very poor sellers and the line was canned by Gil Amelio around a year later.
I got my ANS 500 barely used for the cost of some consulting work after Apple stopped supporting it; you can see some scanned Polaroids of when it was in production way back in 1998. Later, I acquired an ANS 700 which I use as a spare and was briefly in service while I diagnosed a hardware issue with the 500. More recently, however, I managed to land a Shiner HE prototype dated 1995 from a scrapper in San Rafael, California. That is the unit depicted in these pictures.
The codename "Shiner" is a brand of beer named for its town of manufacture in Texas, and was reportedly the favourite adult beverage of the 1990s Server Group Division based out of Apple's Austin offices, thus lending its name to the product. Although all of the boards within this machine are marked as EVT (engineering validation test) prototypes, they are very similar to production hardware save the labelling, and the machine itself is labelled with the
unknown acronym "ESB." [drudru on lobste.rs suggests, keeping with the beer theme, that this might mean Extra Special Bitter. That makes sense!]
Appropriately, Apple Network Servers remained a significant portion of apple.com even after their commercial exit; reportedly some units were still in operation as late as 2005, well into the Xserve era and almost up to the Intel transition. However, this machine — unimaginatively named shiner — had a different path, where at its place of residence it seemed to function as a test server. The disk it came with was partially recoverable and we'll look at some goodies in a moment. Unfortunately, at some point after decommissioning it was improperly stored in a high moisture environment with the lithium PRAM battery still installed. Never do this with old Macs: the battery exploded and leaked all over the board, and when I acquired the unit it was no longer working. The door keys were also missing which required me to force the lock to get into the front bays. Despite the damage and the rough handling it's endured, the board markings and residual history nevertheless make it an interesting show-and-tell piece, so I present it here.
After the pictures we'll talk about what was on the hard disk ...
There are two missing trays in the front. One was the hard disk it came with that I removed for safe storage, but the other came to me empty, and was probably part of the rootvg which we'll talk about later.
So, the hard disk.
The bad news is that this disk seems to be only part of a larger JFS rootvg (in AIX parlance, this refers to the collection of logical hard disks that compose the default volume group), and attempting to bring it up as a standalone volume just caused a lot of errors. I suspect the missing tray contained the other disk (and, irritatingly, /). However, although Apple sold a RAID option for the ANS, this remaining disk didn't appear to be a member of an RAID array and I was able to get a sensible image of it with dd. Its hostname? shiner.mcom.com.
Yup. This ANS was at Mosaic Communications Corporation, though by this time it would have been fully converted to Netscape Communications Corporation.
strings, grep and less will get you a long way with digital archaeology on unencrypted drives. I found lots of old and new files, but overall after piecing them together the machine's primary task was running Netscape Collabra Server v3.01 21301. This was one of the all-singing-all-dancing enterprise server solutions then in vogue and was roughly contemporary with Netscape Navigator 3.0. These screenshots were extracted from its installation instruction document.to take over Netscape instead of the other way around. LDAP, NNTP and HTTP strings are present along with symbols that anyone familiar with Mozilla source code will recognize as old-school NSPR and NSS. I found part of what appears to be its configuration file:
drd970801 sounds like a developer release path. This header appears on most of the control panel files:
* PROPRIETARY SOURCE CODE OF NETSCAPE COMMUNICATIONS CORPORATION
* Copyright (c) 1997 Netscape Communications Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
* Use of this Source Code is subject to the terms of the applicable license
* agreement from Netscape Communications Corporation
* author: email@example.com
This guy wrote a lot of stuff, too.
The presence of LDAP and HTTP support notwithstanding, the scattered log fragments present on the machine suggest it was mostly doing NNTP (newsgroup) duty. For example, here's the administrator logging in via the web interface:
genesis.mcom.com - - [01/Aug/1997:14:29:12 -0500] "GET / HTTP/1.0" 401 223
genesis.mcom.com - nsadmin [01/Aug/1997:14:30:48 -0500] "GET /news-shiner-119/bin/pcontrol HTTP/1.0" 200 1341
genesis.mcom.com - nsadmin [01/Aug/1997:16:07:23 -0500] "GET /news-shiner-119/bin/index HTTP/1.0" 200 343
genesis.mcom.com, by the way, turns up in this Oracle discussion (allowed is not! is planet forbidden!).
And here's somebody from loaner.mcom.com posting and reading:
4 [97/08/01 16:07.20] nnrpd(0.13570):loaner.mcom.com post ok <firstname.lastname@example.org>
4 [97/08/01 16:07.20] nnrpd(0.13570):loaner.mcom.com post ok <email@example.com>
4 [97/08/01 16:07.20] nnrpd(0.13570):loaner.mcom.com exit articles 0 groups 0
4 [97/08/01 16:07.20] nnrpd(0.13570):loaner.mcom.com posts received 55 rejected 0
4 [97/08/01 16:07.20] nnrpd(0.13570):loaner.mcom.com posts received 55 rups 0
4 [97/08/01 16:07.20] nnrpd(0.13570):loaner.mcom.com times user 569.800 system 302.310 elapsed 4535.986
In fact, a generated report of the Top 10 Hosts by Number of Articles Posted only shows loaner.mcom.com. There's a reason for this we'll discuss in a moment.
As you would expect for a machine generally occupied as a news spool, various copies at various stages of the newsgroup active file are present. They include the default (example?) groups, like acl, control, junk, test and virtual (shown here in the administration interface),
mcom.url 0000000000 0000000001 y
mcom.url.bad 0000000000 0000000001 y
mcom.url.bad.bad 0000000000 0000000001 y
mcom.url.bad.bad.bad 0000000000 0000000001 y
mcom.users 0000000000 0000000001 y
mcom.users.clue-impaired 0000000000 0000000001 y
mcom.white-trash 0000000000 0000000001 y
mcom.wreck 0000000000 0000000001 y
mcom.wreck.motorcycles 0000000000 0000000001 y
and most famously
mcom.bad-attitude 0000000000 0000000001 y
as subpoenaed by Microsoft in 1998, though sadly, as the numbers imply, no articles from any of these groups are actually present on the drive. Instead, what is present is a lot of test material. Rich Salz's 1991 post "Seeking beta-testers for a new NNTP transfer system" <firstname.lastname@example.org> exists as a test file for INN; the real on-spool posts on the disk have headers like this:
Subject: AutoPost: shiner:119 18491-2-5
Date: 1 Aug 1997 19:54:26 GMT
Organization: Another Netscape Collabra Server User
Content-Type: multipart/mixed; boundary="------------36A62DDA30E4"
X-Mailer: Mozilla 2.01 (X11; I; IRIX 5.3 IP22)
Xref: shiner.mcom.com kstress:34 pstress:34
This is a multi-part message in MIME format.
Content-Disposition: inline; filename="UsenetPast.jpg"
The posting agent is actually Netscape 2, which is interesting, from an IP22 Silicon Graphics machine (probably an SGI Indy: I was using an Indy myself in 1996 when I did an independent study block at the Salk Institute). Parenthetically, a fun hostname dredd.netscape.com turned up in a few places looking through the news spool, which seems to be the same system as dredd.mcom.com.
These newsgroups (kstress and pstress) appear to be strictly local. In fact, their very name alone indicates they were solely there for testing purposes. All the other articles on the machine are just big binary base64 blob posts, made by an mewing. There is an LDAP entry for this person (here represented in LDIF).
uniquemember: cn=Mike Ewing
uniquemember: cn=splat poster
(They don't appear to be the system administrator, though. Here's that person's LDAP entry; no other users were obvious.)
creatorsname: cn=Directory Manager
uniquemember: cn=splat poster
uniquemember: cn=Gena Cunnanan
mewing also appears in logs,
4 [97/08/09 04:01.02] news.daily:sending a copy of the daily report by email to email@example.com
and the Collabra junk group on this machine is actually called Mike's Junk. Assuming this isn't an oblique anatomical reference (there are a lot of binaries, after all), this person appears to have been the machine's primary user, and I thus conclude the machine's primary purpose — at least at that time — was as a test spool for the news server functionality of Collabra that this person was working on.
And that brings me to the most important question I wanted to answer: how long was this machine actually in service? The timestamps from the LDAP-LDIF entries are the earliest unambiguous dates I can find on the machine (April 4, 1997), and the most recent log entry I can find in the image is this one from September 4, 1997:
4 [97/09/04 12:46.32] indexsend: stop Thu Sep 4 12:46:32 1997
A solitary 1998 timestamp 29/Mar/1998:4:36:53 -0800 appears as an example in a help document, but that document has a 1997 copyright date, so it could just be illustrative.
That said, it's entirely possible and even probable that still more recent log entries were present on the other, missing drive. The machine had to be at Netscape through at least 1999 in order to pick up an America Online asset tag; AOL hadn't even announced it was acquiring Netscape until November 24, 1998, and the deal wasn't complete until March 17 the following year (for US$10 billion — in 2021 dollars, US$16.42b). Likewise, it wouldn't make sense for Netscape to pick up the machine as a beta test and then not do anything with it for nearly a year, unless it was a later used purchase (but that doesn't make sense either because in 1997 they would probably have just bought a production machine). It thus may have been paved over at some point, or alternatively it wasn't initially running Collabra.
After all that, and with the incomplete information at hand, best guess says this machine was at Netscape/Mosaic from 1995 or so to about 1999 where it performed at least a solidly documented several months of test work. That's not a bad run for an old beast that by then was no longer being supported by Apple at all.
Are you Mike Ewing or Gena Cunnanan, formerly of Netscape? Did I miss anything? Please post in the comments if you have any light to shed. Meanwhile, you can see some more pictures of the prototype, or just read more about the ANS, the best server Apple ever disowned.