[The Bottom Line:]
Simple and minimalist -- those are the hallmarks of Microsoft's Personal Web Server. If commercial/shareware Mac Web servers are too much for your needs, or if you require a little hand-holding in your first stab at Web site publishing, then PWS is for you. Best of all, it's free.
Intuitive interface and easy setup; supports a wide range of server features usually found in the big boys' server apps; fairly low RAM demands; the price is definitely right.
Runs as a background application; overall system performance degrades after several server connections; automatically-generated pages are a bit lame.
Microsoft Personal Web Server
Processor: PowerPC or 68k
Memory Needs: 1-1.5MB
Hard Drive Space: 2-4MB
Publisher: Microsoft Corporation
by: Michael Lambert (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Publish or perish -- the old adage passed down from college professors and resident physicians alike is being adopted by Internet citizens worldwide. It seems these days having an e-mail address isn't enough -- now your stature on the electronic frontier is often determined by your ability to create and maintain a personal Web page or Web site.
If you're a Mac owner with access to a dedicated Internet connection, you have several capable commercial and shareware software options with which to serve up your Web work. However, for those folks who wish to post only a few Web pages, or for those who don't know the difference between "HTTP" and "FTP," most Mac Web server apps are overkill, or too complex.
Enter Microsoft's Personal Web Server, center stage. Personal Web Server 1.0 (PWS) makes posting a Web site as easy as pie. After a quick, painless installation, one elegantly simple control panel walks you through three intuitive stages of site setup: "About Me" (personal information about yourself, or your employer, organization, or school, depending on what you're publishing); "Web Site" (basic configuration and preferences); and "Links" (a list of up to seven of your favorite WWW pages).
PWS uses this information to generate an automatic, though somewhat ho-hum, default page, using one of the included Active Server Page (ASP) templates. ASPs include server-side scripts within HTML code that perform special tasks before serving up the page, such as displaying the time and date on your page, maintaining a guestbook, or creating a messaging area for visitors. PWS also supports traditional CGI/ACGI scripts, third-party WebStar API plug-ins, and also pulls FTP server duty at your command.
If you're an HTML novice, PWS's ability to generate Web pages is a godsend. In addition to the default page, other pages may be added to your PWS site by writing and formatting SimpleText documents, and simply (no pun intended) dropping them into the designated PWS publishing folder for posting on your site -- no HTML coding and no special file naming conventions. Other text, graphic, and multimedia elements may also be added to your pages using this simple drag-and-drop method -- PWS will recognize most MIME types, and publish them accordingly. (Bear in mind, you must forfeit one of the seven link placeholders on your PWS default page for each Web page you add to the site.)
Current connection and usage statistics are always available in PWS's main window. Depending on your initial preferences, site administration is permitted at, or away from your computer using Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser (but ONLY that browser -- surprise, surprise). Site access privileges, as well as FTP server administration, is controlled through Apple's own Sharing Setup and Users & Groups control panels. Finally, one neat feature we found was a disk browsing option that allows the site's owner view the contents of the hard drive upon which PWS is installed. (This option should obviously be used with caution.)
Although PWS has an admittedly rich feature set, our excitement dulled slightly when we put the server through its paces. Since the program runs as a background application on your Mac, each succeeding connection to your Web site takes an increasing toll on your system's resources. PWS supports up to 16 simultaneous connections, but we don't recommend hosting that kind of activity -- we found an appreciable slowdown on our Power Mac 7600/132 after only five or six connections.
Does that make PWS a bad product? Not at all -- we're talking about "personal" Web serving here, after all, not putting up a large, complex Web site. Is PWS a good "buy", compared to Apple's recently released Personal Web Sharing 1.0? The two programs appear to be neck-in-neck in terms of features, however Apple's price tag of $19.95 (which includes a hobbled version of Claris Home Page) prompts me to give the nod to Microsoft. If your Web server needs are not too demanding, you should definitely consider using Microsoft Personal Web Server 1.0.