Mountain Lion Server in Parallels Desktop
I've been using Parallels Desktop for some time and had recently upgraded to their version 8 release. That version will let you install Mountain Lion within your existing Mountain Lion. That's all legal as far as Apple is concerned; their EULA includes:
Note particularly (c) using OS X Server, which is what I wanted.
It's an App, not an operating system
As of Mountain Lion, "Server" is just an application you buy and install in your existing system. Therefore you begin this process by installing Mountain Lion into a Parallels virtual machine. That's about as easy as it could possibly get:
You can also do this from a USB stick; see How to create Lion Virtual Machine using Parallels Desktop.
Once that is up and running (it didn't take very long at all on my iMac), you can buy the Server App from the App store.
Once that's downloaded and installed, you need to run it:
And then, after answering a few questions, you are ready to actually start using Server.app. For a great introduction to that, I recommend Server, simplified: A power user's guide to OS X Server at Ars Technica.
Right now, however, is a good time to take a Parallels Desktop Snapshot. You may be luckier or smarter than I am and would never screw things up beyond redemption, but if you are doing this for experimentation and learning as I am, you might very well want to return this VM to an earlier, mostly un-configured state. That's what snapshots are for. I actually took one right after initial installation so that I could start from there if I ever want or need to.
You'll probably also want to install the Parallels Tools so that you can cut and paste between your real desktop and the VM (and more).
I was now ready to start playing with Open Directory on Mountain Lion Server. That will have to wait until tomorrow or the next day, though, so that will be another article on another day.
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