Latest in Airport

Image credit:

In pictures: AirPort Utility 6.0's missing features


Apple's new AirPort Utility 6.0 for OS X was released yesterday, bringing over the slick UI from its pre-existing iOS version -- but as my colleague Chris reported, it also removes access to a number of features in the process. At the same time, Apple are still hosting downloads for the older version of the tool which still has the full feature set. Predictably, there's been some indignant fallout from this admittedly curious decision, but what sorts of features are missing, and should you care? I loaded up the old and new version of the tools side-by-side to see what I could find out.

Here's the "Wireless setup" page for my AirPort Extreme under the older AirPort Utility:

And hiding under that "Wireless Options..." button, you get more settings:

Here's the corresponding page on the newer tool:

And under the "Wireless Options..." button:

We've lost access to quite a few settings there:

  • Multicast rate
  • Transmit power
  • WPA group key timeout
  • Wide channels option

The page where you define DHCP server options is rather better laid out in the new version. Here's the older one first:

And the newer, which folds in some settings like NAT enable and port mapping which were hidden behind other tabs in the older UI:

But again, there are options missing -- you can no longer specify a DHCP message or set an LDAP server. And the tiny scrolling lists for DHCP reservations and port maps that show only two lines at once are laughably inadequate. I have eight mapped ports, and reading through them to find one I want to adjust is unnecessarily difficult in this new UI.

The Logs and Statistics section of the old tool is completely missing too, and that has helped me out of a few jams. In particular the signal strength graph is useful:

This is really handy for tracking down that one stray device on your 802.11n network that is dragging you down to 802.11g speeds, or for working out where to best position an AirPort Express to get that extra signal boost you need. You can get some information via a tooltip in the wireless clients list in the main screen, but it's not exactly obvious, and it doesn't convey how things change through time:

Also missing from the logging facility is the ability to configure a remote SNMP server to collect and collate logs from lots of AirPort devices to a single central server.

It's not all bad, though. The new UI has this really handy topography display which shows you how your network is plugged together:

For example, this is telling me that my living room AirPort Express isn't connected to the AirPort Extreme via Ethernet, like it should be -- it has a dashed line instead of a solid one. It's also telling me it's offline, presumably for the same reason.

Disk Sharing seems to have lost the ability to set a Windows workgroup and allow/disallow guest access:

The new AirPort Utility is also missing the printer sharing tab altogether, although it might just have become entirely automatic as the old screen mostly only displayed a list of connected printers anyway:

This extra "Options..." screen is also missing from the new tool:

So we can no longer set the metadata for the AirPort device's location (useful for larger-scale installations in offices, where there may be lots of access points used at once) or set the status light to blink on activity.

The old tool also offers support for RADIUS authentication of clients which is absent from the newer software:

Some people are reporting that MAC address access time control is missing. It appears to be functionally intact, just re-arranged. Old tool:

New tool:

IPv6 settings are also entirely absent from the new AirPort Utility.

So in summary, then, unless you're a systems administrator for a complex office install with multiple AirPort devices and demanding technical requirements, you're probably not going to notice the missing bits in the the new AirPort Utility. And if you are...? Almost as if it's acknowledging the missing bits and pieces, Apple is hosting downloads for the old and new versions of Airport Utility side-by-side. There's nothing stopping you from installing both on your Mac, and it's absolutely fair to say that the features I've noted above are missing are entirely advanced ones that are of little interest to normal home users.

As well as configuration features that are missing, support for older stuff has also been decreased in AirPort Utility 6.0. The 802.11g versions of the AirPort Express, which was on sale from 2004-2008, and pre-2007 AirPort base stations simply don't work with the new tool at all -- the device doesn't appear in the management UI. The new tool requires Lion, so Snow Leopard or Windows users are out of luck (yes, the old version is available for Windows, to my surprise). And one final limitation: the new version of the tool locks you out when it's upgrading firmware for any device on your network, as Chris noted yesterday. That's not exactly something you do every day, though.

It seems unlikely that you are going to care very deeply about these changes, and if you do, you can easily get the older version of the utility. Still, though, I think it's both peculiar and curious that Apple is requiring users to choose between a nicer UI and access to the full feature set of their AirPort devices. It's as if AirPort Utility 5.5 is now "AirPort Utility Pro" and AirPort Utility 6.0 is "AirPort Utility Home". It just seems so... uncharacteristically inelegant.

Have you noticed any other missing features that I've overlooked? Please leave a comment!

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr