The Marriage Of NT & UNIX

Not getting your daily dose of aggravation? Try integrating Linux with NT.

By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
Sm@rt Reseller

March 18, 1999

Want to make your day? Your week? How about your life? Try getting NT and Unix servers to live together on the same network.

I've done it for years and let me tell you, it's no picnic. And, as Unix whether it's a real Unix like SCO's UnixWare or reasonable facsimiles like Linux and BSDI's BSD/OS becomes more popular, many of you are going to be joining me. Lucky you.

Microsoft doesn't make it easy. Oh, it finally has a clue and is at last introducing the NT Services for Unix (SFU) Add-on Pack.

The package brings you (deep breath) Network File System (NFS) server and client services, one-way password synchronization (NT to Unix), an NT telnet server and client, and a subset of Unix shell commands for the NT command line.

It sounds nice, but it falls short. NFS works, but Hummingbird Communications' NFS Maestro and Intergraph Corp.'s Access NFS Gateway were delivering the NFS goods years ago. Indeed, Microsoft really doesn't bring anything new to the table, since SFU's NFS is based solidly on Intergraph's NFS products. The telnet server is decent and a real step up from the unsupported one that came in the NT Resource Kit. But discerning Unix/NT administrators already could have been using Pragma Systems Inc.'s InterAccess TelnetD Server.

In my fooling around with the password synchronization tool, using systems with either NT 4 SP4 or Caldera Systems OpenLinux 1.3, I found that it did work. But it left me wishing for more. In particular, I wanted to be able to work with NT users from the Linux side. With this package, no dice.

The shell commands are still, well, the word "skeletal" comes to mind. There's just enough there there to make a Unix system administrator want to run amok on the fields of Redmond. If you want a really functional Unix shell system, you must buy the MKS Toolkit Update Edition for Microsoft Windows NT Services for Unix, from Mortice Kern Systems Inc.

Even with all the add-ons, SFU falls short. To enable Windows users to access Unix files, I prefer Samba's Server Message Block (SMB) services over the always tricky-to-secure NFS services, any day of the week. We know it's faster than NT's own file services. But and there is a but we're finding that properly installing the newest version of Samba, 2.02, with its closer integration into the NT domain system, is ... arduous.

And all of that is just the beginning. Once you have the pieces in place, you still face getting your Linux and NT systems to work together smoothly. For example, trying to map Unix file permissions to NT Access Control Lists is an adventure, and God help the Unix administrator who tries to do a chmod (the Unix command for changing files' security permissions) on a Unix file system that's been mounted with SMB.

Is it worth it? Well, since it seems clear now that Unix, in the form of Linux, and Windows NT, which probably will deserve its new 2000 moniker by the time we see it, are both going to be around for the long haul, the answer is yes. Just don't expect it to be easy, because it hasn't been in the past and it isn't now.

Copyright 1999