Microsoft Eyes Upgrades to Window-to-Unix Tools

Microsoft is beginning to scope out a beta program for its Services for Unix (SFU) product, aimed at providing interoperability -- and even integration -- features between Windows and Unix/Linux platforms. See what may be in store for the future SFU, and how it's already making an impact in mixed Windows/Unix, Linux sites.

Tags: SFU, Linux, Windows, Support, Slonsky, Unix, Integration,


Microsoft is beginning to scope out a beta program for its Services for Unix (SFU) product, aimed at improving the interoperability -- and even integration -- features between Windows and Unix/Linux platforms.

Within a few weeks, Microsoft will start to contact key enterprise managers about their wish lists for the next level of Windows-to-Unix integration and interoperability support, SFU product manager James Slonsky told IDN.

Today, SFU 3.0 provides a variety of both Windows and Unix/Linux admins with support for more than 300 Unix utilities and shells to run existing shell scripts with little or no change on Windows. (Examples of UNIX utilities and tools that can be used on Windows via SFU include awk, grep, sed, tr, cut, tar, cpio and a host of others.)

Within a few weeks, Microsoft will start to contact key enterprise managers about their wish lists for the next level of Windows-to-Unix integration and interoperability support, SFU product manager James Slonsky told IDN.

While Slonsky declined to discuss specific SFU product details, he did confirm the presence of new features on tap. "There will definitely be some improvements in the next version [of SFU]," Slonsky said. "New features would basically be more directed to help integrate applications in a mixed Windows and Unix environment." Asked to be specific, Slonsky told IDN, "We're looking at a lot of improvements geared to SFU's Posix-compliant sub-systems (also known as Interix)."

As for web services, Slonsky said that the current SFU 3.0 would work with the Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 family, coming this spring. He added that his team would be asking customers about other needs for web services support (XML, .NET, SOAP, etc.) during the SFU beta process, targeted for mid-year.

The new application-level interoperability features could be available in an SFU upgrade by year's end, he told IDN. At press time, Slonsky said, "Microsoft is in the early stages of developing its beta program for the next version of SFU." While it's "still too early" to get general comment from the Linux/Unix community about new features they might want, Slonsky said that more information about a public beta would be made available on when the time comes.

SFU Aiding Admins Linking Window-to-Unix, Linux
Meanwhile, the current SFU 3.0 is attracting attention on a number of fronts for its linking powers for Windows, Unix and even Linux.

While it may be difficult for many Linux devotees to believe, SFU 3.0 is getting high marks from some in the Linux community for its ability to provide a range of useful Unix/Linux-to-Windows integration support tools. See what's inside the reasons for why SFU won a LinuxWorld Expo award from IDG, and why the GartnerGroup says SFU is becoming an ally for a growing number of Linux developers.

For its part, the producer of LinuxWorld Expo, International Data Group, named SFU 3.0 the "Best System Integration Software" at last month's LinuxWorld Expo in New York. And leading analysts from the Gartner Group are also finding signs that SFU is gaining traction in the Linux community, despite the fact that the product is from Microsoft.

In making the award, IDG noted in part how much help SFU 3.0 can be to Linux professionals looking to integrate with existing Windows platforms. IDG also found that the main appeal of SFU to Unix sysadmins is mirrored in the Linux community. Specifically, SFU's ability to unify data sharing using an NFS client, server and gateway for integrated, cross-platform file systems lets sysadmins cut the number of systems needed.

Gartner: SFU Attracting Linux-to-Windows Crowd
"It is ironic for Microsoft to get a Linux award, but there are quite a few features in SFU that really make it easier for Linux to work with Windows," John Enck, an operating system analyst at GartnerGroup, told IDN. "In fact, I'm seeing a growing number of companies using SFU to bridge Linux to Windows," Enck said, noting SFU 3.0's support for NFS and Telnet communications means that many enterprises find that SFU "fits well into their infrastructure."

Clearly, when Microsoft talks about SFU, they don't say the "L-word'" [Linux], Enck told IDN, but nonetheless, the Linux world clearly has a great opportunity to leverage SFU, especially with the growing interest in integration between Linux and Windows.

Other reasons SFU 3.0 is attracting attention from Linux developers include two key offerings:

  • The Server for NIS and password synchronization components that support the use of MD5 encryption of passwords. This support means that it is easier to migrate from PC-NFS and use NIS for authentication of NFS-based file system access.
  • Password synchronization across multiple platforms, even those not included with the Windows Services for UNIX distribution. Sysadmins can use the SFU encryption libraries, along with source code, for quick compilation and implementation.

  • Microsoft and the "L-word" -- A View from Redmond
    How does Microsoft feel about all this attention from the Linux community? IDN

    Microsoft's Slonsky admitted that while SFU (launched in 1999) was not initially built with Linux in mind, he's not surprised by the trend.

    "People interested in SFU have traditionally been drawn to our support for NFS client server and gateway," he told IDN, "and lately we're seeing that users are drawn by our ability to improve its performance and support clustering. It would be very easy for Linux engineers to adopt SFU to assist their projects because we work with all the popular versions of Unix out there, and Linux is just another UNIX-like operating system."

    He added, "Given our initial target audience was Windows-Unix mixed environments, especially in education, government and manufacturing, I can see where it would be reasonable to see SFU being used to support Linux-Windows interoperability."

    SFU's support for NFS for file sharing across platforms, as well as support for NIS, which allows for account management across Unix/Linux-Windows environments, is also a likely area of interest, Slonsky added.





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