Tools Warehouse Aids Unix/Windows Integration

For sysadmins and developers looking to better integrate their Windows, Java and Unix resources, one long-time services firm has amassed a long list of tools and utilities. IDN takes a look at how Interop Systems, and its vast tools warehouse for Interix, is helping enterprise techs better support end-to-end dataflow and management over mixed Unix/Windows environments.

Tags: Unix, Windows, Interop Systems, Miller, Interix, Open Source, Developers,

For sysadmins/developers looking to better integrate their Windows and Unix resources, one long-time services firm has amassed a long list of tools and utilities.

Interop Systems Inc., in Friday Harbor, Wash., offers Unix, Java and Windows developers a vast array of more than 60 tools, components and utilities designed to work with the Interix subsystem. Familiar to many Unix developers, Interix provides a Unix environment that runs on top of the Windows kernel, enabling Unix application and scripts to run natively on the Windows platform alongside Windows applications.

Microsoft purchased the Interix technology in 1999, and recently merged it into the latest version of its Services for Unix (SFU 3.0) product. Interop Systems president, Bill Miller, told IDN that the Microsoft acquisition of Interix has helped -- not hurt -- demand for his free, Open Source tools and for-profit software and services. Interop Systems' core business model is built around selling for-profit services and software products, including Microsoft's SFU and Hummingbird's Xserver technology.

Helping Java, Unix Pros to Blend with Windows
"The key to understand," Miller said, "is that even when you're using Windows, when you use the Interix subsystem, you're not in Win32. The Interix subsystem sits on the Windows kernel alongside the Win32 subsystem. So, where we see the interest is when the legacy Unix application is really something a company wants to further develop, " Miller added, "but that companies are thinking about the best ways to do that without staying 100% Unix."

"For companies looking to support many more users, who may be on Windows or want to expand their application to support web services or something like that, our tools and services can help," Miller said.

Miller described what goes into pulling together the 60+ tools for his Interix tools warehouse. "Some of these tools we find out on the Web just work fine on their own, but many others we port to Interix so that developers will get what they're looking for right out of the box, so to speak," he said. In fact, Interop Systems now manages the ISV (Independent Software Vendor) program for distribution of Microsoft's Interix technology to ISVs porting commercial Unix applications to the Windows platform.

For its part, Microsoft contributes programmers -- and even some funding -- to help Interop Systems build out its Open Source tools warehouse. Microsoft's Director of Unix Solutions, Doug Miller (no relation to Interop's Miller), said that the current GCC compiler available as Open Source at the Interop Systems tools warehouse is based on Microsoft development work.

"I see Microsoft's job as making Windows more approachable for Unix professionals, and that can be done in several ways," Doug Miller told IDN. "One key way is that we have investments in tools sites like Interop Systems that really address the other common tools that Unix people like to have that go over and above a package."

"The collaboration between commercial and Open Source will probably continue as Microsoft rolls our Windows Server 2003 to commercial accounts with both Windows and Unix," Microsoft's Miller added. "Certainly, we see Windows Server 2003 being more approachable for Unix admins," Miller said, "in particular because we included roughly 100 new command-line tools with the OS. That's really targeting people who want to administer the system from the command line rather than a GUI. And, with the use of SFU and Interop Systems' command-line scripting, there will be other offerings for integrating, not just migrating, Windows and Unix."

Checking Out the Tools Warehouse
Interop Systems' "technical maestro" Rodney Ruddock told IDN that downloads from Interop Systems tools warehouse (all of them free and many even Open Source) are running at 10,000 per month, representing between 2,000 and 3,000 users.

The Interop Systems audience is 90% Unix application developers, and so the site has more of a Unix-to-Windows feel than vice versa, Interop's Miller said. "Our goal is to help Microsoft make the Interix environment as robust as any Unix or Linux environment." Users can download the software over anonymous FTP, so there's no collection of names for mailing lists or other privacy issues, he added.

With that in mind, here are some of the most popular downloads over the past several months. (The live link takes you to an FTP site for downloads):

'Bash' -- the Bourne Again Shell -- This is the popular GNU Bash, the GNU Project's Bourne Again SHell, a complete implementation of the POSIX.2 shell spec, plus many other features. Its availability makes it easier for people to do their work in a familiar environment.

'X11R6.6' -- An upgrade from X11R5 shipped with SFU, it allows more recent/current X11 code to be developed with and ported to SFU/Windows.

'OpenSSH' -- The safe and secure standard for communications between machines across the Internet. With server and client SSH available, safe, secure remote access to Windows machines is easily accomplished. Open SSH is based on OpenBSD's excellent OpenSSH port. It depends on Zlib and OpenSSL.

'gcc 3.3' -- The Open developer's choice for compiling and debugging programs. This upgrade from the SFU release provides for faster binaries and comes with an improved 'gdb' for debugging.