Microsoft Frees Up Windows Services for UNIX

Microsoft is holding a carrot on a stick out to UNIX and Linux users. The company's Windows Services for UNIX 3.5 (SFU 3.5), formerly retailing for $99.95 US, is now a free download.

Version 3.5 of the software promises greatly improved cross-platform interoperability, as well as beefed up administrative and managerial functionality. On top of the cross-platform bells and whistles, SFU 3.5 also allows UNIX applications to be made accessible through .NET Web services.

Redmond's efforts to smooth out the wrinkles posed by the interaction between Windows Servers and commercially popular UNIX distributions earned it a nomination as a finalist for this year's LinuxWorld Product Excellence Awards in the Best System Integration Solution category.

Performance versus SFU 3.0 is upward bound thanks to a recreation of the Network File System (NFS). This allows files to be accessed between operating systems with fewer headaches. In addition, support is optimized for Windows Server 2003's Active Directory service through targeted improvements to two-way password synchronization, user-name mapping, and the Server for Network Information Service (NIS).

Microsoft also boasts better UNIX command-line capabilities and an expanded array of complementary tools and utilities to administer Windows environments and allow existing shell scripts to be reused with little or no modification. Interix subsystem technology allows applications to be recompiled for Windows with greater ease.

Another feature new to SFU 3.5 is its dynamic registry capabilities, which permit changes to be made to network settings without the need for disruptive reboots.

Detailed documentation of the changes made between the 3.0 and 3.5 milestones can be found at the Windows Services for UNIX product Website.

Commenting on the release, senior Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox stated, "Giving away SFU is shrewd. Microsoft is trying to scale Windows Server up into the enterprise, where UNIX already has good presence. At the same time, the company is trying to woo customers running Windows NT 4 Server, many of which may also run UNIX, to move to Windows Server 2003."

A Microsoft spokesperson told BetaNews that the company’s motivations for slashing off the product's price tag stem beyond the increased competition posed by Linux.

"Microsoft is offering SFU 3.5 for free because customers requested an affordable easy-to-use interoperability product between Windows and other operating systems, Microsoft is able to offer a free uniform interoperability platform capable of interacting with the major flavors of UNIX," the spokesperson told BetaNews.

"SFU supports .NET Web services, which just more than half of businesses have deployed, and Active Directory," said Wilcox. "It's a big win for Microsoft if more traditional UNIX shops adding more Windows Server installations adopt .NET and the company’s directory services."

Earlier this month, Redmond endeavored to aggressively tackle Linux head on by kicking off a global advertising campaign encouraging IT customers to "get the facts" prior to adopting Linux as a solution. The Get the Facts Web site hosts links to comparative case studies and independent analysis that showcases proposed benefits of Windows over Linux and mainframe computers. Ads will grace the pages of technology publications over the next 18 months.

To further its UNIX push, Microsoft struck a deal with SCO in May, 2003 to license a technology patent and source code from the UNIX operating system to ensure compliance across its UNIX-based products.

This move drew the ire of open source advocates including Bruce Perens, who alleged Microsoft's "license payment to SCO is simply a good-looking way to pass along a bribe, coupled with an announcement designed to further intimidate Linux users."

Microsoft maintains that it was simply showing the importance of maintaining compatibility with UNIX.

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