Sleeping With the Enemy

From Microsoft Corp.’s point of view, Windows NT is the solution for enterprise requirements of any ilk. The Redmond, Wash.-based company has consistently pooh-poohed the idea that corporate computing environments require anything less than an all-Microsoft solution. But if anything, Windows NT’s inroad into the enterprise has demonstrated that UNIX machines aren’t going away, and that if Windows NT is to be a true contender in enterprise computing circles, it must learn to play nicely with its bigger, stronger UNIX brethren. Consequently, Microsoft announced in early May the Windows NT Services for UNIX Add-On Pack.

"Microsoft is beginning to grow up and realize that to get into the enterprise, they have to be on speaking terms with everyone else in the enterprise," observes Dan Kusnetzky, director of operating environments and serverware research with International Data Corp. (IDC, Framingham, Mass.).

But judging by Microsoft senior vice president Jim Allchin’s initial introduction of the Windows NT Services for UNIX Add-On Pack during his keynote address at the Networld+Interop trade show -- held in May in Las Vegas -- Microsoft is making nice with UNIX only grudgingly. Allchin discussed the forthcoming UNIX add-on pack only in passing, concluding: "Customers have been asking us for continued interoperability. If you're familiar with UNIX, you'll have an environment you're familiar with on NT."

But in recent weeks, Microsoft has put a much more friendly face on its UNIX-to-NT interoperability efforts. Steve Ballmer, executive vice president of Microsoft’s sales and support worldwide business strategy group, discussed the need for interoperability between UNIX and Windows NT at Microsoft’s Tech-Ed conference, held earlier this month in New Orleans.

"We try to encourage you to do everything you do on Windows. But that’s not the way the world works," Ballmer acknowledged. "The world is a world in which there are a lot of other kinds of systems around, and we need to provide excellent tools to interoperate with the important other platforms that you own. We’ll always admit we have a hidden agenda that someday we’d love to migrate everything to Windows, but in the short term you need great interoperability tools."

Microsoft’s Windows NT Services for UNIX Add-On Pack will include resource sharing, remote administration, password synchronization and scripting functionality.

According to Microsoft, Windows NT Workstation users will be able to access files on UNIX systems by using a version of the Access NFS client that Microsoft licensed from Intergraph Corp. (Huntsville, Ala., www.intergraph.com/software). Microsoft is also including a TELNET daemon or service with the Window NT Services for UNIX Add-On Pack that it says will provide administrators with the ability to remotely log into a host and execute commands on Windows NT or UNIX-based systems.

Microsoft will also include KornShell, from Mortice Kern Systems Inc. (Waterloo, Ontario, www.mks.com), in addition to more than 25 UNIX scripting commands.

David Pensak, a principal consultant and senior research fellow in advanced computing technology with DuPont Corp. (Wilmington, Del.), says that he welcomes any attempts on Microsoft’s part to improve interoperability between Windows NT and UNIX systems. "[I’m for] anything that [Microsoft] can do that will really improve interoperability so that they don’t force us to make a choice between them and something else that already works," Pensak confirms. "If they box us in the position where it’s either UNIX or NT but not cooperation, then I wind up having to spend money unnecessarily, no matter what happens. Interoperability will save me money, and I appreciate it."

Olive branch overtures to an existing UNIX base aside, IDC’s Kusnetzky sees the Windows NT Services for UNIX Add-On Pack as an attempt on Microsoft’s part to establish some presence in the dynamic market for UNIX-to-Windows NT interoperability tools. "Once again, Microsoft has waited for others to prove a market. Once it's obvious that money is going on, Microsoft wants its fair share," Kusnetzky maintains. "This product is nothing more than packing up other folks’ products. Many companies, including Data Focus, Softway Systems and almost all of the UNIX system vendors, have had similar capabilities for quite some time."