Let your NT and UNIX systems communicate

To provide interoperability between UNIX and Windows NT systems, you typically need to use additional software and services. Many third-party UNIX interoperability add-on tools are available for NT systems, including file-and-print services, command shells, and scripting commands. To date, however, Microsoft has bundled only rudimentary interoperability tools with NT. NT ships with client software for FTP, a Telnet service, and several r commands (e.g., rexec), but these client tools don't provide a lot of interoperability. Microsoft's new Windows NT Services for UNIX Add-On Pack provides plenty of interoperability. Microsoft released the beta version in the summer of 1998 and released the add-on pack to the public at the end of 1998.

Tools in the Add-On Pack
Adopting software from other companies is a Microsoft tradition. This add-on pack includes services and utilities licensed from Intergraph and Mortice Kern Systems (MKS). The add-on pack combines these third-party utilities with Microsoft functionality to provide file-and-print services, remote administration, a new command shell and several scripting commands, and password synchronization.

File-and-Print Services
A common user complaint is that users can't share UNIX and NT file-and-print resources. Microsoft's add-on pack includes DiskAccess and DiskShare, software from Intergraph's AccessNFS Solutions line. DiskAccess provides NT-based client connectivity so you can access file-and-print resources on UNIX servers or other NFS-based servers. DiskShare lets NT servers and workstations perform NFS server functions, so that UNIX and other NFS clients can access NT file-and-print resources. The add-on pack also includes Intergraph's batch-processing solution and X-terminal software so that users can access X-based UNIX applications from NT systems.

Remote Administration
The add-on pack includes a Telnet service so that UNIX clients can access NT systems remotely. If you run a Telnet server on your NT system, UNIX users can access the NT system if they use a standard Telnet client. When users log on to the Telnet client, the client presents an NT command shell. Users can then type in commands and run programs as if they were using a local NT system command shell. Users can also use NT's built-in Telnet client to connect to remote UNIX systems.

Command Shell and Scripting Commands
UNIX aficionados might balk at using an NT command shell. The NT command shell probably seems primitive to users accustomed to UNIX-style command shells. However, UNIX command shells are similar to NT's DOS command shells. UNIX command shells give you more options for running commands and programs from a text-based command line.

MKS' tools help UNIX users become accustomed to NT's command shell. Microsoft has licensed MKS's KornShell and more than 25 MKS scripting commands and executables for the add-on pack. Numerous shells are available for NT systems (e.g., borne, bash, csh); however, the MKS KornShell has an excellent track record.

MKS' KornShell helps UNIX users feel at home using NT systems. KornShell lets users use scripting commands to automate processes and administrative tasks on NT and UNIX systems. Also, users can create automation scripts to use within the shell.

The scripting commands included in the add-on pack are a subset of the MKS Toolkit commands. The licensed subset includes awk, grep, dig, uuencode, and diff. All these commands offer functionality that you can't easily get using other NT utilities.

Password Synchronization
Historically, users lacked an adequate means of synchronizing NT and UNIX passwords because each OS uses a different method to obscure and store passwords. Fortunately, Microsoft has included one-way password synchronization software in the add-on pack. Screen 1 shows the password synchronization configuration file.

One-way password synchronization software hooks into NT and lets NT and UNIX systems share passwords. When users change their password on an NT system, the UNIX system automatically receives the new password. Unfortunately, the software only synchronizes NT passwords to UNIX.

Why didn't Microsoft include the ability to synchronize passwords from UNIX to NT? The answer probably resides in the notion that Microsoft wants NT to be the platform of choice, and having systems administrators manage user account information on an NT system forces UNIX users to use an NT system. Microsoft's plan makes good marketing sense; however, the plan also opens the market to third-party vendors who want to produce software that synchronizes UNIX passwords to NT.

The add-on pack introduces much-needed interoperability between UNIX and NT systems. However, the add-on pack doesn't include an NT-based X-Windows client or server, and the KornShell and associated scripts and binaries don't provide all the functionality a user needs.

Third-party vendors will benefit from the add-on pack. For instance, Softway Systems expects the add-on pack to stimulate sales of the company's Interix middleware solution (formerly OpenNT). Interix lets you run UNIX-based applications on NT without having to rewrite program code and introduces X-server capabilities to NT.

NetManage is working with Microsoft to ensure that its Chameleon UNIX Link software is compatible with the add-on pack. One of Chameleon UNIX Link's best features is a tool that lets users access UNIX-style X-terminal-based applications with a Web browser. Chameleon UNIX Link also includes an NFS server, an FTP client, and terminal emulators.

The Future
Will the add-on pack become part of Windows 2000 (Win2K, formerly NT 5.0)? Based on Microsoft's interest in penetrating the UNIX server market, my guess is that Microsoft will bundle the add-on pack and a lot of other software with Win2K.

Windows NT Services for UNIX Add-On Pack
Contact: Microsoft * 800-426-9400
Web: http://www.microsoft.com
Related Web Addresses
For more information about the add-on pack, third-party upgrade options, and other complementary software packages, visit the following URLs:
http://www.microsoft.com/ windows/news/september1998/ ntserv4unix.asp
http://www.microsoft.com/ntserver
http://www.integraph.com
http://www.mks.com
http://www.interix.com
http://www.netmanage.com/ products/unixlink
Corrections to this Article:
  • "Windows NT Services for UNIX Add-On Pack" contained contradictory statements about whether the add-on pack includes X-terminal software for accessing X Windows-based UNIX applications from Windows-based systems. The add-on pack does not include this component. However, Integraph offers several upgrade options for the add-on pack (including a batch-processing solution and X-terminal software) in its AccessNFS Solutions line.