Three keys to coexistence

Integration with UNIX will undoubtedly prove to be a cornerstone of the ongoing Windows NT success story. After all, NT is ideally suited to move into UNIX environments: NT's powerful workstation and server features rival those of even the most powerful UNIX workstations and servers. At the same time, though, NT is rarely in a position to replace existing UNIX systems because NT is not binary compatible with any UNIX version, and plenty of UNIX-based applications haven't been moved over to the NT environment. That state of affairs means NT must coexist and interoperate with UNIX systems in the same network.

Fortunately, integrating NT and UNIX is possible. Ironically, though, few integration services come from Microsoft. Most integration products and services come from third-parties that have strong ties to both the UNIX and NT markets. Without these third-party companies, no discussion of NT and UNIX integration would be feasible. In fact, little interest in deploying NT in UNIX environments would arise. To put this situation in better perspective, let's look at the basic UNIX integration services that come with NT.

Microsoft Integration Services
After you spin the standard Windows NT distribution CD-ROM (3.51 or 4.0) into your system, you find only a handful of lackluster tools to handle UNIX coexistence and interoperability. Microsoft's TCP/IP stack is a good start, but it provides only a lackluster implementation of Telnet and FTP. Yes, you can use Microsoft's Telnet and FTP to access applications and share data on UNIX systems, but neither of these tools is as powerful or flexible as any of the available third-party, commercial versions of Telnet or FTP (a list of products is on page 44). For example, Microsoft's Telnet implementation supports only basic VT52 and VT100 emulation, and the FTP utility is a command-line, character-mode program.

If you have a full-blown intranet, you can achieve some integration by using the Windows NT Server 4.0 Web-based services. NT 4.0's highly capable Web server, Internet Information Server (IIS), supports Web, gopher, and anonymous FTP access. Unfortunately, most corporations choose not to take advantage of intranets as interoperability solutions and limit them to use for information dispersal. Another possibility is to use the NT Server 4.0 Domain Name System (DNS) to provide name serving to UNIX clients, but it is hardly a dramatically useful integration tool.

So how can you improve the integration of NT and UNIX? Well, you can purchase the Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 Resource Kit. It includes a POSIX subsystem that lets you give NT a look and feel somewhat like UNIX's. I say somewhat because the Resource Kit's POSIX subsystem includes only a handful of commands and utilities: specifically, cat, chmod, chown, cp, find, grep, ls, ln, mkdir, mv, perl, rm, rmdir, sh, touch, vi, and wc.

The Resource Kit has a Telnet server utility and TCP/IP-based mail server software. The former lets you Telnet into the NT command-line environment and run simple character-mode commands and programs. The latter lets NT act as a Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)/Post Office Protocol (POP) server in your network.

Three Key Needs
Microsoft's tools are useful, but they don't deliver full-scale NT and UNIX integration. So what, do you need for NT and UNIX integration? In most combined environments, the interoperability requirements boil down to one or all of these three needs:

1. NFS for realtime, bidirectional file-and-printer sharing

2. X-terminal access from NT systems to UNIX hosts to run native X applications

3. X-terminal access from UNIX hosts (or X-terminals) to NT to run native Windows applications

Of course, these three areas are not the only integration concerns. Users migrating to NT will insist on a UNIX-friendly command-line environment, systems administrators will demand tape backup software compatible with UNIX tape formats, and developers will require tools to help port programs from UNIX to NT. These concerns are important, but they are secondary to NFS integration, X-terminal emulation, and X access to Windows applications.

Fortunately, the list of Third-Party Windows NT and UNIX Integration Products shows, companies are addressing the gamut of integration areas. The numerous integration areas and products that address those areas demonstrate the industry's interest in moving NT into UNIX environments.