|Windows NT/2000 seems to be Microsoft's answer to everything: file server, workstation, application server, etc. Makes you wonder how it can be good at all of them. Well, it's not. And frankly, shared file service isn't even a top priority; they're too busy trying to turn it into a stable web platform. For example, after Microsoft bought Hotmail and converted the system from FreeBSD to Windows, performance suffered badly (which is to say nothing of its chronic security problems). Its new "Active Directory" authentication system works only with other Windows 2000 servers (or clones such as Samba), making it nearly useless for integrating mixed environments.|
|Most independent analysts agree: Novell Netware is the best file/print/authentication server available. It's certainly less prone to the kinds of security problems that plague every version of Windows (and yes, even Unix-like systems). It's a fast, secure, and extensible platform that (not coincidentally) can typically run indefinitely without being rebooted, and the only mainstream "network operating system" to survive as Microsoft killed off LANtastic, Vines, Pathworks, 3Open, and all the others. It doesn't get the same amount of slavish press attention as Windows, but the latest internet-accessible version of Netware is particularly impressive, and their increasing integration of its services with Linux suggests a strong future for Novell. Their NDS eDirectory service (included with Netware, available for Unix-like and Windows servers as well) is a mature technology that's still superior to Microsoft's latest attempt at it (Active Directory).|
|Samba does what a Windows server does... on Unix. It's a robust, efficient, and free open-source implementation of Microsoft's networking protocols, offering the same file, print, and login services to any machine that can access a Windows server. It can interoperate with (and even fully replace) other domain servers and has full support for Active Directory. For a Windows workstation, that means you can use just the standard Client for Microsoft Networks and TCP/IP. Why shell out the bucks for additional client licenses to a Windows server and the brand-new hardware needed to run it, when you can drop an unlimited-users Samba server in its place for just the cost of the hardware? Heck, on equivalent hardware, Samba's faster! In addition to Unix-like servers (including Mac OS X, where it's a key part of Apple's integration strategy), it's available for OpenVMS, IBM MVS, OS/2, and even Amiga.|
|NFS (Network File System) is a robust and mature file-sharing system designed for Unix (primarily by Sun), but accessible from most other operating systems. Both client and server components are included free with most Unix-like operating systems (including Mac OS X), where nfs can transparently insert a remote directory anywhere into a local directory tree (e.g. /home/tsmith is on a local drive but /home/mjones is on another machine). Additional client software is needed for non-Unix clients (such as Windows or BeOS), so it's not as economical as Samba in a Windows-heavy environment, but it can be the perfect glue to hold together a diverse computing environment.|
|AppleShare is the latest incarnation of the venerable AppleTalk, which makes it an obvious alternative for Mac users who haven't moved to OS X Server (which includes both NFS and Samba file/print sharing). It also supports Windows clients using the included software, which means it's also a good choice for environments with some PCs thrown into the mix along with the Macs. The package includes web and e-mail services (both POP and IMAP) as well.|
|IBM's OS/2warp is the operating system that Windows NT was designed to copy. It's stable and multitasks well because it was designed from the ground up for it. Unfortunately, NT won the market share wars, and IBM has pretty much given up on OS/2's future development, but it's a stable, useful server OS, and it's still supported... for now.|
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