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Microsoft servers (both Web and email) include a proprietory protocol called NTLM that's used to pass user information to the server. The server uses that information to grant or deny the user access to server resources such as websites or mailboxes. Clients like Mozilla that support NTLM are spared from throwing up additional dialog boxes to the user. So NTLM support in Mozilla (including Thunderbird) is an ease-of use issue. If you happen to have NTLM rolled out, then Mozilla can work with it, although there are still a few outstanding isses. When moving from Windows to Unix, NTLM support in Linux-based clients and servers like Mozilla and Apache makes the migration slightly less painless. NTLM is really a variant on "Windows for Workgroups". If you were to architect Linux services from the ground up, rather than mimicking Windows, then Kerberos is an equivalent technology. Workgroup computing on Linux really just comes down to plain /etc/group groups, though.
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