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Expert describes Samba in action

Samba Team co-founder John H. Terpstra got an earful when he asked dozens of IT pros what they need from the freeware that enables Linux and Unix servers to act as a file or print server for Windows client PCs. For one thing, they described Microsoft's stranglehold on their environments and their aversion to risk. They said they need to migrate off of Microsoft NT4, and they know that Samba 3 that can help them do that. But, to reduce their risks, they want to see Samba in action in an environment similar to their own.

In this interview, Terpstra describes the migration and technology challenges facing corporate IT shops. He also reveals how his interviews spurred the creation of his upcoming book, Samba by Example. This book is a follow-up to the recently published The Official Samba-3 HOWTO and Reference Guide, which Terpstra edited with Jelmer Vernooij.

In your interviews with users, did you find that systems administrators are often unprepared for the political issues that come up during a migration project?
Oh, yes. Too many administrators don't consider the psychology of the user. In the new book, there's mention of a case of a network administrator -- one of the brightest guys I have ever met -- who came in to handle a barely satisfactory environment and many disgruntled users. It was an environment where users could install software on their own machines. He inflicted on them in one step the very latest and the greatest in IT with the tightest controls possible. So, they couldn't install anything on their machines and couldn't even do save files on their desktops. The users screamed. Needless to say, he didn't last long, even though the system works well.

On the other side, I met a systems administrator who always rolls things out in little steps. At Friday lunch sessions, his users ... talk to him. He encourages them to tell him about their IT problems. When he comes up with a new implementation, he gets his users' support for it in these casual sessions. Users think he is wonderful. His philosophy says to always keep a few new tricks up your sleeve for a rainy day.

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People want to see how a Samba solution would function in the context of their network environment.
John Terpstra
Co-founderSamba Team
Why are you writing a second book about Samba 3?
People read the first book and said, "We need more example configuration files. We need to see more of how this thing works." So I interviewed quite a few system administrators and users and people from the mailing list, asking them what else they wanted to know about Samba. [The new book] has come out of that.

What I discovered is that people want to see how a Samba solution would function in the context of their network environment. In my interviews, I talked to people from small, middle-sized and large sites. I used their real networks as my example template. I covered migration from Windows NT4 to Samba 3, integration of Samba as a domain member server, Samba and Microsoft Active Directory; Samba with Linux in an Active Directory framework, using SQUID to authenticate users. I've included the steps involved in setting up DHCP, DNS, OpenLDAP for the passdb back end, locking down a Windows XP Professional workstation, doing folder re-direction and more. Each scenario is discussed from the perspective of the company that I have used as an example.

John Terpstra
What challenges face corporate Samba users who want to move their desktops from Microsoft platforms, or want to move applications to Linux and open source?
Alternatives to Microsoft Windows on the desktop are growing in number. The challenge is that many businesses have processes that are really tied to Microsoft Office. The front-running alternative today is OpenOffice, which is a great product, but it does not offer perfect file interoperability. OpenOffice is getting there, but it still poses a challenge.

Secondly, if a company switches to Linux, it loses Microsoft Internet Explorer. The alternative Web browser of choice in many situations is Mozilla, which is very good, but it's not identical to Internet Explorer. Also, there are a significant number of Web sites that cannot be accessed without Internet Explorer. That's a limiting factor.

To a large degree, however, the business applications [that] people need for a non-Windows desktop already exist. Where Samba plays is providing an alternative back end. With an alternative back end, you can begin to migrate the desktop. You can do it at your leisure, because you are no longer dependent upon that particular Windows server at the back end.

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