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RealTime IT News

Microsoft Improves Unix Migration Tool

Microsoft released a point upgrade to its Windows Services for UNIX (SFU) as a free download Thursday, hoping to swing businesses running on the fading UNIX OS to Windows Server.

SFU 3.5 lets Windows users work with the old-school multi-tasking operating system as well as Linux, Hewlett-Packard's HPUX, IBM's AIX and Sun Microsystem's Solaris.

UNIX, which enjoys a dominant position in the enterprise server market, has been losing ground in recent years to Microsoft's Windows and Linux. According to a September 2003 report by research firm IDC, the worldwide UNIX server market has declined more than $12 billion between 2002 and 2006, while Linux usage is expected to increase 34 percent in 2003.

Microsoft officials are hoping to get some of those defecting UNIX users to look at its Windows Server product line rather than Linux, which is more familiar ground for UNIX administrators (the Linux kernel is a UNIX derivative). IDC reports Windows servers are expected to grow only eight percent in 2003.

Dennis Oldroyd, Windows Server Group director, said the typical customer is running custom UNIX applications, such as a retail order management system, on a high-end server. They want to keep the application, but the server is nearing the end of its product lifecycle.

With SFU 3.5, Oldroyd said, developers can simply recompile the application and place it on a cheaper Windows server using the same commands they'd use in a UNIX environment. It makes for easier administration, because IT workers who know UNIX can use its familiar tools and utilities on the Windows platform.

"One skill-set is applicable across platforms," Oldroyd said. "You can run scripts that you wrote for a UNIX box on a Windows box. There's a more robust set of resources for the UNIX IT pro, and the environment that they would expect in UNIX."

The release is important for mixed shops running both UNIX and Windows machines, said industry analyst Rob Enderle. He said the point release isn't huge, but addresses a series of shortcomings in version 3.0.

"This allows the two platforms to more seamlessly work with each other, and it removes a lot of the cost of making things work."

Oldroyd said Microsoft has enhanced performance of SFU 3.5 across the board. The biggest gain, however, in version 3.5 is found in the Interix subsystem, which re-compiles UNIX applications for the Windows operating system. Normally a time-consuming project, Oldroyd said they got between 30 and 150 percent faster throughput times for Interix on SFU 3.5.

In internal tests, it increased throughput on the network file system (NFS) -- which lets users see files in both UNIX and Windows environments -- and network information server (NIS) -- a directory service for Windows Server 2003 that incorporates UNIX -- about 50 percent.

The point release adds support for multi-threaded applications and portable operating system interface for POSIX threads. It also offers enhanced tools and utilities, for example, by including a library set for graphical applications. The upgrade includes new versions of make, bind, sendmail, gcc, gdb, tar, and FTP . New to version 3.5 is a dynamic registry, which allows administrators to make changes to system settings without a reboot.

"Microsoft rightly understands that to scale into the enterprise, Windows needs to be as interoperable as possible with UNIX systems," said Jupiter Research Analyst Joe Wilcox. "This new release of the services for UNIX is just an extension of this interoperability effort, which has been going on for some time." (Jupiter Research and internetnews.com are owned by the same parent corporation.)

Microsoft's SFU 3.0 is usually sold for $99 a seat, but version 3.5 is available as a free download, said Microsoft's Oldroyd.

"With the increased emphasis on return on investment and reducing total cost of ownership in the last few years, there's greater discretion around IT investments," Oldroyd told internetnews.com. "That's the business situation into which we're releasing the product."

Jupiter's Wilcox said he saw the free download as less about competing with free software, however. "This is more about Microsoft moving Windows up in to the enterprise than it is about Microsoft competing with Linux," Wilcox said. "Not only does Microsoft want to sell more copies of Windows to enterprise customers, but this also is in the best interest of some of Microsoft's partners that also sell into the enterprise. "

In May 2003, Microsoft licensed UNIX technology from SCO Group , whose lawsuit against IBM claiming copyright infringement in some parts of Linux is working its way through the courts.

Also, SCO has cemented its relationship with Microsoft by providing SCO Authentication for Microsoft Active Directory, giving end users the ability to use a single login for a mixed Windows and UNIX environment, one of the new features in SFU 3.5.