Much has been said about the evils of vendor lock-in. The reality is that there are definite advantages to being a "Windows shop," particularly in terms of manageability and unified IT support. We like the idea of introducing Linux or Mac OS X into our companies, but it isn't always so easy in practice.
That's beginning to change, however, thanks in part to the efforts of Likewise Software. Likewise Open Spring '08, released today, is the latest version of a product that allows Linux, Mac OS X, and other Unix systems to authenticate against Microsoft Active Directory servers. This makes it possible for network administrators to manage Unix systems the same way they do Windows clients. And the best part is that the software is free.
Active Directory integration allows IT managers to add and delete user accounts, manage passwords, and set up user permissions from a central console, reducing the time and resources needed to manage a corporate network. This in turn makes it easier to log and audit user activity, which can be essential for compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley and other regulations.
Likewise (nee Centeris) has provided these capabilities for Unix systems since 2005, but it wasn't until December 2007 that it released the code for its core product as an open source project. With the Spring '08 release, Likewise Open is available as a free download for over 110 Linux, Unix, and Mac platforms. The software will be bundled with the forthcoming Ubuntu 8.04 desktop Linux distribution, due to arrive in April, and you can expect to see it included in future releases from Novell and Red Hat. Users of Mac OS X and other platforms can download it from Likewise's Web site.
The free version doesn't give you everything. If you need group policy management, user migration tools, compliance reporting software, or snap-ins for Microsoft Management Console, you'll need to purchase the Likewise Enterprise edition. And, as usual, proper commercial support is available for a fee.
Still, the release of this technology as an open source project is a big deal. When any Linux, Unix, or Mac OS X system can integrate with Active Directory for free, one of the nagging hurdles to business adoption of non-Windows operating systems has effectively been eliminated. The question is: Has Microsoft matured enough in its attitudes that it can see this as a good thing? Or, given Microsoft's tight control of its technologies and protocols, are Linux's newfound capabilities destined to be short-lived?