Give XP a UNIX flavour with SFU 3.5

Years ago, I wrote that UNIX was essentially dead and would be forgotten soon. However, thanks to the open source-led renaissance of UNIX and similar operating systems, plus the Internet, I’ve had to eat those words. UNIX and derivatives are everywhere, and having Windows interoperate with it makes life easier in many ways.

Although you could run a Linux emulation layer like Cygwin www.cygwin.com or the U/WIN www.research.att.com UNIX on Windows package from AT&T, Microsoft now has a native solution downloadable for free. Windows Services for UNIX 3.5 (SFU 3.5) is available from www.microsoft.com but it’s a big download — around 220MB — so unless you’re on fast Internet connection, you might be better off calling Microsoft Australia on 13 2058 to see if you can order SFU 3.5 on a CD.

SFU 3.5 has been developed for Microsoft by Interop Systems (www.interopsystems.com) and is described as being able to provide a “fully-integrated environment for rehosting UNIX applications on Windows”. This means that through the Interix technology in SFU 3.5, you now have access to a huge amount of open source software, including the C, Korn and Bash command shells, the powerful Perl scripting language, the Apache Web server, the Secure Shell for encrypted remote access, and much more.

Click here for a screen shot of the SFU management console.

Click here for a screen shot of Bash on Windows thanks to SFU 3.5.

Development tools are also available, including the GNU C compiler (gcc), debugger (gdb) and ‘make’ utility. The general idea behind SFU 3.5 is to help UNIX administrators migrate to Windows. However, I suspect most people will use SFU 3.5 to add UNIX functionality and features to Windows, instead.

Installing SFU 3.5 is straightforward, as are all native Windows applications. Custom installation choices are available if you want to pick the appropriate authentication methods and username mappings, for instance, for your network setup. SFU 3.5 can be set up to provide an NIS (Network Information Service) domain service which in turn can be integrated with Active Directory, but these things are more for server use. For the user mapping and password authentication, the SFU 3.5 installer asks you to copy over the group and passwd files from the UNIX/Linux/BSD server to which you’ll be connecting your Windows box. I put them in %windir%\system32\drivers\etc because it’s already in the system path and is the Windows equivalent to the UNIX /etc configuration file directory.

Note that there are security implications to consider with SFU 3.5: once installed, a number of services such as NFS client and server, as well as remote shell (rsh), may be started up and they shouldn’t be exposed directly to the Internet or other untrusted networks. In other words, make sure you firewall that SFU 3.5 box well. A final installation ‘gotcha’ comes if you’ve performance-tuned Windows and turned off the POSIX subsystem — SFU 3.5 won’t work without it.

Once SFU 3.5 is installed, go to Start-All Programs-Windows Services for UNIX where you will find the C and Korn shells have been installed, as well the SFU management console which lets you administrate the telnet server and user mapping/authentication. Oddly enough, you still have to fire up the Service management console (services.mmc) to start up the cron and remote shell daemons.

After you’ve got over the shock of being able to list Windows directories with ‘ls’ and running csh and ksh scripts, you may want to add to SFU 3.5. Go to www.interopsystems.com and check out the freely downloadable goodies like the Bash shell that comes with most Linux distributions, development and scripting tools like yacc, awk, autoconf and automake, remote access utilities and terminal emulators like xterm, and of course the amazingly good xgalaga coordination training tool that no UNIX administrator can be without.

The Desktop-X 2.0 tool (www.interopsystems.com) is not free but is useful if you want to run X Windows applications on Windows. It allows you to run X Windows apps on a remote server and display them on your Windows machine, with full clipboard support between the two platforms. The Desktop-X/LE version runs X Windows applications on your Windows computer, and displays them there — nice if you don’t want to bog down the network with graphical applications. SFU is pretty well documented on Microsoft’s TechNet site (www.microsoft.com/technet) although only up to version 3.0 at time of writing. Peer support is available through newsgroups (www.microsoft.com/windows), even though access is through Microsoft’s clunky Web interface.

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