Living free with Linux: 2 weeks without Windows

Can a dedicated Windows user make it for two weeks using only Linux? Preston Gralla tried it and lived to tell this tale.

That's when my troubles began. I have a half-dozen PCs on my home network, three of them running Vista, one running Windows Home Server, one running XP and one dual-boot Vista/XP machine. I've set up my Windows machines so that I can browse through each machine's hard disk, with password protection. (The exception is the Windows Home Server, which I can only access through the WHS client or via remote access, and which I primarily use for daily backups.)

Because of the vagaries of Windows Vista and Windows XP networking, I have two workgroups on my network -- WORKGROUP for Vista machines and MSHOME for XP machines. The dual-boot Vista/XP machine shows up in WORKGROUP when it boots to Vista, and MSHOME when it boots to XP. In addition, I have a Lexmark E120 network printer, which is connected directly to the network.

Networking with Ubuntu was flaky, to put it mildly. When I browsed the network, it showed only some of the PCs, and those it showed weren't accessible. Worse yet, PCs would sometimes show up and then mysteriously disappear. In addition, my Windows PCs couldn't see my Ubuntu machine, and I couldn't print from the Ubuntu machine to my Lexmark printer; the Ubuntu machine could see it, but not print to it.

For help, I turned to the pros -- Computerworld editor in chief Scot Finnie and Computerworld blogger and Linux guru Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, both of whom have successfully used Linux and Windows machines on the same networks. Their first advice: Install Samba, an open-source application designed to get Linux to work with Windows machines on a network.

Unfortunately, it only partially solved the problem. From my Linux machine, I now could clearly see the two workgroups on my network, and could see each machine within each workgroup. However, when I browsed the Windows Vista machines, I saw nothing -- directories were blank. When I browsed the XP machines, though, I could access their entire hard disks. My Vista machines could see my Ubuntu machine, but couldn't browse through it. And I still couldn't print to my Lexmark printer.

Finnie and Vaughan-Nichols both had plenty of good advice for me, which involved editing the Registry key LmCompatibilityLevel, changing authentication settings, making sure NetBIOS was turned on in the Vista machines and several other actions.

None of them, unfortunately, worked. As of this date, Ubuntu continues to work fine with my XP machines, but can't talk to the Vista ones. And I still can't print to the Lexmark printer. Does this mean that if you try networking a Ubuntu machine on your home network you'll run into the same problems? Not necessarily. Many people, including both Finnie and Vaughan-Nichols, have been able to get Linux machines to work properly with Windows machines on a network. I may well be the exception.

(And by the way, if anyone out there has advice on how to fix my Vista-Ubuntu networking problems, leave a note below, and I'll check it out.)

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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