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True application meltdown story: IT pro discovers Windows and Linux don't play nice

A time-consuming integration snag forces a diehard Linux IT pro to install a Windows 2000 Server.

Jeff Small's assignment seemed easy enough: install four nodes, one server and a firewall for a concrete and re-bar company.

The customer only one had firm requirement -- that the system run Microsoft Office. The customer's office was small, so the job didn't require BackOffice Server or other special servers.

Small, an IT consultant in Austin, Texas, figured the project was a perfect opportunity to integrate Linux. Linux is his favorite operating system, but he doesn't get to work with it that often. He almost always has to implement Windows for his customers.

Unfortunately, Small's project didn't work out the way he'd planned: Windows just wouldn't play nicely with Linux. But he made this discovery only after becoming mired in technical incompatibilities and missed deadlines.

Here's what happened:

The company chose Windows XP for its PCs. At the time, the first XP support pack was soon to be released, and Small figured the service pack would eliminate at least the bigger software bugs.

The server installation was smooth; Small loaded Red Hat Linux without a hitch. He configured the server to run SAMBA, the open-source implementation of Microsoft's SMB protocol. Then he installed and configured the workstations and installed a Linux firewall.

Small didn't set up a Windows domain -- "not to be confused with a DNS domain" -- because the workgroup mode was to serve a small network.

"And I had read some discussions on the Web about putting SAMBA servers in a domain with WinXP boxes," Small said. "So, I planned to avoid those pitfalls by using the simplest network configuration."

But the Windows browser on workstations didn't recognize the Linux server.

"I could ping the server just fine, but it did not show up in the browser list in My Network Places," Small said. "I put the sniffer on the network and watched the workstations elect the master browser."

The Linux server dutifully announced its presence to the workgroup, but it still did not show up in the Windows browser.

At this point, Small needed to make a business decision. He had bid and won the project based on a flat fee. Every unexpected hour of work he logged on the project cost him money. The project was sucking up time that Small could be using to help other clients or pitch new business.

"I had already used several extra hours trying to make it work, checking and re-checking my configuration," Small said.

The client didn't care whether Linux was in the network mix. The company only wanted a functioning network to help run a business. To wrap up the project, Small replaced the Red Hat Linux server with a Windows 2000 Server.

"The customer was a little leery of Linux anyway because they had never seen a Linux machine before," Small said. "They were not opposed to switching to Windows."

Of course, the catch was that the change came with a higher-than-expected price tag. The Windows 2000 Server and five client access licenses cost an additional $1,000 and came with an administrative task: Small had to register with the Microsoft Open Licensing Program. With Linux, there had been no comparable step.

Then Small got more bad news: the XP workstations still didn't recognize the server, despite the Windows 2000 Server replacement.

The administrative tasks piled on. Small unsuccessfully searched Microsoft's Web site for clues and called Windows 2000 Server tech support, but he couldn't wait long enough to get a technician on the line.

Small remembers banging his head against the wall for a week while trying different methods. Then relief arrived.

"Service Pack 3 for Windows 2000 was made available," he said. "After applying SP3 on the server, SP1 on the workstations and Office SP1 -- and all of the security updates -- the network worked."

Small wasn't able to install a Linux server for his client, but he was able to install a Linux firewall.

"All of my clients have firewalls with Linux, and I never have to work on them," Small said. "They just run and run."

Chalk up one small victory for a Linux fan.

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