Can SAMBAdy Explain This?
By Gary Penn, September 21, 2001
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It’s not always easy being a “Mac tech” in a world where the Macintosh holds less than a five percent share of the desktop market and probably half that in corporate environments. When my company wanted to move from Macs to Windows-based PCs in order to use a proprietary software package that required Internet Explorer 5.0 for Windows, I could fight the power no longer. I obtained my Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification and began to explore the only alternative to complete Mac ostracism: integration.
In this PC-eat-Mac world, my 16 years of hands-on Mac experience taught me one important lesson: don’t let your AppleShare server go if you retain Macs on the network. Even after the iMac-colored revolution, it’s still true that Macs and non-Apple products don’t always play nicely. You used to be able to use grappling hooks and adapters to make third-party printers, for example, work. Do you really want to do the same with your mission critical server data?
Let’s pretend for a moment that you are not able to finagle your president, CEO or CIO into using an antiquated networking technology from the ’80s (namely, AppleTalk) in lieu of using the industry standard which, from the 1960s on has been TCP/IP. In other words, the world has moved on and left AppleTalk behind and even Apple is aware of this.
Mac OS 9 introduced Mac-to-Mac file sharing via TCP/IP, and it was wondrous indeed. It also brought us Apple’s iTools (not to be confused with the Tenon server product), which seamlessly integrated the Internet into the Finder. But if Macs are to work in corporate America, they’re going to need cross-platform file sharing and domain-friendly server software.
What they needed was Mac OS X.
Welcome the interconnected Macintosh/server revolution, which may finally spark the business world’s interest in the Mac as a serious workplace solution. Mac OS X is a pure IP platform, in that BSD is built on the TCP networking protocol. Beautiful. But you’ve read this a thousand times since Apple began marketing Copland in the early ’90s – so what does it all mean to you?
Essentially, it means that you have more options than ever for helping heterogeneous operating systems (either clients or servers) communicate. Let’s start with the simplest option and move towards the most complicated.
1) TCP/IP Tools: FTP, secure Telnet, and HTTP. These tools are surely the most standardized way to go for simple communication between clients and servers. OS X is simultaneously a user-friendly desktop machine and a powerful server. It comes with a built-in secure Telnet server for communicating and administering (all the way down to rebooting the sucker) from anywhere in the world. Just check off the “Allow remote login” checkbox in the Sharing panel in System Preferences. You can transfer files with FTP as well. This is a simple matter of checking the “Allow FTP access” checkbox in the Sharing panel of System Preferences. I recommend creating a specific user rather than allowing an anonymous user. For sharing text files, just turn on the built-in Apache Web server. In Mac OS 9, turning on Personal Web Sharing was a wimpy, underpowered way to share files. Not so with Mac OS X. Apache is one of the most popular and powerful Web serving applications, but it should be noted, if you’re not an experienced Webmaster you might want to leave this option off and spare yourself potential security headaches. And interested newbies can try Tenon’s iTools for a point-and-click interface to the depths of Apache.
2) Netopia Inc.’s Timbuktu Pro has been a staple for Mac administrators since long before anyone had heard of Symantec’s pcAnywhere for Windows. Timbuktu Pro allows a few beautiful things: file transfer, remote control of the desktop similar to Unix’s remote X Windows, chat and voice over IP. In addition, it’s simple to use and fully cross-platform. Actually, if you want to use Windows on your Mac and don’t want to use Connectix Corporation’s Virtual PC, Timbuktu Pro is a great way to share one screen, one keyboard, one OS. It’s truly amazing.
3) Samba. This is the latest, greatest and most involved solution available right now (Mac OS 10.1 promises to simplify things but we’ll get to that later). Essentially, Windows NT, 2000 and XP are all native Samba (also known as Server Message Block or SMB) servers. So, if you get an SMB client running, you are suddenly connected to the world of Windows networking. Two shareware programs currently available for download are ObjectiveDevelopment’s Sharity and the more popular DAVE by Thursby. Of the two, Sharity is the more complicated to use; unless you have a great need to specify which mount point your servers load up to, which CFIS server you take permissions from, etc., I’m going to say that DAVE is just plain easier. DAVE comes with a standard OS X package installer and actually was the first application I’ve seen to implement the System Preferences panels configuration. The setup is as easy if not easier than any of Apple’s installers, and if you have a Windows server in place, this is the way to go. DAVE also allows two-way sharing (PC-to-Mac or Mac-to-PC). Furthermore, if you administer any Unix or Linux box, you can install a Samba server in much the same way. I went to samba.org and downloaded the latest release with ease; however, setup and configuration on my Mandrake box was none too pleasant. The version that came installed with Mandrake 8 for some reason did not like me. When Mac OS 10.1 is released, it will ship with a built-in SMB client. Sharity and DAVE will likely be used by those who need highly configurable network setup configurations in a point-and-click format.
4) Speaking of Mac OS 10.1, with it you’ll have one other option for exchanging data with a Windows server. Mac OS 10.1 is once again going to support the decades-old Apple File Protocol (AFP). This is currently how most Macs talk with AppleShare servers (unless they’ve been specifically restricted to IP-only). Mac OS X, unfortunately, doesn’t have AFP in its present incarnation. The way (I won’t say the most stable way) to connect the existing Mac OS X to a Windows NT server is to install Macintosh Services for Windows. This essentially allows easy exchange of files between the Windows NT box (which shows up in the Mac’s Chooser after installing the service) and the Mac client. Though I’m glad Apple is bringing back AFP for OS X and enabling legacy AppleShare server support, it’s really a big step backward to move to AFP in a modern network. Essentially it’s similar to buying a serial port and connecting to your PC over a hacked-out LocalTalk connection just because it’s easy. Remember, easy isn’t always the fastest or the most stable. And this technology probably won’t be supported two to three years from now.
Obviously it’s a new networking world with Mac OS X. Long-time BSD gurus will probably laugh as Mac users go agape at the raw power of Unix serving utilities. These gurus will have to wipe the drool off their own chins, though, when they see the Aqua GUI and the easy control it provides for all this power. Truth be told, we all stand to benefit from Mac OS X’s technology and open environment – even certified MCSEs.
Mr. Penn has spent the last seven years supporting Macs from AppleShare servers to professional workstations. He worked as the lead Mac tech for a large publisher on the East Coast before heading West to finish out his tour of duty as Director of IT for a financial firm that is 80% Mac OS mixed with Linux, Unix, Windows NT and 2000 computers. In his trials and tribulations he’s had the opportunity to work with PCs, PowerPCs non-Macs, Macs, clones, Alpha stations and even a BeBox.