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What’s a Samba (protocol) between friends?

by Daniel Drew Turner, August 6, 2001

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One of the quieter changes included in the next update to Apple Computer Inc.’s next-generation operating system could end up being one of the most significant for IT professionals. Mac OS X 10.1, announced July 18 and promised for September, should include a built-in SMB (Server Message Block) client, allowing Mac OS X 10.1-equipped Macs to connect to Windows NT, Windows 2000 and most Unix file servers that use the Samba protocol without the need for third-party software or special configuring.

According to the Web site, SMB is “the protocol by which a lot of PC-related machines share files and printers and other information such as lists of available files and printers.” This protocol is available natively on Windows NT, OS/2 and Linux (among others); other flavors of Windows and Unix can use various add-on software to support SMB. Samba itself is a free SMB and CIFS (Common Internet File System, a new SMB initiative) client and server, distributable under the GNU Public License.

On a puckish note, the Web site says that functionally, “Samba provides a complete replacement for Windows NT, Warp, NFS or Netware servers.”

Adrian M. Maestas, a support engineer at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Whitelight Systems Inc., said that he wasn’t sure if this feature alone would entice him to purchase more Macs for his company but, he said, “I would be more open to allow my users to bring their Macs into the network.

“I doubt I would make a buying decision based on this, but if the Account Executive or someone wanted a Mac, I’d be more likely to give the thumbs up based on Mac OS X’s networking capabilities.”

He added that Mac OS X 10.1’s built-in SMB support would ease many of his concerns around supporting Macs at his company.

Maestas said that in the past he’s used many third-party applications in order to support a heterogeneous network environment, including Novell’s NDS driver and Netatalk for FreeBSD. He said that these might prove superfluous when working with Mac OS X 10.1: “You can get both of those for free but if the stuff is already on Mac OS X 10.1, then there is no need for them.” Joseph M. Fahs, an IT professional from upstate New York, echoed Maestas’ comments.

“The inclusion of the SMB standard is really good news for a lot of people,” he stated. “One of the biggest reasons [Windows] NT people didn’t like Macs was that they didn’t do SMB but used AppleTalk protocols instead.”

Fahs explained that AppleTalk had gained a reputation as a “chatty” protocol, one that sent “a lot” of packets across a network.

“With SMB included in Mac OS X, NT admins don’t have to turn on services for Macintoshes. Therefore,” he added, “there are fewer reasons for somebody to say that Macs aren’t allowed on the network.”

“The major significance with Apple including SMB is that it will presumably be as easy to access Windows servers as it is to access AppleShare volumes. Though there is Samba for Mac OS X, Sharity and DAVE [third-party products that allow cross-platform networking], they either cost money or require command-line knowledge” in order to use them.

Also planned for Mac OS X 10.1 is the ability to support AFP (Apple File Protocol) servers over the AppleTalk standard. According to Apple, this would enable those who administer networks to support Mac OS X-based Macs in legacy networks composed of AppleShare and Windows NT servers.

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