August 03, 2010, 9:47 PM — "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet," is a line from Rudyard Kipling's The Ballad of East and West. It could also apply to Windows and Linux. If you don't know what you're doing, getting the two to meet on the network can seem like it's almost impossible. Fortunately, it has gotten easier over time.
It's not a job though for an average Linux administrator or a Windows Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) who's still wet behind the ears. While parts of it, such as sharing files and printers across a network between Windows and Linux systems, are simple enough, bridging the gap between Active Directory (AD) and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) requires some serious network engineering.
The first part, simply sharing files and printers, can be handled by using Samba as a server or as a client on Linux and Mac desktops. Samba is an open-source program that provides Server Message Block/Common Internet File System (SMB/CIFS) file services. With Samba, your Linux servers can act just like Windows file and printer servers to all your desktop clients. Whether your PCs run Windows 7, XP, Mac OS X, Snow Leopard, or Ubuntu, Samba can get the files to them whenever they need them without much fuss or muss.
But, once you start trying to manage logins and authentication between Linux and Windows systems with just AD or by combining LDAP and AD, things can get complicated. One way to handle this is just not to use AD at all. I know, I know, that's heresy to Windows administrators. But, for small to medium business networks, an LDAP implementation such as OpenLDAP may be all you need for both Windows and Linux servers and desktops. If you need more, there are other network directories that can work for both operating systems that come with enterprise-level support such as Novell's eDirectory.