Likewise, I'm Sure

After the dust settled, it turns out that Samba and Likewise can co-exist after all.

It's funny, but when you talk to Jerry Carter, he doesn't sound like someone who's part of a conspiracy to bring down Linux/Windows interoperability and from there enable the downfall of Linux itself. He comes across as far less evil.

Yet last summer, Carter, who is Director of Engineering at Likewise Software, and his co-workers were practically accused of doing exactly that when Likewise CEO Barry Crist detailed the hows and whys of Likewise-CIFS pulling away from the Samba codebase.

But here we are, seven months later, and over a year after the initial release of Likewise-CIFS, and interoperability hasn't come to a screeching halt, Likewise is still growing, Samba is still growing, and the news of Linux's demise at the hands of Redmond is (still) decidedly premature.

So, what happened? In a nutshell, end users and developers didn't listen to the dire predictions and kept using the tool that was best for them, be it Samba or any of the Likewise products, including Likewise-CIFS, a commercial file server with full SMB and CIFS capabilities. Yes, software use based on technical merits--a stunning concept.

It has helped that, despite last September's flare up in the blogosphere, the teams at Likewise and the Samba project still have cordial relations and, according to Carter, still exchange technical information regularly. When I spoke to Carter last week, he was very much looking forward to the SambaXP 2010 conference starting today in Goum;ttingen, Germany, where a comparison between Samba 3 and Likewise is featured on the conference schedule.

These days, Carter has bigger issues to focus on: namely the general health and growth of the Likewise community.

It's a challenge that many open source projects have, though with a twist: the broader Likewise Open project has gotten a lot of commits--6800 as of April--with no signs of slowing. Couple that with over 50,000 downloads of Likewise Open, plus the additional user base from the inclusion of Likewise Open in Ubuntu, and the support Likewise Open has for Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Enterprise Linux Server, and one can be forgiven for asking "what's the problem?"

While participation for Likewise itself is not flagging, Carter sees the real potential growth in developers focusing beyond the Likewise code and onto a broader authentication ecosystem.

"On the developer side, Active Directory (AD) bridge software is really a niche market," Carter explained. "As [Likewise Open] 5.4 comes out, we believe it's providing a platform for application development."

The shift in perception to Likewise-as-platform is mirrored by Crist's own comments in a recent anniversary blog about Likewise-CIFS last month:

"What broad initiatives do we have in play for the coming year that would match the scale of writing a new SMB file server from scratch? We have several ideas already in discussion which I hope to be able to share in the coming months. But sufficient to say that our path forward is to continue to build upon the Likewise Open platform base that we’ve put into play. The way forward is up--to build upon the foundation already laid," Crist wrote.

Apps? Around an authentication service? On initial thought, that seems rather hopeful, but Carter explained that the advantages to giving applications direct authentication to multiple platforms is a big advantage in a world that's increasingly moving to cloud-influenced services.

"There's a high degree of interest in software that will handle AD work," he said. The hurdle is, naturally, educating developers to understand the capabilities of Likewise Open and how they can best take advantage of the tools within. But if that can be done, and AD tools can be worked into existing applications, then "there won't be a need for developers to reinvent the authentication wheel," Carter added.

There's some irony in that statement, given that reinventing the SMB wheel was exactly the charge leveled at Likewise last year. But here, Likewise takes a position of competition, rather than reducing redundancy.

"Competing features are an important part of open source growth," Carter explained. But, at the end of the day, Likewise, Samba, and other projects need to keep an eye on the larger picture.

"We should all work together to push the [Linux] community forward," he stated. Author's disclaimer: I have recently performed web site contract work for PrimaStasys, a prominent Samba and Linux support vendor.

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