Now, Novell says it will also provide SLED 11 users with Likewise Enterprise -- a commercial open-source application that extends Microsoft Active Directory support to Linux desktop systems. Likewise provides full Active Directory interoperability with Linux, Unix, and Mac desktops, including user authentication, single sign-on support, group policy management, and migration support for existing NIS-based Linux and Unix user credentials.
Likewise also offers a free version of its software under a GPL license. While it offers the same basic Active Directory support features, it lacks the management, configuration, and data-migration capabilities of the Enterprise product.
Bear in mind that SUSE, like Red Hat Enterprise Linux, is a commercial open-source product. Users are required to pay up-front subscription fees, which include access to technical support and third-party features such as Likewise Enterprise.
Integrating Linux systems into an Active Directory infrastructure has always been a dicey proposition at best. Can Likewise and Novell really turn this task into a non-issue for desktop Linux users?
If you're looking for a risk-free solution, the answer is no. Then again, if you're looking for a risk-free solution, you're in the wrong line of work.
On one hand, Microsoft still does not (as far as I know) support Active Directory authentication for non-Microsoft client systems. On the other hand, Novell already enjoys a unique -- and highly controversial -- relationship with Microsoft. Since 2006, Microsoft has invested $340 million in this agreement, which also includes technology-sharing and -assistance agreements that have clearly influenced the evolution of Novell's SUSE Linux products.
I won't opine here on the wisdom of Novell's dealings with Microsoft. There are plenty of people who cover that beat already, often in exhausting detail. And frankly, it's a debate that won't matter to companies that are far more concerned these days with staying in the black than dabbling in open-source religious wars.
There will, however, soon be another way to tackle the challenge of integrating Active Directory with a mixed desktop environment. The next version of the open-source Samba project aims to combine full Active Directory feature parity with a streamlined, just-work approach to implementation.
Samba 4 has been a long time coming; it continues under heavy development and remains unsuitable for production use. The project has not yet set a release date, although that could happen before the end of the year. Given the fact, however, that Microsoft is working closely with the Samba development team -- including on-site work with the company's own engineers -- there is a good chance that Samba 4 will hit its ambitious release goals.
Keep in mind that Samba 4 and Likewise Enterprise tackle the same technology challenge from different directions. While Likewise integrates non-Microsoft clients seamlessly into a traditional Active Directory infrastructure, Samba 4 aims to duplicate full Active Directory functionality using a completely open and interoperable set of network protocols.
Which approach a company chooses naturally depends upon its own technology needs and business requirements. Thanks to these open-source projects, however, companies that rely upon Active Directory will finally enjoy the ability to make a choice.