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Microsoft Cuts Price on Unix Interoperability Product

With the Release to Manufacturing this week of Microsoft's Services for Unix 3.0, Microsoft disclosed a significant cut in the price of the Windows-Unix interoperability toolset.

Bucking the usual trend of charging more for new versions of software, Microsoft instead opted for what amounts to a 60 percent price cut.

SFU 3.0 will cost $100 when it becomes available at the end of the second quarter, Microsoft says. SFU 2.0 cost $150, but SFU 3.0 consists both of SFU 2.0 and the product formerly known as Microsoft Interix, which retailed for an additional $100. In a sense, it's a cut from a price of $250 to a price of $100.

"We feel we have a very compelling price point for the solution," says Doug Miller, director of Unix migration strategy for Microsoft.

SFU 3.0 provides a full Unix subsystem running on the Windows kernel that allows Unix applications to run in a Windows environment. The product also includes more than 300 UNIX utilities and the most popular UNIX shells for UNIX command line administration on Windows.

The subsystem for running Unix applications came from Microsoft Interix 2.2, a product Microsoft acquired from Softway Systems in 1999.

Other than combining SFU and Interix into SFU 3.0, Microsoft has enhanced other areas of functionality.

There is tighter integration between the Unix and Windows tools. "From the Windows environment, you can fire off Unix commands. From the Unix shell you can fire off Windows commands. From Interix it worked, but Win32 didn't always know about Interix," Miller says.

Microsoft built in support within the NFS and NIS protocols for Microsoft "Wolfpack" failover clustering. "This would allow you to use one architecture, Windows, for one big, primary file server and directory server. Presuming you've done that, you may want to have a second server on cold standby," Miller says.

Manageability tools, including better password synchronization management, have been added or enhanced. NFS has been tuned for performance inside the Windows environment. Support has been added for Windows XP Professional and Windows .NET Server, which isn't expected to ship until 2003. "At this point, we don't see any issues with supporting Windows .NET Server," Miller says.

Microsoft's main marketing push with the tool is for migrating Unix to Windows 2000, but IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky says the tools amount to a very strong offering for helping enterprises cope with the coexistence of Windows servers with Unix systems and applications that aren't going away as long as they work.

"This is one of the hidden stories Microsoft had. They have a Unix interoperability story that is significantly better than they let people know," Kusnetzky says.

Meanwhile, Kusnetzky contends that Microsoft may have an opportunity to co-opt some of the momentum of Linux with the capabilities and low price point of SFU 3.0.

"If the customer in question had a lot of expertise in Windows 2000 and had a lot of people in the field deploying independent Linux systems, that combination might be just a wonderful target for Microsoft's technology," Kusnetzky says.

In Kusnetzky's scenario, an organization could run Apache, Perl scripts, Python or whatever it was they wanted to put on Linux in the Interix part of SFU 3.0 on top of an existing, underused Windows 2000 server. In that case, the company could use its existing Windows 2000 management skills to manage the applications that users had wanted to run on Linux.

"It allows Microsoft to play in the market without ever saying the word Linux or invoking the GPL," Kusnetzky says.

While Microsoft's Miller confirmed that the Interix part of SFU 3.0 can run Linux applications on Windows, he declined to get drawn into a discussion of the scenario.

"We are actually seeing a bit of a backlash," Miller did say. "Linux is one of the things that, it looks interesting up front, but there's no good enterprise-level management tools. We're actually seeing a lot of Linux to Windows case studies."

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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