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One small but significant breakthrough from the open source Samba project offers Windows NT shops a low-cost migration option out of the Microsoft world. The new release of the software, which provides file and print services on Windows networks, can serve as a Primary Domain Controller (PDC) on NT 4.0. Samba version 3.0.0 is available for download today.

"This is an escape route for people stuck on NT 4," Samba co-lead Jeremy Allison tells us. "Anything you can do on NT 4, we can do."

Microsoft once touted the domain model as suitable for all enterprises, before it realized it wasn't, and began promoting Active Directory as a successor. However, there are still plenty of older smaller businesses that run NT4.

"Microsoft makes a lot of money from SMEs. With Samba 3 you can set up a small server and provide hundreds of users with authentication, file and print," says Allison. The savings can be substantial: around $25 per user for a client access licence, and hundreds of dollars per server.

Samba can't quite deliver the same management functions on Windows 2000, which uses an even more labyrinthine combination of LDAP, Kerberos, DHCP, SMB server and other protocols. This requires collaboration with other open source projects, says Allison. "It will take a while." A feature list for the new release can be found here.

Much has been written about how Microsoft makes money where protocols aren't commoditised. In common with several other vendors, Redmond once charged money for its TCP/IP stack. But the trend, already seen on the desktop with the rising popularity of zero-licence equivalents such as OpenOffice and Linux, is likely to increase the pressure on Microsoft to look for alternative revenue streams other than software licensing. Why pay, when the alternative is free? Free as in 'more beer for the IT Department'. ®

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