A Linux Island in a C:\ of Windows: Part 3, Playing in the Windows World

by Eric Clapsaddle

If you've been following this series from Part 1, you now should have a Linux system running as a virtual machine on your company's Windows machine. In Part 2, we connected that virtual machine to the company network and to the Internet. So, we now a Linux system running as a virtual machine that lets you do UNIX administration work on the Linux side and corporate work on the company-issued Windows desktop. Now it's time to start moving some of that corporate work to the Linux side of things.

Before you can interact with the Windows machines, you have to connect to them. Windows uses the system message block (SMB) protocol to communicate among clients and servers. We simply have to fool the Windows servers into thinking the Linux machine is really a Windows machine. Using the Konqueror browser on the KDE desktop, pick a Windows shared directory and use SMB to connect. You can get server names and shared directories from your Windows Explorer. In the URL bar, type smb://<server_name>/<share_name>. You should see a listing of directories available on the server.

If you cannot connect, some more work may need to be done. The first thing to try is to turn off any firewalls that may be running. If you still are unable to connect, make sure the SMB client software is installed. Depending on the security setting on the Windows shares, you may have to authenticate again. You also may need to join the Windows domain. SuSE has a good utility in YaST to set this up, and I'm sure similar utilities are available in other distributions as well. To do this is SuSE, start YaST and then select Network services. Select Samba client and click start. If you don't have the right packages installed you will be prompted to install winbind and smbclient. After the packages are installed, browse for the Windows domain and join it. You may need to ask your security team for some special authentication information to join the Windows domain. With any luck, you should see the Windows domain name, and you now should be able to find your shared network drives.

SuSE 9.1 Professional has a utility that is installed on the desktop called Network Browsing. By using this utility, you should be able to browse around all of the Windows shares. No matter how you get to a Windows shared directory, make sure you bookmark it for easy access later.

If you really want to integrate into the Windows world, you can authenticate to an Active Directory server. This is useful if you want to keep your Linux password the same as your other password. Active Directory authentication also is good to have if you are demonstrating Linux's integration abilities to another user and they can sign in with their own ID and password. The steps to connect to an Active Directory server are not the simplest to execute, but they are explained in detail here.

Many companies are starting to provide Linux versions of their client software. IBM, for example, has Linux clients for DB2 control center, IBM Director and others. In addition to company-written applications, the Open Source community provides a wide assortment of alternatives. Furthermore, many Linux programs work as well as if not better than their proprietary counterparts. They even let you share files with people using Windows workstations, and they never know you're on Linux.

If you've used Linux for any period of time, you already know that OpenOffice.org can open and write Microsoft file formats, *.doc, *.xls, *.ppt and so on. OOo also can export files in .pdf format. Ask your bosses to cancel your expensive license for Acrobat; they love saving the bottom line.

If you work with Windows servers on a regular basis, chances are your Windows support team has Virtual Network Computing enabled on the Windows servers. Most major Linux distributions come with a VNC client. I use the krdc client that is part of the kdenetwork3-vnc package. There also is a Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) client, rdesktop, and GUI front end, tsclient, that can connect to Windows servers by way of RDP. Using either one of these tools is easy and straightforward, so pick the tool that's right for your environment. Load it up, point to a Windows server and you can do work as if you were sitting in front of the Windows server. The tsclient GUI front end even looks and acts like the Microsoft RDP client.

Also, investigate the X3270 terminal that allows you to connect to a mainframe system, just like an old 3270 terminal. UNIX, Windows, mainframe connectivity--Linux does it all.

Now that you are using the Linux desktop more and more, you probably want to communicate with the outside world. Linux e-mail clients are plentiful and for the most part are quite good. Some of the more prominent ones are Kmail, Evolution, Mozilla mail and Thunderbird. I have used all these at work or at home with great success.

My company, however, uses Lotus Notes for e-mail, and Notes provides a good Web-based e-mail client. Many companies also use Lotus Notes for more than e-mail, as Notes also provides databases and other applications that may or may not be available through a Web browser. I had high hopes that IBM would provide a Linux client for Notes, but none is available as of yet. IBM is committed to Linux as a Notes server platform, which is great, but its support of a Linux client is lacking. That being said, there is a way to run a Windows Notes client on the Linux desktop--WINE to the rescue.

WINE stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator. And while it may not be an emulator, it does allow Windows programs to be run on a Linux machine. The steps for installing a Lotus Notes version 6.5.1 client can be found here. To do so requires that you have an installed Notes client on a Windows machine, but because I am using VMware on my company-issued machine, that requirement was not a problem.

In addition to using e-mail to communicate, my company uses instant messaging (IM). Linux provides clients for many of the more prominent IM protocols. Kopete, for example, communicates with AOL, ICQ, Jabber, MSN and IRC. Unfortunately, the one protocol missing is the one that we use at work, Lotus Sametime. As with most other Linux compatability problems, multiple ways exist to solve this problem. Lotus Sametime has a browser-based instant messenger. A package called JBuddy, an instant messenger from Zion software, works with Sametime. Unfortunately, Zion charges for a JBuddy license. Because I only use Sametime at work, I really don't want to shell out the $30.00 for a license. For now, the Web-based Sametime client works fine.

Now I have a fully functional Linux desktop that, except for missing support of one application, allows me to do everything that my Windows machine does. Getting this system working required only a small investment of my time and zero investment of dollars. Next time, I will discuss some more of the nice-to-have features that makes using a computer at work better.

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