Enterprise Unix Roundup: Whacked With the Unix Clue Stick?

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Mar 5, 2008

Brian Proffitt
It's not often Microsoft products get "ink" in Enterprise Roundup, but when Sam Ramji, director Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab, posted a direct nod to open source and Unix technology as key influences for Windows Server 2008 (WS2008), it just begged for attention. Windows Server 2008 came out last week. Curiously, Microsoft seems to be giving nods to Unix and open source development as a factor in the product's improvements. There are indeed a lot of Unix-y things in WS2008, but don't think this is just friendly imitation.

In case you missed it, WS2008 was released last Wednesday, in what had to be one of the lowest-key product announcements to come out of Redmond since Windows 286. Really, was I under a rock or something? Because the first I heard about it was via the buzz generated over Ramji's blog post. I realize I tend to focus on events in the Unix end of the IT spectrum, but come on, where were the parties? The balloons?

Ramji is one of the few people at Microsoft whom I have met and who will still talk to me without a phalanx of PR reps from the Waggener Edstrom agency covering him. I tend to pay attention to what he says and what he writes. His blog post about WS2008 is no exception.

Enterprise Unix Roundup

For those unwilling to click through to the link, let me me sum up: Ramji lists six areas he thinks work well in open source technology and architecture and then describes how the WS2008 team applied those areas to the newly released product.

What is really interesting to me is the first development strategy Ramji describes: modular architectures. Citing projects like Apache and Firefox, he indicated a similar application of this concept to WS2008, specifically to the version of the Web server shipping with WS2008, Internet Information Server. IIS 7 comes with 40 modules and the capability to add more. Oh yeah, that sounds like Apache, all right.

It also sounded to me to be a lot like Unix, too. And if that didn't ring a bell with you, this certainly will: In WS2008, you can just run the Windows Server Core (WSC), an interface-free operating system that can be customized to run specific utilitarian tasks, according to Microsoft's own description:

Server Core is an installation option that is capable of five well-known server roles: File Server, DHCP Server, DNS Server, Media Services, and Active Directory. Server Core is not a development platform for new server applications. Although Server Core is not an application platform, it does support the development of management tools, utilities, and agents.

With that one paragraph, Microsoft has essentially declared war on Unix and Linux's hold on core server space. WSC is meant to get onto boxes where having a full-fledged, memory-hogging version of Windows is simply overkill. WSC is also presenting a smaller surface of attack, with only nine services (not just the five Microsoft mentioned above) running, compared to the full WS2008's 18 default services.

WSC doesn't do managed code, so it won't run .NET stuff. But it will function as a Web box that can serve up active pages written in ASP. Again, another big clue that WSC's target are the bread-and-butter servers: file, print, Web, DHCP ... nothing flashy, but definitely an area Windows servers have had trouble reaching because of the operating system's size, price and reliability. Microsoft seems to have solved the size issue; let's see how it handles price and reliability.

It has taken some time, but Microsoft seems to be finally getting a clue about how to build a server: Make it Unix-like. Ramji himself seemed to confirm this on his post's talkbacks when a commenter quoted Canadian Unix programmer's Henry Spencer's line, "Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly." Ramji responded:

Since my team includes architects of AT&T System V R/4 and Sequent Computer Systems, you can see that I believe a thorough knowledge of Unix is important to delivering modern operating systems.

The Windows Server engineering team has many veterans of not just Unix but VMS and MVS. These deep histories continually inform our design and development process as we advance our server operating system.

Yes, the Unix clue stick has been felt. Now comes the game of waiting to see if Microsoft actually got the clue, or if all of this Unix adoration is just a clever bit of marketing.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

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