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Windows Vista and Unix integration opportunities

Unix shops may be averse to even considering Microsoft Windows Vista, but there are some tactics you could take to demonstrate the benefits of Unix/Vista integration.

Even if you personally use Windows all day, every day, it's not easy to ignore the rest of the world. A significant portion of the IT industry uses Unix applications because they've invested heavily in the software or they simply have no desire to change how they work. Businesses in vertical industries are especially apt to run several different Unix applications, as are manufacturing firms and others. Will these organizations come consider Microsoft Windows Vista? In this tip I'll look at a neat feature in Windows Vista Enterprise that will help your Unix customers use their applications on Vista, and I'll examine some revenue opportunities around Vista and Unix interoperation.

Unix code on Vista: It's possible

Windows Vista Enterprise, only available via volume license to customers covered under a Microsoft Select agreement, includes the Subsystem for Unix-based Applications (SUA). SUA allows you to deploy Unix applications on a Vista Enterprise machine without making any changes.

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SUA is an enclosed, comprehensive subsystem in and of itself, in much the same way the Windows operating subsystem lies on top of the Windows kernel. There is no emulation; this is native code. SUA recompiles Unix applications to allow them to run in the background; the SUA code makes all runtime modifications, background software support and environment changes necessary to allow the Unix application to run unmodified under Windows Vista. SUA provides the complete GNU toolset and environment, so your or your customers can even develop Unix-like applications under Vista. This eliminates the need for a separate Unix PC and Windows PC on someone's desk, so the cost benefits of consolidation are immediately realized.

SUA essentially includes everything you need, including the ability to connect to Oracle and SQL Server databases using ODBC, the standard database connection protocol, and Oracle Call Interface (OCI). It also comes with an extension to Visual Studio (Microsoft's integrated development environment), which allows you to debug POSIX-based Unix applications, and it includes support for 64-bit applications; you can run 64-bit applications on a 64-bit capable system, while a process called thunking allows you to run 32-bit POSIX binaries on a system with a 64-bit processor. The only thing you can't do is run 64-bit software on a 32-bit capable system.

You might already know about SUA: It's bundled with Windows Server 2003 R2, which has been available for about a year. Vista Enterprise will be the only client release to have SUA bundled with it. It's unclear if SUA will be available outside of Windows Vista Enterprise or Windows Server 2003 R2 at this time. Details should be available closer to Windows Vista's release to the public at the end of this month.

Integration channel opportunities

Here are some sales and marketing opportunities around the integration of Unix and Windows Vista.

  • Sell a Software Assurance licensing agreement. Remember, Vista Enterprise, the only edition with SUA built in, is only available via a volume license. You can earn revenue from an integration service right from the start at the licensing stage.
  • Resell third-party Unix and Windows integration products. There are a couple of popular vendors, including Interix, that sell a secure shell (SSH) client, X Server for the Windows SUA and a product called Interop Toolworks, which contains 400 utilities and libraries for Unix services on Windows.
  • Provide assistance installing SUA and using Unix applications on Windows. Check out Microsoft TechNet and the Microsoft Action Pack for some resources and sample software that will help you support customers' transitions to Vista. They may need help setting up their Unix application environments on their workstations, or they may need support for getting those applications networked and set up to use other network resources. You could even provide temporary assistance at no charge with some other purchase, just to drum up business.

  • Independent software and service vendors, sell integration and porting services. If you have the skillset and personnel, there could be a modest but appreciable revenue stream in porting Unix applications to native Windows code , in the event a customer wants to make a mass move over to Windows Vista.

About the author: Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jonathan's books include RADIUS, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windows and most recently Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual. His work is seen regularly in popular periodicals such as Windows IT Pro Magazine, SecurityFocus, PC Pro and Microsoft TechNet Magazine. He speaks around the world on topics including Windows administration, networking and security.

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