Review: Windows Services for UNIX

Everyone knows what Microsoft does by now. What some people do not know is that Microsoft releases a system integration software named Windows services for UNIX. Click for a larger version The purpose of SFU is so that people who must administer UNIX server with a Microsoft Windows PC can do it with ease, it also serves as an application migration platform as well as way to run legacy UNIX applications from within a Windows environment.

SFU is a UNIX subsystem that is not emulation, it will allow you to run some legacy UNIX apps with native speeds and performance. What SFU is not, SFU is not a Linux distribution. SFU is not a UNIX variant. I recently got a chance to test Windows Services for UNIX 3.0. And I have to say I was mildly suprised with it.

System Requirements

SFU needs Windows 2000 Professional, Windows XP Professional or Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 6. It will not run on Windows 9x or Windows ME. You will also need at least 128 mb of RAM and 182 mb of Hard Disk space in order to have a full installation.


SFU installs like a common Windows application. Nothing special about it. The one thing I found counterintuitive, is that you have to agree to three different licenses at 3 different times throughout the installation, so if you install it you have to stay with your machine you cannot do an automated install.


Click for a larger version SFU is a very full featured application. You have a native Windows application installed that allows you to administer and create NFS shares. It comes with ActiveState Perl and a wide range of tools. It comes with the standard UNIX shells CSH and KSH, CRON and much more. The networking tools included with SFU were very good and I was able to do a lot with the other machines on my home network. Microsoft says that SFU will only support HP-UX, Solaris 8 and Red Hat Linux 7.0. I was able to administer SuSE Linux 8.1, along with Solaris 9 x86 and Red Hat Linux 9 along with FreeBSD. I was also able to do a remote installation of FreeBSD with SFU. You can access Mac OS X shares with the NFS tools.

The networking tools included are telnet, PING, Traceroute, netstat, SSH. With crontab you can set up times for any kind of maintence runs for the entire system not just the Interix subsystem. Scripting is also a strong point with SFU. You can run many UNIX scripts with very few modifications on the system. Perl Scripts can be run with ActiveState Perl. They also include Python with the system, but there is a native Windows port of Python available from the Python web site. The way that the Interix subsystem is set up reminds me of a UnixWare/Xenix setup, in terms of directory structure and the way things are setup The directory structure while running SFU is totally UNIX, all of the directories, /, /usr,/bin,/usr/bin,/lib,/dev all of them are under the SFU directory structure. For a wealth of UNIX command line tools SFU has them all and then some more.

Click for a larger version The development environment consists of GNU Tools. GNUMake, GCC 2.0.7, and GDB. The development environment is extremely outdated so compiling and updating system libs and Applications was hard, I was able to compile bash as well
as lynx and some other text based applications but I was unable to compile recent graphics apps. KDE 3.1.2 was not going to happen, neither was GNOME 2. I called Microsoft support to find out if there was some place I could get updated packages and I was told that SFU was a migration tool only, its sole purpose is to make it easy for UNIX admins who wanted to come to Microsft Windows to help them port their Applications and services from UNIX to Windows as well as run some legacy UNIX apps and that SFU was in no way meant to be used as an Operating Environment. So no
help was on its way from Microsoft.

A while back when I used Interix, I was able to compile XFree86 and KDE 2 and GNOME 1.4 those services are no longer feasible in 3.0. While Interix 2 relied on many Cygnus functions you could just compile your source for Cygwin and use it on Interix. Microsoft has refined those functions and have taken out all of the Cygnus functionality so now a total port of the application is the only way anything will work.

Click for a larger version Other system Integration tools that are much better are available. The prime candidate is Cygwin. Cygwin is available from Red Hat software. You have two versions of Cygwin that you can get. GNU Pro or it can be had for free, download from Red Hats website . If you are looking for a tool to help you work in a UNIX environment that is up to
date and has many of the creature comforts of Linux or UNIX, or if you are a Linux or UNIX hacker that must work with Windows and you want a familiar interface with which to work than Cygwin is the way to go. There are native ports of KDE 3.1.2 and GNOME 2 for Cygwin and all the major tools are available.

AT&T marketed a product a few years ago called UWIN, But that is also very out of date and is no longer enhanced.


While SFU has some good qualities about it I cannot justify the $99.00 price tag. If you are migrating to MS Windows then yes SFU is a good buy and is very helpful. If you are not migrating and just want to run UNIX /Linux tools and Applications then get Cygwin and save your cash.

Performance 10/10
Features 5/10
Affordability 6/10

Total 7/10


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