Tuesday, 20 January 2009 14:20

LCA2009: Active Directory in Samba 4 'an old story'

Microsoft knew of the possibility that Samba 4 could supplant Active Directory years ago, hence it was unlikely that the company would feel that it posed any additional threat to Windows Server now, Samba founder Andrew Tridgell said today.

In an interview with iTWire on the sidelines of the 10th Australian national Linux conference, Tridgell said that the Samba project needed developers to make the implementation smoother.

He said the Samba team had had an interoperability session with Microsoft, with engineers from both sides working together. "Engineers are motivated by good engineering and I was pleased with the quality of person made available to our team," he said.

Tridgell said it was unlikely that Samba 4 would be able to offer every feature of Active Directory but that it would come pretty close.

Asked about recent comparisons between Samba and Mono - some say Miguel de Icaza's cloning of .NET and Tridgell's Samba are equivalents and that people who criticise one should also criticise the other - Tridgell said he had great respect for de Icaza and the quality of his work, especially in Mono.

"The difference lies in the fact that Miguel would do whatever it takes to create the best possible software, while I see ethical decisions as very important - even if it produces worse software," he said.

"If somebody came up with an academic paper that proved that proprietary methods delivered better software, I would still develop free software. And I suspect that Linus (Torvalds), even though he is seen as more of an open source person, would do so as well."


Tridgell said the deal that Novell had signed with Microsoft had fragmented the community. This meant that Novell could now include patent-encumbered software into its distribution.

He said the real betrayal was that Miguel swallowed and defended the deal. "I respect him as a developer and Mono is an amazing piece of work. But it was a mistake for Novell to sign that deal, just unfortunate.

"Novell forgot who its suppliers are - they should have consulted people like Eben Moglen and the folks at the Software Freedom Law Centre first."

He said de Icaza had compromised on patents and this had the potential to split the free and open source software community. "We have to stand united, else we will all fall," he said.

"Assume that Samba was allowed to strike a patent deal with Microsoft. Then if, say, HP thought they were likely to infringe on those patents, they would pay Microsoft to use it. And then there would be no incentive for HP to ensure that Samba was patent-free. Common users would suffer and that would fragment the community."

Tridgell said Microsoft needed to be pulled into line when it misbehaved, but it was also necessary to acknowledge the company when it did something good.

He said the relationship which the Samba team had with the company had improved over the last year.


Towards the end of 2007, Tridgell, and fellow developers Jeremy Allison and Volker Lendecke, along with some EU investigators, wrested an agreement with Microsoft that specifies that every one of Microsoft's network protocols which are used to work with Windows Server will be provided to a newly formed body, the Protocol Freedom Information Foundation.

The agreement has five years to run but Tridgell is pleased with the progress in year one. He said there was some trepidation as to the licence under which Microsoft would choose to release the protocols; "we were afraid that they would choose a licence that would be expensive, maybe something per seat," he said.

"We can pay a lumpsum to buy documentation but it's very important that others can take and build on that. In the FOSS world, there are roughly symmetric rights between the giver and the receiver."

The Samba folk had ended up with an agreement under which the documentation from Microsoft would be a trade secret. However, two months later, Microsoft said there would be no restrictions and no payment required.

The Protocol Freedom Information Foundation, a body formed to receive the documentation, can now provide the same to its sub-contractors which will ensure more openness. Those who pay the lumpsum will get some additional rights.

Tridgell said Microsoft's open source promise should be improved if it was to be of any real use to open source developers. In its original form, it applied only to non-commercial open source development and it was more or less impossible to find an open source project of any size which did not have some commercial bifurcation.

"The non-commercial caveat in the OSP makes it of little use to open source developers. We should encourage Microsoft to make different OSPs for software that has commercial value," he said.
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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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