The commercialization of the Internet over the past few years has created something of a modern melting pot. It has brought business-folk and technologists closer together than was previously thought possible. As a side effect, Windows and Unix systems have been invading each others’ turf, and people expect that they will not only play together nicely, but that they will share.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on peaceful coexistence between Unix and Windows. The Usenix Association has even created an annual conference (LISA/NT–July 14-17, 1999) around this theme. Unfortunately, the two systems come from very different cultures and they have difficulty getting along without mediation. …and that, of course, is Samba’s job. Samba runs on Unix platforms, but speaks to Windows clients like a native. It allows a Unix system to move into a Windows "Network Neighborhood" without causing a stir. Windows users can happily access file and print services without knowing or caring that those services are being offered by a Unix host.
All of this is managed through a protocol suite which is currently known as the "Common Internet File System", or CIFS. This name was introduced by Microsoft, and provides some insight into their hopes for the future. At the heart of CIFS is the latest incarnation of the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, which has a long and tedious history. Samba is an open source CIFS implementation, and is available for free from the http://samba.org/ mirror sites.
Samba and Windows are not the only ones to provide CIFS networking. OS/2 supports SMB file and print sharing, and there are commercial CIFS products for Macintosh and other platforms (including several others for Unix). Samba has been ported to a variety of non-Unix operating systems, including VMS, AmigaOS, & NetWare. CIFS is also supported on dedicated file server platforms from a variety of vendors. In other words, this stuff is all over the place.