SFU fast, free window on Unix

Coming to a Windows desktop near you: Unix, courtesy of our friends at Microsoft.

Coming to a Windows desktop near you: Unix, courtesy of our friends at Microsoft.

Services for Unix version 3.5, released last month, has some new features and a new price: free. SFU runs Unix code natively on the Windows kernel. It’s fast, powerful and you can’t argue with the price.

Microsoft describes SFU as a migration tool for Unix shops trying to make the switch to Windows, but it’s equally useful for Windows users trying to shift to ‘Nix, or for IT staff who work with both Windows and Unix machines. SFU doesn’t encourage conspiracy theories: it will be welcomed by anybody who has to use Windows and Unix, or wishes to be able to.

It’s not the best of both worlds — and Computerworld prefers not to get into an argument of the pros and cons of each platform — but it’s a pretty honest effort.

Services for Unix 3.5 is available from Microsoft on CD or as a 220MB download. The installer bundles an NFS client that appears in the Windows network browser, an SDK for developing SFU apps, and ActiveState’s excellent Perl distribution, ActivePerl.

In accordance with Microsoft’s aversion to the GPL, SFU is reputedly based upon OpenBSD. Unlike Cygwin, SFU doesn’t run in emulation; instead, it runs as a subsystem on top of the Windows kernel, which should be faster and more reliable.

Once installed, the Unix command line can be accessed through a console window. It’s also possible to access the shell from within Windows’ cmd.exe by typing csh or ksh at the prompt, but session variables such as the path aren’t set by default. The Unix ‘root’ volume is mapped to a SFU directory, allowing access to the standard Windows filesystem and classic Unix paths such as /usr without clutter. It’s a simple system that works well.

SFU lacks a few essential tools, but Interop Systems makes many of them available on its website. Essential downloads include OpenSSH, zlib, GNU make, readline and wget; fans of the bash shell will get their fix here too. Not surprisingly, Apache isn’t included in the core SFU install, but both Apache 1.3 and Apache 2 are available from Interop.

Interop’s downloads are available in source and binary form. Modified versions of FreeBSD’s pkg utilities are used to download, install and remove the software — it’s a straightforward process, although obviously Interop can’t offer anything like the number of packages available for native Linux or Unix systems. Some of the missing utilities are redundant in Windows.

We’d like to run top inside a shell, for example, but we can get the information we need from the Task Manager. The ps tool is present, however, and lists Windows processes alongside cron, init and csh. Although X11 libraries are included, SFU doesn’t include its own X server. The previous version of Services for Unix was priced at $US99. That’s not unreasonable; free is an absolute bargain.

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Tags Services for Unix

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