Network Basics: Non-Windows Server Operating Systems

Although Windows Server is the most popular choice for network operating systems (NOS), it isn’t the only game in town. Linux, Macintosh OS/X Server, and Novell’s NetWare are the major NOS alternatives to Windows.

Linux

Perhaps the most interesting operating system available today is Linux. Linux is a free operating system that’s based on Unix, a powerful network operating system often used on large networks.

Linux was started by Linus Torvalds, who thought it would be fun to write a version of Unix in his free time — as a hobby. He enlisted help from hundreds of programmers throughout the world, who volunteered their time and efforts via the Internet. Today, Linux is a full-featured version of Unix; its users consider it to be as good or better than Windows.

Linux offers the same networking benefits as Unix and can be an excellent choice as a server operating system.

Apple Mac OS/X Server

All the other server operating systems described here run on Intel-based PCs with Pentium or Pentium-compatible processors. But what about Macintosh computers? After all, Macintosh users need networks, too. For Macintosh networks, Apple offers a special network server operating system known as Mac OS/X Server. Mac OS/X Server has all the features you’d expect in a server operating system: file and printer sharing, Internet features, e-mail, and so on.

Novell NetWare

NetWare was once the king of network operating systems. Today, NetWare networks are rare, but you can still find them if you look hard enough. NetWare has always had an excellent reputation for reliability.

In fact, some network administrators swear that they have NetWare servers on their networks that have been running continuously, without a single reboot, since Ronald Reagan was president. (Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a major upgrade to NetWare since George W. Bush’s first term.)

Novell released the first version of NetWare in 1983, two years before the first version of Windows and four years before Microsoft’s first network operating system, the now defunct LAN Manager. Over the years, NetWare has gone through many versions. The most important versions were:

  • NetWare version 3.x, the version that made NetWare famous. NetWare 3.x used a now outdated directory scheme called the bindery. Each NetWare 3.x server has a bindery file that contains information about the resources on that particular server. With the bindery, you had to log on separately to each server that contained resources you wanted to use.

  • NetWare 4.x, in which NetWare Directory Service, or NDS, replaced the bindery. NDS is similar to Active Directory. It provides a single directory for the entire network rather than separate directories for each server.

  • NetWare 5.x was the next step. It introduced a new user interface based on Java for easier administration, improved support for Internet protocols, multiprocessing with up to 32 processors, and many other features.

  • NetWare 6.0 introduced a variety of new features, including a new disk management system called Novell Storage Services, web-based access to network folders and printers, and built-in support for Windows, Linux, Unix, and Macintosh file systems.

  • Novell released its last major version of NetWare (6.5) in summer 2003. It included improvements to its browser-based management tools and was bundled with open-source servers such as Apache and MySQL.

Beginning in 2005, NetWare has transformed itself into a Linux-based system called Open Enterprise System (OES). In OES, the core of the operating system is actually Linux, with added applications that run the traditional NetWare services such as directory services.