Linux-based operating systems boast some very impressive management features, including detailed configuration controls for the GNOME desktop environment and a unified software management framework that puts Windows and its horde of disparate update applets to shame.
However, the lack in Linux of a well-integrated analogue for Microsoft's Active Directory and Group Policy to tie everything together leaves the open-source operating system with a management whole that adds up to less than the sum of its individually impressive parts.
Enter Likewise Software-formerly known as Centeris-and its Likewise Enterprise 4.0, which enables administrators to make the most of the Linux, Unix and OS X machines under their care by authenticating them against Active Directory and managing them via the same Group Policy tools that serve Windows systems.
In my tests of Likewise Enterprise 4.0, I found the product easy to install, with plenty of provisions for meshing comfortably with existing environments and policies. For instance, I could opt to extend the schema of my AD domain to make way for Unix-specific attributes, or I could choose not to extend my schema and call on Likewise Enterprise to make do with my existing schema.
I found that Likewise Enterprise made joining a Linux client to an AD domain just as easy as joining a Windows client to AD, and I was impressed by the breadth of native Linux configuration settings that I could customize and apply to my test clients via Group Policy. I could access GNOME's XML-based configuration system to control most desktop-oriented settings, manage SELinux, AppArmor and sudo permissions control frameworks, and push down scripts and text files to manage distribution specific elements, such as software repository configurations.
If Active Directory lies at the heart of your network or your customers' networks, Likewise Enterprise is worth evaluating as a means for drawing the non-Windows machines that tend to creep into your design or engineering departments more closely into your Windows management structure. What's more, at a price of $50 per managed client or $250 per managed server, a combination of Likewise Enterprise 4.0 and Windows Server could serve as a fairly inexpensive backbone for large deployments of low-cost Linux clients.
On the competitive front, Quest Software's Vintela Authentication Services and Centrify's DirectControl, neither of which I've tested, enable administrators to authenticate their non-Windows systems against Active Directory. Centrify's product also allows for management via Group Policy. Both of these products are priced similarly to Likewise Enterprise 4.0.
One advantage that Likewise Enterprise enjoys over its competition is the availability of Likewise Open, a new open-source software component comprising just the AD authentication portion of Likewise's proprietary offering (which itself relies on the open-source Samba project). Likewise Open will be included in the next versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Ubuntu Linux, which will serve to get Likewise Software's foot in the door of companies that have adopted these popular Linux flavors.
Likewise Enterprise 4.0 supports a broad range of systems, including 11 versions of Novell's SUSE Linux and 21 versions of Red Hat's Enterprise and Fedora Linux distributions, as well as several recent Ubuntu, Debian and CentOS Linux flavors. In addition, Likewise Enterprise supports IBM's AIX, Sun Microsystems' Solaris, Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX, and Apple's OS X 10.3 and 10.4. Details on the product's platform support can be found here.
Likewise Open is currently available in ready-to-install package form for Ubuntu 7.10, Fedora 8 and OpenSUSE 10.3. While I expect other distributions to begin packaging Likewise Open to run on their own systems-the source code is freely available-Likewise should broaden package availability from its end, as well.