Samba has been the subject of many cute descriptions in the past, some of which might have included a dancing penguin carrying a Microsoft Windows logo. We have been guilty of these things ourselves at one time or another. Although these pictures and descriptions can make great opening lines for magazine articles, they don't have the substance to sell IT shops on the elegance with which this piece of software can solve the very complex interopability problems faced by environments composed of Macintosh, Microsoft, and Unix (or Unix-like) systems. If we had to come up with a one-line executive summary to justify the existence of Samba, we would say, "Samba is a software suite that allows a Unix-based system to appear and function as a Microsoft Windows server when viewed by other systems on a network."
There are many components to Samba. Each of the pieces operate together to implement both the client and server portion of the Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocol. CIFS is the network protocol used by Microsoft operating systems for remote administration and to access shared resources such as files and printers. Despite the name, CIFS is neither a filesystem nor suitable for the Internet. It is, however, the protocol of choice in Windows networks.
There are several reasons to use Samba instead of Windows Server. As many experienced network administrators can testify, Samba provides day-in and day-out reliability, scalability, and flexibility. In addition, Samba offers freedom in both choice and cost. Samba is freely available from http://www.samba.org under the terms of the GNU General Public License (http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/gpl.html). And because of Samba's portability, you are free to choose which server platform to use, such as FreeBSD, Linux, Solaris, or OS X.
One of the fascinating things about open source software such as Samba is that it creates a community of people surrounding the project, composed of more than just developers. The community of Samba users varies from IT professionals to teachers, consultants, and dentists. Also, many large companies, such as HP, IBM, Sun, Apple, RedHat, and Novell, distribute and commercially support Samba. If a time arises that you need outside support for your Samba servers, you are free to choose any of these providers for your support.
The remainder of this book is dedicated to helping you use Samba to meet the requirements of your network.