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Home networking Linux and Windows

Lately I've been working on enabling network shares on most of the systems that run in my house. They're the various computers that have shown up over the years and are now parked in corners of rooms around my house. With the exception of the iMac and europa, every one came with Windows pre-installed. If they run Linux, it was installed well after the fact.

The three systems I concentrate most of my time on are algol, the Gateway M685 running Windows, rhea, an aging Compaq Presario testing Ubuntu 7.04, and europa, a DIY system that runs Suse 10.2. I've got all three of them sharing folders via cifs. Rhea and europa use Samba, while algol is Windows XP native (Algol spends the majority of its time running Windows).

Algol is a notebook system provided to me by my employer, Sparta. I have two docking stations at my two office locations located in and near to Orlando's Research Park area. While docked algol is hard-wired into a network. At home I have no docking station, so I use the built-in 802.11g to route through the home's wireless broadband router. The wireless router has SSID broadcast disabled, with all defaults (password and SSID) having been changed into something long and different from the defaults. I've also enabled security, for all the good that seems to do. My broadband service provider is Bright House Networks. The back room, where rhea and europa sit, is connected to the rest of the house through an 802.11b wireless bridge. Rhea and europa are directly connected via a simple 100baseT switch, and the switch then feeds into the wireless bridge.

Setup

Both Ubuntu and Suse provide tools for setting up Samba and SMB shares native to their environments. Suse provides the better overall management tools. But the Suse tools (or at least the openSuse tools) are a bit odd. While I can manage Samba overall with Yast, I needed the Nautilus to successfully pick a specific folder and make it shareable, similar to what you do with Windows. Keep in mind that I'm at home, so while I have firewalls to keep out the rabble, I generally want ease of use when sharing between the systems. The capability to just point and enable is valuable. I therefore wound up using Nautilus on both Ubuntu and openSuse to enable specific folders for sharing. Konqueror turns out to be pretty poor in this area.

Usage

OpenSuse was the first to allow me to successfully share folders with the Windows machine. I had folders enabled on both Linux machines, but I didn't have access rights to Ubuntu. I got around that issue by cheating; I edited /etc/smb.conf and changes security from user to share. Being lazy and on my home network, I have put off finding the 'right' solution to this problem until another time. Right now, it works enough to prove the point. All three machines can see shares from the other machines in the group. They're read-only, since all I need is to read them for my purposes. Read/modify/write is again, something to pursue for the future.

Observations
  • Opening up and sharing client information across a network is difficult, inconsistent, and confusing on all three platforms, with Windows seemingly the worse, followed by Ubuntu, then Suse.
  • Information sharing across the 802.11b bridge is much slower than between the two locally connected Linux systems. Whether it's because of one vs. two wireless hops or simply the slow 802.11b bandwidth is unknown.
  • The iMac, through Finder, sees all three machines, and handles access to them in a consistent and non-surprising manner. When I went looking at the network, it presented the domain and the machines in that domain. When I selected a machine, it offered the share, and then asked for my username and password. Once authenticated, I had access to the shares. The iMac has the best 'experience' of all the machines in the group.
  • Using Samba/cifs between the Linux machines seems to be better than NFS. Unlike Windows-to-Ubuntu, Ubuntu-to-Suse (and vice-versa) worked the first time. Streaming of content between the two worked fine, if for no other reason than the high-speed network connection between the two systems.

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