A recent posting by George Ou about Windows Home Server brought out a lot of responses from the Linux community. I think that Microsoft deserves to get some competition.
Here's the challenge:
There are a lot of Linux experts on this site. I challenge them to come up with a list of applications that work the best for each of the given functions found in Windows Home Server. Show me a list of something that you guys think will beat or meet Windows Home Server, that will work for a lot of people and that you think can be easily reproduced. I will build it and give you an honest appraisal of my experiences while doing it. I will document it well enough that others less skilled will be able to do it. I'd like to be able to release it as a DIY compilation distro if possible.
Now the kicker, on the EXACT same hardware I will install the WHS Beta or release RC1, assuming I can get it, and test it in comparison on the basis of a USER, not a technician or a systems engineer.
There are a few restrictions I place on this challenge: 1) Do not expect me to compile Gentoo or Debian. I want to get this all done within a few weeks, OK? 2) The install packages must be applications that can be downloaded from the distro's website or mirror. I will not start with somebody's forked code. 3) The applications need to be compatible with the Linux distro and the desktop. I am partial to Gnome but I'm willing to use KDE. 4) If you expect me to script something or run a script, show me an example or give me the script. (This runs counter to item 2 above but I realize Linux runs on scripts). It would be nice if the script has enough commentary to let me know what was going on in it. I reserve the right to dump something I'm suspicious of. 5) If the application mix doesn't work, be prepared to get bad Linux PR from the blog. I will not attack or flame anybody personally as a part of this challenge but the distributions and/or applications are fair game. If they're bad they need to be flamed.
I will take a complete list of Linux applications from an individual or a committee of no more than 3 people and a suggested Linux distro to put it on. I will build it on a 2.6 Ghz Celeron system with 512 MB Ram on a stock DELL with a CDRW or a DVD +/- RW drive. Since this system will NOT be playing the DVD or video, we'll live with the on-board SVGA chip and the optical drive is there for software install only. (Its a server remember?) I have my choice of hard drives.
Then I will report back blog style what it took me to do it. I'll keep track of the hours and what and where I had to find my manuals/documentation to make it work. The idea is to develop a "distro" that can duplicate the published capabilities of the WHS minus the bare metal recovery. I can use Ghost as well as anybody.
My credentials: I'm not a Linux expert but I have messed with it a little. I have 2 SUSE 10.1 Linux boxes and 2 XP Pro boxes running at home. One of the SUSE boxes will be used for the challenge with a blank drive. (I'll save my current drive for later.) I have Ubuntu 6.1 and 6 or 7 Windows CPU's in my cubicle at work. I have run various Linux distros on desktops since Red Hat 6.4. I've tried Mandrake, Knoppix, Storm, Yellow Dog, Red Flag and others I've forgotten about.
I design Windows XP Embedded systems for a living. I've been doing that for over 6 years. I started with Windows NT 4.0 Embedded for 2 years before that. My system designs run in mission critical environments in the oilfield every day all around the world on over 300 systems. My first programming language was Fortran on punch cards. My first personal computer had a S100 bus. I've run C/PM, VMX, LDOS, MSDOS, Windows 3.0 through Windows XP. I've programmed in Z80 and x86 assembler, Forth, about 15 Basic variations, Algol, C, VB Script and lately I'm learning some of the Visual Studio 2005 languages.
Do I like Linux? I like the idea of Linux. I like the idea that there is some competition for Microsoft. I haven't found a distro I like enough to hunker down and spend a lot of quality time with it. I do plan to have a full suite of auxiliary servers running on the SUSE box that's not involved with the test for DNS and DHCP. I also will be running network sniffers to track what traffic is traveling on the subnet to and from the client and the server. Microsoft is notorious for using a lot of “silent” traffic to and from un-documented ports.
Remember we're looking at a Home Server as an appliance not a high performance server. Installing it on the exact same hardware mostly removes the hardware performance issues from the comparison. Obviously how well device drivers were written for the two operating systems is not removed from the test but at the level I'll be testing, device drivers will just be lumped in with the OS issues. So the test criteria, in no particular priority, are: 1) Does the software adequately support the feature set? 2) Does it work well and reliably enough that home users can operate it successfully? 3) Can repetitive maintenance functions be automated? 4) After running it for awhile, are there obvious gaping holes in the features offered that need to be filled? 5) How easy is it to install? Can it be customized as it is installed? 6) Can you add features to it after installation? How easy is it? 7) The question of updates, ease and availability. 8) Discern the need for additional services that aren't a part of the system.