Changes to its licensing may lead Samba, an open source suite of tools for networking with Windows systems, to be chopped from Mac OS X Lion, according to a report from AppleInsider. Instead, Apple will develop its own solutions for interacting with neighboring Windows systems over a network.
Samba's primary goal is to improve interoperability between PCs with Microsoft Windows and computers running other operating systems. Notably, the software enables UNIX-based systems like Mac OS X to speak the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol that Windows uses for file sharing and network directory services.
Apple began integrating Samba into its operating systems in 2002 with the release of Mac OS X v10.2 "Jaguar." With Samba, Mac OS X's ability to interact with Windows has grown over the last several years, evolving from everyday file sharing between co-workers into Mac servers capable of hosting account profiles and entire home directories for Windows users to access from their networked PCs.
As Mac OS X adopted more of Samba's tools, the team behind Samba gradually transformed the open source licensing for its software. The latest version of Samba is offered only with General Public License Version 3 (GPLv3) licensing, which includes restrictions that essentially prevent Apple from incorporating it into commercially packaged software like Mac OS X.
Although Samba has been voted off Lion island, it's unlikely Apple will entirely drop support for Windows networking technologies. Apple is reportedly hard at work building a new suite of built-in tools that will allow Mac OS X Lion to continue dancing with Windows networks. Unlike Samba, however, Lion's networking tools will likely end support for NT domains, networking technology introduced by Microsoft in the late 1990s. Although some networks still rely on NT Domain Controller configurations, even Microsoft ended support for the aging technology with Windows 7.
On the bright side, Apple will no longer by trapped by the limitations of Samba. For example, the version of Samba currently bundled with Mac OS X can run into issues with PCs running Windows 7 that are set to Microsoft's most secure options for file sharing. Apple now has the opportunity to address this shortcoming and perhaps introduce its own innovative improvements to networking between future versions of Mac OS X and Windows.
For now, it's possible (and likely) the first version of Apple's tools for integrating with Windows networking technologies will face a few initial setbacks and limitations. In this event, Samba can potentially still be added to Mac OS X Lion by tech-savvy Mac users who can survive without a simple installer, graphical user interface and tight integration with the rest of Apple's software. Or Mac users who need Samba's toolset can hope an enterprising developer builds a compelling, easy-to-use Samba package before Mac OS X Lion ships this summer.
Updated to note that Mac OS X can work with Win 7 sharing if security options are changed.