Making Mac OS X play nicely with Novell

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Note: There was an issue with the Prosoft client's preferences files becoming corrupted; this can cause the client to repeatedly ask for a serial number, often rejecting valid serial numbers. In speaking with Prosoft support while preparing this article, it appears that this is a known issue and that the suggested procedure is to remove all preferences files and reinstall the client if needed.

Kanaka

The second third-party option is Kanaka by Condrey Corp. Kanaka achieves the desired results of computer log-in and easy access to remote resources differently than Prosoft's client. Where Prosoft focuses on a Novell client that can run directly on a Mac, Kanaka is designed for both the client and the server. This broader approach allows Kanaka to provide computer log-in, as does Prosoft's client, as well as additional features including workstation management based on network accounts stored in eDirectory, and options to ease the process of accessing resources.

To do this, Kanaka installs on a server as an NLM and on Mac clients as a Directory Access plug-in. The NLM serves a number of different functions, but it relies on Novell's Native File Access NLM to handle the actual authentication of users.

While Kanaka doesn't aim to be a complete Novell solution unto itself, as Prosoft's client does, it does aim to provide as many network management features as possible. It does this by translating many of the schema attributes used by Open Directory to their appropriate eDirectory equivalents, most notably the home directory attribute. This provides a seamless user experience and allows users to mount their home directories, as well as other network storage to which they have access, with relative ease.

Kanaka also goes beyond just handling authentication. During installation, it extends the eDirectory schema to support several Open Directory attributes, most notably those required to implement Mac OS X's managed preferences architecture. When using managed preferences, administrators can elect to define a handful of preferences using Kanaka's management console. Or, if Mac OS X Server is available, admins can set these options directly from Workgroup Manager, offering many of the options available in an Open Directory environment.

This makes Kanaka a great option if you want to implement a managed environment as well as authenticate users against eDirectory for access to individual computers. It also allows Open Directory and eDirectory to integrate and provide a more robust environment for supporting Mac users.

Kanaka also installs an application on Macs called Kanaka Dashboard that allows users to easily change their passwords and monitor the available space of their home directories. This simplifies the password management issues normally associated with using Novell's Native File Access (NFA).

Kanaka can generally be considered an ideal option for larger and more complex networks or those where additional management features are desired. Installation and use is somewhat more complex than Prosoft's solution because it is a server-side technology, and it does increase server overhead by both its overall design and dependence on NFA to provide actual authentication and file services.

As with the Prosoft solution, a demo version of Kanaka is available on the vendor's site. The licensing model for Kanaka also varies from the Prosoft client in that it requires a yearly maintenance fee as opposed to Prosoft's single purchase price.

Overall considerations

Supporting Macs in a Novell environment will probably never be as simple as supporting them in an Open Directory or Active Directory environment. Unless you simply opt to rely on the Native File Access and local user accounts, it will also probably continue to be costly, as both Prosoft's client and Kanaka incur significant licensing fees.

A single user license for Prosoft's client comes at a price of $149, for example, with bulk and site license options for larger purchases. Kanaka's commercial pricing begins at $150 for a single license with an additional annual fee of $37.50, with bulk and site licensing options available as well.

Both companies also offer educational pricing, and Condrey extends Kanaka's educational pricing to government agencies.

Pricing aside, the choice between Prosoft and Kanaka truly comes down to the network in which they will be used and the goals of the administrator.

Prosoft promises a simpler setup and makes Macs much more equal players from the Novell administrator's perspective. However, the software doesn't easily deploy as broadly and isn't as transparent to users. Kanaka, by contrast, doesn't attempt to be a Novell client but does provide a much more seamless user environment, complete with advanced management capabilities. It also deploys more readily into larger environments.

Because of their differences, it isn't easy to make direct comparisons and declare one a superior product. A better option is to assess your specific needs and goals and to keep them in mind while exploring the demo versions of both products.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. In addition to writing for Computerworld, he is a frequent contributor to InformIT.com. Ryan was also the co-author of O'Reilly's "Essential Mac OS X Panther Server Administration." You can find more information about Ryan, his consulting services and recently published work at www.ryanfaas.com, and can e-mail him at ryan@ryanfaas.com.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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