Network Operating System

The world of the Network Operating System, including its requirements, models, and topologies, as well as Network Operating System implementations, differences, and all the associated pros and cons.

Here we begin a look into the world of the Network Operating System (NOS). Along the way, we will discuss various aspects of the Network Operating System (NOS) including, requirements, models, topologies, differences and network operating system implementations as well as the pros and cons. I will also provide a number of examples, guidelines and graphics to help you get under way.

What is a Network Operating System (NOS)?

A Network Operating System (NOS) is a special type of computer operating system (software) primarily designed to support workstations, PCs, and, in some instances, older terminals that are connected on a Local Area Network (LAN).

Some examples of a Network Operating System (NOS) include:

  • Artisoft’s LANtastic
  • Banyan VINES
  • Novell’s NetWare – Novell Netware and Novell Netware servers can still be found out there but Novell are now firmly behind SUSE Linux for their network operating systems
  • Microsoft’s LAN Manager, Windows® NT, Windows® 2000 Server, Windows® Server 2003 and now the new Microsoft server flagships Windows® Server 2008 and Windows® Server 2008 Core Edition, as well as the recently arrived Microsoft Windows® Server Home Edition
  • Sun Microsystems’ Solaris Operating Systems – Solaris 10 is now open source and freeware. Big iron computing for those with the hardware to run it is now free. A word of warning though; Solaris takes a considerable time to install and boot but once up and running it will stay that way for like ever.
  • IBM’s OS/2 and OS/2 Warp – Both of which are still very capable network operating systems. When released they were definitely head and shoulders above most other network operating systems for small business and the individual. IBM also provided considerable support, which was another big plus in their favor.

Unfortunately, IBM blew the marketing and advertising campaign to such an extent that OS/2 never saw the market penetration that many say it deserved. I will agree that it certainly left Microsoft’s Windows® 95 offering, which it predated for dead. Along with Novell Netware these were the “big three” of the day sorry Apple and Linux was still a toy (most definitely not a network operating system then).

IBM having some faces on the TV saying “WOW” did not sell product. Maybe they should have shown a picture of what they were saying, “WOW” about instead. Millions of dollars spent advertising an operating system without showing even one screen shot of it. Big mistake I think.

There are still quite a few systems running OS/2 or OS/2 Warp particularly today. IBM has only just announced that they intend to cease all support but when they have given no definitive date. Compare that to Microsoft’s record. They, Microsoft killed all support for Windows 95, 98, ME along with the early versions of Windows NT (pre-NT4) some time ago.

  • Cisco System’s Internetworking Operating System (IOS) – Cisco have traditionally had a very special internetworking focus and no surprise their IOS is for use with their networking devices. Its internetworking capabilities are right up there.

Most of the larger routers in the world, at least until recently were the nearly exclusive domain of Cisco Systems and their IOS. The Internet runs on these massive and incredibly powerful routers. The Cisco IOS is proprietary software. Cisco does not license clones.

  • BSD – Particularly implementations such as FreeBSD and OpenBSD deserve mention if only due to their reasonable installation base. You will come across this OS more often than you might think.
  • Plan 9 – A distributed OS from Bell Labs
  • Multi-purpose Operating Systems, such as Microsoft Windows® NT & Digital’s OpenVMS come with capabilities that also enable them to be include in this list as a Network Operating System (NOS)
  • Linux – Linux variants that have had massive additional support added by various groups deserve inclusion as well. Unfortunately, there are just too many of them for me to include them all here in this list of Network Operating Systems (NOS).

However, one that does stand out is Novell’s version of SUSE Linux Enterprise 10.1 and above. Novell have incorporated an incredible array of networking capabilities and tools supported straight out of the box. No big surprise really since networking has always been Novell’s forte.

As already mentioned Novell have had their own network operating system called Novell Netware but with this SUSE Linux offering, I think they have lifted their game considerably. Believe me I am not easily impressed but Novell’s efforts with SUSE Linux Enterprise 10.1 I can definitely recommend as being worth a look. This includes support for dual Graphical User Interfaces (GUI).

You have the option to install both the Gnome and the KDE desktop environments at the same time. Even more exciting is the fact that you are able to run them simultaneously. Switching from one desktop environment to the other is seamless. So much so that at times I almost forgot, I was running the two.

The reason you might do this is simply that each desktop environment has its strengths and weaknesses. They also come with different tools. One tool may be better at a task or even because you just like it better. Well you can now have the best of both worlds. Novell have definitely gone to town on this one.

  • UNIX – UNIX is definitely not for the average person and remains nearly exclusively in the realm of the mainframe and some supercomputers. Note that Linux is in many ways very similar to the UNIX OS. UNIX was reportedly firmly in Mr. Torvold’s mind when he wrote the original Linux kernel but that was a long time ago.

Note: Microsoft Windows® XP Pro has limited network aware capabilities (workgroups, print sharing, Internet, & domain connectivity) but it is not a true fully blown network operating system even though many people do mistakenly think so due to the presence of the network neighborhood & My Network Places icons found on their desktops.

It still depends on and requires a true Network Operating System (NOS) to be fully network capable. Microsoft built their Windows® Server 2003 for this exact reason. To provide the network operating system functionalities that Windows® XP lacks.

Their new server flagship Windows® Server 2008 continues this trend of Microsoft building a general-purpose operating system and then providing a more beefy server network operating system to plug all the holes that businesses complain they want fixed.

“Knee-jerk” it may be but sure as hell, it is easier than supplying a network operating system with bells and whistles to compensate for failings that nobody would have screamed about in the first place. At least not as loudly as all the other issues, they consider more pressing.

What are a Network Operating System’s (NOS) Features?

All network operating systems have a number of functionalities and features in common. The manner of their implementation is where the major differences lay. In “Network Operating System Features”, I have listed many of the most common of them.

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