Can I manage a small office of Windows machines with an open source solution? (~15 users)

(XP Pro, but will be moving to Windows 7 Pro as we get new computers over the next few months... as budget and dell vostro sales allow.)

For years, I've muddled though with a default set up of Ubuntu Server + Samba on an old box, and manually configured each client machine to have a shared "S:" drive.

This does work, but it's a huge headache to manually manage each machine. I'd love to be able to lock down the machines and push software installs, updates, and configuration changes from a central location.

I've seen FreeNas but the focus just seems to be on file services and integrating with an existing Windows network.

My specific question is:

What open source solutions exist for managing a SoHo/SMB network of Windows machines and users?

All I need is file service, user authentication, and machine configuration/policy management.

Thank you. :-)

4 Answers 4


I'm in a similar position, except we've got nearly 50 machines. I'd like to be able to do everything with Group Policies. This does however REQUIRE a Windows Domain Controller.

Look at the costs involved. Your time to manage the network is expensive, whereas the amount of time you could save, and be working on other projects which are more beneficial to your employer, is much more valuable. (I'm assuming here that you're not a dedicated desktop support guy)

So, a pair of domain controllers, say from HP: DL320 4GB RAM will be more than adequate. £899.00 ex VAT each.

Then Windows Server 2008 R2 - £474.00 ex VAT

Total cost is just shy of £3000

Yes, you need 2. These are going to run your network authentication, without Domain Controllers, your network will rapidly go south. It's a small cost for a massive piece of mind.

And then you'll be ready to manage your growing windows network a lot more robustly than you can with Ubuntu and Samba. I'm all for open-source, but not when it comes to managing windows networks. I've been there personally, with Slapd and Samba, and openldap schemas, and let me put it like this. It's really not worth your time.

  • 1
    Have to agree with this. There's supporting open source (whether to save money or for ideological reasons) and then there's cutting your nose off to spite your face. I'd put trying to manage a windows client LAN without AD into the latter camp for sure. Life's too short and my time too expensive...
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 9:02
  • 3
    And don't forget WSUS to simplify Windows and Office patching en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Server_Update_Services
    – GAThrawn
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 11:36
  • @Tom Looks like we may have to bite the bullet and get Windows server. It's for a small non-profit that I volunteer for, but I guess they'll have to find the funds.
    – nonot1
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 15:38
  • I'm gonna be daring here, and say that if you don't really need the advanced stuff in 2k8 then you might be ok with 2k3, and maybe be able to buy a box off ebay. Risky though. Side question... Why do you need windows in the first place? Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 15:48
  • @Tom Yeah, would love to ditch Windows, but we need it for Quickbooks, Office, and Adobe InDesign.
    – nonot1
    Commented Nov 28, 2010 at 3:56

There isn't a good open source server implementation that has all the bells and whistles of AD (particularly Group Policy). Samba 4 is going to do what you'd like, but it's still in alpha.

You can fake a lot of what you want with WPKG and a slew of scripting, but you won't get the GUI management goodness of AD.


http://www.zentyal.org/ but keep in mind that no open source solution can give you Group Policy. For that you'll have to pay for a Windows Server 2008 + CALs.


All I need is file service, user authentication, and machine config management.

I'm not sure what you mean about "machine config management," but centralized user management, file sharing, roaming profiles, shared directories, etc. can all be accomplished with Samba.

  • By "machine config management", I meant group policies and automated software/patch installs.
    – nonot1
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 1:46
  • Doubtful you'll be able to do that.
    – gravyface
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 3:40
  • Closest thing one can get to machine config management(ie orchestration) is to use either Puppet, Salt, or Ansible (yes ansible does do powershell via a tcp socket not ssh). Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 17:42

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