From Dan Shearer CV

So many Samba successes

In 2023, the Samba Project is nearly 30 years old and has conservatively a billion users. It started by me discovering some unmaintained but interesting open source software for sharing files and printers with workstation computers back when Microsoft wanted to monopolise all computer networking. This history is documented in the official Samba repository.

Samba became a story of adversarial interoperability, reverse engineering, IP rights, threats from Microsoft, cybersecurity, a giant European court case, startup companies, lawyers and engineering excellence. I was a co-founder of Samba because I needed it to solve my own problem sharing files and printers at the University of South Australia. I could see that there was a bright future for drop-in replacements for Microsoft network servers, and some talented engineers agreed with me. It was an interesting ride for many years!

Samba was the first software to have the right of compatibility affirmed by the EU Court of Justice, after an epic series of cases finishing in 2012. The EU Commission learned then that it could fight a giant American tech corporation and win, something it is continuing today in battles around monopolies, privacy and dumping.

Comprehensive failure

Samba has fallen far short of its promise to be a drop-in replacement for Microsoft servers, which would have made it ubiquitous in every company and home in the world. Microsoft and Amazon's hybrid cloud solutions would have looked very different - and Amazon did try hard to engage with the Samba team to make it work for them. Unfortunately, no matter how advanced Samba becomes now, the opportunity for Samba to rule the world seems to have passed.

The Samba Project is a thriving open source project with a billion-plus users, which completely fails in its primary objective.

Samba is still developed and is still impressive. The estimate of a billion users is due to its inclusion in many embedded devices (eg printers, photocopiers and cameras) and giant file storage systems. Samba and Microsoft have the only complete implementations of Microsoft's Active Directory, and Active Directory is at the heart of a majority of the world's corporate IT infrastructure. Samba Team engineers continue to release reliable code, with a core team of around 30 members, who are volunteers and developers funded by many companies.

Reverse and Forwards Engineering

Samba started as a reverse engineering project, to provide users with the same experience as having a Microsoft server, with some additional benefits due to being based on Linux and open source. After the astonishing 13-0 loss in the EU Court of First Instance (now the General Court) in 2007, Microsoft started sharing the written standards for how to communicate with their servers. At last we could really know what we were doing in developing Samba! Microsoft would no longer control all file servers and directory servers in the world!

But it didn't quite turn out that way.

Part of the reason Samba fell short stems from the social and psychological difficulty of turning a reverse engineering project into forwards engineering, once full documentation for the SMB protocols became available. The architectural possibilities are very different and the development cadence should have changed completely to reflect that. Companies were very keen to participate in this new opportunity, and deployments in the cloud were an obvious next step. None of that happened, because Samba was no longer the only alternative in the market, and was no longer driven by the brilliance of dogged individual discovery. Additional skills were needed for Samba to become as ubiquitous as Microsoft in the server market, and those skills were never applied.

Nevertheless I am very proud of Samba, and I enjoy seeing its continued technical growth. Samba seems like it has plenty of future yet.