12 cool cross-platform tools for Windows, Macs and Linux

Today's IT department is faced with the constant question of which platform wins the battle for the corporate network's heart and mind. I won't get into the debate of which platform will reign supreme in the next 5 - 10 years. Quite frankly I do not even want to think that far down the line. (But, can you guess my vote, given the name of this blog, A Better Windows World?) But no matter what your personal preference, the reality is that most corporate networks are a heterogeneous mix of two or more operating systems, with servers and with desktops. So the question really becomes, "What tools can we use to bridge the gap between Windows and the rest of your network?"

The major issue of the cross-platform world is to bring it all together to make managing it simple. To help you out I put together a list of tools to help you manage your environment and your stress-level. Here are 12 cross- platform tools to help make your world "A Better Windows ( Linux/Unix/Mac) World." To click through this list with speed, check out the slideshow, 12 great apps for bridging Windows, Linux and Macs.

    Likewise Software
    Likewise Software's

Microsoft Subnet has previously written about the open source version of Likewise's Active Directory integration tool. But Likewise Enterprise is a commercial enterprise-grade management tool that allows users to integrate Windows and non-Windows systems. Likewise provides interoperability for Active Directory, Group Policy Management, NIS Migration, Security, SuDo Management and Single Sign-on for applications. If a heterogeneous environment is your reality or your future, Likewise is a tool that can help you manage and integrate it all easily. Supporting 110 Operating systems and making it easy to manage these with Group Policy makes this a tool you need to look at seriously.

    2. xTuple's ERP

In a world of corporate mergers and mixed platforms. xTuple brings an ERP solution that will work across your network. Available in three editions (PostBooks, Standard and OPENMFG). xTuple provides a cross-platform solution to enterprise resource planning. The client runs on Windows, Linux or Mac. Plus xTuple is also open source with the Postbooks product offered as a free version, with the Standard and OPENMFG editions the commercial variants. xTuple is full featured too. The free version contains tools to manage your financials customer relationships. Sales and purchasing and inventory modules are included as well. The Standard edition builds on this and offers more tools for distribution, retail and light manufacturing. The OPENMFG version includes a comprehensive manufacturing and distribution toolset, as well. All versions come with OPENRPT ( which I talk about on its own later in this post.). for handling a business's reporting needs. If you need a cross-platofrm tool to plan, manage and run your daily business operations, xTuple ERP solutions may be for you.

    3. Wimba's Classroom 5.2

Supporting the mobile workforce brings with it a new challenge. You need to ask yourself how you can train that workforce and otherwise support collaborate among them. That leads to another question, how can you do all that with a minimal amount of configuration and complete platform independence? Wimba Classroom is a "virtual classroom" that features all the collaborative tools necessary to train your staff anywhere, anytime on any platform. Wimba seeks to make distance learning seem no different than being in the physical classroom. The tool comes with multiple rooms and supports a massive amount of different content including PowerPoint, HTML, Flash, movie clips, images, etc. Participants in a Wimba Classroom start off with a general session and can then create breakout rooms for specialized topics. Instructors can create downloadable MP3 files and conduct polls and perform analytics to make sure they are presenting the best possible information. If you need to create a full classroom and training environment to work across any major platform then you need to check out Wimba Classroom.

    4. SolarWinds' Orion Network Performance Monitor

You may not technically consider Orion NPM a cross platform tool since it requires a Windows server and the .NET Framework. But the fact is Orion NPM is a performance monitor for all platforms. So it makes to include it on this list. Altough I'm calling out Orion NPM for inclusion on this list, I actually like many offerings from SolarWinds. The company makes tools for performance and fault management, configuration and compliance management, network discovery and mapping. It has tools to monitor your data, VoIP, and wireless traffic and your wireless connections and application performance. Some of these tools are free. Check them all out at SolarWinds.

    5. SharedPlan Software's SharedPlan Pro

Need to manage a project that spans across offices, geographical locations, time zones, and oh yes...OS platforms? Do you want a project management tool that is the same on all platforms, can be viewed in any browser and is even available to mobile devices? SharePlan could be what you are looking for. It is easy to install and simple to start using. SharedPlan allows you to run projects from your desktop or host them on SharePlan's private Web hosting site. The hosted version is accessible from Web browsers and any OS on the client. SharedPlan even provides project plans (that are submitted by users) that have been proven winners. So if the easy interface is not enough, you can download and open those project plans with a registered copy of the central project server. A single user license starts at less than $200 which is a fraction of what MS Project Pro costs. If that doesn't convince you, you can import MS Project files into SharedPlan. So if you are concerned about your budget or your cross platform needs, check out SharedPlan

    6. PurplePixie Systems' FreeNATS

Available as an installable PHP package or as a virtual appliance. FreeNATS is a product that is in the stable beta stage. FreeNATS allows you to test your network and generate reporting to give you a bird's eye view of what is happening in your organization. Now, this is not a complete "enterprise" solution but it has the base features needed for the SMB to create scheduled and on-demand tests of the "mission critical" network applications and protocols. Plus you can't beat the price -- FreeNATS is free and of course, it is also cross-platform. This product is being actively improved upon through user feedback and continues to add testing functions. Download and test drive this software. I've really found it to be a great tool to help automate a testing environment.

    7. Compiere's
    Compiere 3.0

I realize this is the second ERP/CRM solution in my list of great cross-platform tools. The truth is I could not decide which of these I liked better (although I did rank xTuple's ERP solution higher, at No. 2, mostly because I was wowed with its reporting). But both solutions are really good. Compiere accomplishes its platform independence by using a Java-based client. So whether your business needs to support multiple OS's internally or through a partner supply chain (such as in manufacturing or distribution), then here's a tool that can handle that. Compiere is also open source. However, you can purchase more robust versions and better support. It is available in standard or professional versions and the latter, as you might imagine, includes beefed-up support. The pricing is based on an annual fee. If your organization works well in the open source arena and customization is what you want then the community edition will work very well. If you need an affordable solution with some support and additional functionality try the standard edition. Even if you are on a very tight budget (a non-profit), but you need the whole support shebang, the Professional edition can supply great ERP/CRM at a reasonable price. Check out the offerings at Compieres site.

    8. xTuple's OPENRPT

I mentioned this tool as a component of the xTuple ERP software offerings (back at rank No. 2 on this list of 12). However, OPENRPT is also a standalone database report writing tool. OPENRPT is cross-platform and will work with most databases either right out of the box or with a bit of tweaking (for SQL Server, MySQL and DB2). It supports XML report definitions and uses a WYSIWYG report designer (similar to Crystal Reports). So if the ability to generate reports from various databases is your challenge, here is the tool for you (although if you have multiple database platforms you have a lot of challenges!). Still, here is a single database reporting tool that you can use across all your various OS and database backend(s) to make life a little bit easier. Support for OPENRPT is also available if needed. You can find out about the cost structure for support and download OPENRPT here.

    9. Zimbra's Collaboration Suite 5.0

If you have a need for a cross-platform messaging and collaboration tool then Zimbra may fit the bill. Now Zimbra does not install on Microsoft Servers, but there is a virtual appliance (in beta right now) which can be used. Zimbra uses either an AJAX-based Web client for e-mail and calendaring or will natively support most e-mail client software. Picture the following scenario: You have a management team in New York that works primarily with Microsoft Outlook. In Miami you have a design team that is working on Macs and uses the AppleMail client. Finally over in San Diego your development team is partial to Thunderbird. Let's throw into the mix your salesforce that is running around the country with a mix of Blackberry, Palm and Windows Mobile devices, and least I forget some of them also have the iPhone. Zimbra has you covered on all these fronts. All the clients will be fully supported by the backend server. And if you need to have a rich e-mail experience while sitting at the local Internet café, no problem. The Web client will provide you with the full user experience whenever, wherever. The server has the ability to create enterprise mash-ups to allow users to simplify how they work. If you need a messaging and collaboration software that will work across your organization then you need to look at Zimbra.

    10.Zope.org's Zope

Zope is a collection of cross-platform Web application, content management, intranet and portal servers. It offers the ability to add plug-ins to expand the toolset as well. Zope handles transactional and relational databases. Plus it has Web serving capabilities and can be used with external Web servers such as Apache and IIS. Zope supports Web standards such as WebDAV and XML-RPC. I was impressed with the list of organizations that are using Zope mostly because the first time I heard about it was while I was researching cross-platform tools for this list. This is a tool to consider especially if you host cross-platform servers with many different clients in your network. Flexibility and interoperability make this a serious player. I also was impressed with the resources available for Zope. Zope is open source which usually means you need to be proficient enough to handle issues yourself. However, Zope has a huge library of documentation and support groups. Download and test drive Zope for yourself.

    11. PresenterNet's PresenterNet

If you need to hold Web conferences without worrying about which client or browser your audience is using. Then PresenterNet may do the trick. PresenterNet supports PowerPoint and Flash presentations and does for a reasonable flat monthly fee. One of the best features here is there is no setup, no client, nothing to download. This gives the IT admin two advantages: 1) there are no issues over what is being installed to the local machine; 2) PresenterNet is ID-10-T compliant. So any user can easily join and collaborate in a Web conference with a single click. InterActor's are technology that adds special graphics to permit you to request, view and even store onscreen responses from participants. You can request a live demo at Presenternet for free.

    12. Civil Engines Research's Civil Netizen

If you need to send large files between cross-platform tools you should check out Civil Neitzen. When I say large files I am not talking about a couple of hundred megabytes. Civil Neitzen will allow you to transfer file sizes up to 4GB in size. In addition, you can also add encryption (128bit AES) to the files. Civil Neitzen allows you to transfer files between Mac and Windows systems. The client creates a secure end-to-end connection that will resume interrupted files and tracks transfers. Some of the pluses the company touts ( and I agree with them) is that Civil Neitzen is free. It is easier to setup and run than an FTP site which calls for server side setup and IT Admin overhead. If you have only a few users who need to transfer files even from Windows to Windows or Mac to Mac, here is a simpler and easy to manage solution. Get Beta 8 here.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list but I hope it will help you. Do you have a good cross-platform tool that will help make managing a mixed environment easier let me know about it? Tell us about it by adding a comment or, if you are feeling shy, you can e-mail me (my contact information is in my bio).

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)