Linux distributions use a system called "PAM" (Pluggable Authentication Modules, see: man pam, man pam.conf
) which provides a very flexible "plug-in" system for handling all of the essential authentication tasks.
PAM modules are available for all kinds of authentication purposes, including interfaces to central directory services.
In my experience, you will probably wind up being constrained by what your Windows boxes will accept. Fortunately, no matter what that
may turn out to be, Linux should easily handle it. As we well know, Linux is very good at being "in the company of strangers," quietly and efficiently doing its job without seeking to impose its own will upon others... (ahem!)
It is definitely
important to use centralized password controls, even for a very small office shop. And it's unfortunate that the whole thing is regarded as mysterious.