How to choose a home office network. (Compute's Getting Started With: Personal Networking)
by Anne Fischer Lent
In the past, the cost and complexity of LANs limited their use to large corporations. Fortunately, today we have a range of choices in lower-cost, easier-to-use peer-to-peer networks. The new peer-to-peer networks give you out-of-the-box connectivity. You don't have to be an electrical engineer to install them, and you don't have to hire a networK administrator to run them. Assuming that you have basic computer knowledge you can hook up your own network in your home office and have all the conveniences of a LAN at your fingertips.
The benefits that you can get out of a peer-to-peer network in your home office are the same as those derived from a larger network in a larger corporation, but on a smaller and simpler scale. Your three most common tasks are communications, file sharing, and peripheral shgaring. If your home office has more than one computer, you can save money by letting them share a printer, a modem, a CD-ROM drive, and other peripherals. Home offices can also make use of E-mail, chat, and scheduling functions--though not all the peer-to-peer networks offer these capabilities.
To make a choice among the baffling array of peer-to-peer networks on the market, you must first assess your needs. How many systems do you need to connect? Will you be sharing applications or just files? Will you need a full-fledged E-maik facility that lets you send documents, or is a simple chat feature (usually allowing you to send a message of up to 40 characters) all you need? And what about future growth? Will your needs remain the same, or will you someday want to connect to a client-server network, such as NetWare? Once you've determined how much of a peer-to-peer network you need, you can focus more clearly on a smaller selection of networks. Let's look briefly at four very different offerings.
This unique product is designed specifically for the home office user who needs to connect more than one system for use by only one person. One-Man-LAN comes with two add-in cards, a 12-foot cable, software, and a user's guide. After installing the cards and the software, you can use your primary PC to access files on your second PC by typing oml. Typing q brings you back to your primary PC again. The interconnected PCs can be located up to 100 feet away. This product seems ideal for the home user who might have an older PC as a secondary system. You can use the hard disk on the second PC as if it were an additional drive on your primary system. One-Man-LAN also lets you access printers connected to the second PC.
Instant networking is what you can get with Coactive Computing's Coactive Connector for Windows. This peer-to-peer-Apple Talk network attaches to your parallel port, which means that there are no add-in cards to install in your system. Also included is an AC adapter for each Connector and Software. Coactive Connector transfers data slowly (230.4 Lbps), but it's fast enough for file and printer sharing. The fact that this network solution is an AppleTalk network means that you can include a Macintosh with your Windows-based PCs in your home office setup. Macintosh Connectors cost only $29 each.
Windows for Workgroups
What sets Microsoft's Windows for Workgroups apart is that, unlike the other networks, theis one is Windows. It lets you run Windows or upgrade to the latest version--and have networking capability. The Starter Kit comes with two copies of Windows for Workgroups software (version 3.11); two 16-bit network cards; terminators, T-connectors, and 25 feet of Ethernet cable; an installation video; and a screwdriver. Windows for Work-groups is easy to set up and maintain, and it offers E-mail, a schedule utility, a fax utility, and several levels of security options. The beauty of Windows for Workgroups for the home user is that when you don't have a need to be on the network, you can just use the product as Windows and run all your regular Windows applications just as you would if you weren't on a network.
Novell's recently released peer-to-peer network, Personal NetWare, lets you add networking capabilities to DOS or Windows. Unlike Windows for Workgroups, it does not include Windows, so you'll have to install Windows and then install Personal NetWare on top of it. Like Windows for Work-groups, Personal Netware is simple to install and maintain, although you can't get the Starter Kit configuration (including everything you need to set up a two-user network) that Windows for Workgroups offers. Personal NetWare also offers several levels of security options.