Beefing Up OS X's Windows Networking
by Alan Zisman (c) 2002 First published in Low End Mac , 7 October, 2002 Mac2Windows column
If you're one of the many people who are using to use a Mac connected to a Windows network, OS X has been a big step forward. Starting with OS X 10.1, built-in SMB (a.k.a. Samba or CIFS -- not a social disease, but an acronym for Common Internet File System) support has made it possible to connect to shared Windows computers without any extra software.
The trick (it's not well-documented by Apple): Open the Finder's Go menu, click on Connect to Server. OS X 10.2 lets you browse your Windows network just like a native Mac network. OS X 10.1.x requires you to know a little bit -- you need to know the Windows computer's network name and the share name of the drive or folder you want to connect to, and enter it in the form:
So to connect to my Compaq notebook's download folder, I type:
I'm prompted for username and password, and quickly an icon for the shared drive (or folder) appears on my desktop, letting me use standard Mac navigation to open documents, copy files back and forth, and more.
It works as advertised. It is, however, somewhat limited. You can only connect to a single Windows share at a time, and your Mac doesn't appear in the Windows systems Network Neighborhood. Theoretically, you can print to shared Windows printers, but it's a real pain to set up.
Third-party software can extend these features. A longtime favourite is Dave, with its new OS X 10.2-capable version 4 out. Dave includes versions for the classic Mac OS as well as OS X, lets users connect to multiple Windows shares at once, adds the Mac to the Windows Network Neighborhood, and includes limited abilities to print on both Mac and Windows networked printers. Pricing of US$149 (US$49 for upgrades) is too rich for many users blood, however.
Enter Sharity, from Object Development, an Austrian shareware product for Mac OS X and other Unix systems.
Pricing varies both according to the type of user and the number of Windows shares connected. An unlimited business license is US$199 (with reduced prices for multiple licenses), or US$99 to connect a single client to a single server. More users will be interested in the home license (available for OS X, Linux, and FreeBSD). In this case, US$59 buys the right to connect up to two clients to an unlimited number of Windows servers.
There are also several varieties of free licenses. There's a free demo that limits users to access three levels deep in the server's folder hierarchy, connecting up to two clients to up to two servers.
The free Sharity single license for home users and hobbyists lets users install onto a single Mac client and connect to a single Windows server. Finally, there are free licenses for students and for educational institutions.
Installation of the 1.7 MB download, while not difficult, is not as straightforward as it could be; users have to manually copy a Sharity folder into the StartupItems in the root's Library folder (not your personal user's Library folder or the System/Library!), then copy the Sharity application to the destination of your choice. Add the Sharity application as a Login item in System Preferences, and restart. (All these instructions are in the Readme file -- you do make a point of reading these, don't you?) To uninstall it, reverse these steps.
The first time it runs, you'll be asked for network parameters; aside from the Windows workgroup name, the default settings took care of everything else on properly with my home network.
Once installed, a CIFS icon appears on the OS X desktop and in the top level Finder windows; opening it displays a list of Windows servers, similar to the Windows Network Neighborhood. A Sharity icon also appears in the Dock; opening it lets you tweak Sharity's configuration -- something that wasn't necessary on my system
Sharity offers a couple of improvements over the Windows networking built-into OS X. First, if you're using 10.1.x, it offers the ability to browse the Windows network. And while Jaguar (OS X 10.2) adds the ability to browse Windows networks, it does it in slow motion. Sharity is able to do it in real-time.
And it lets you connect to more than one Windows share at a time (though the free hobbyist version limits you to a single server).
Unlike the more expensive Dave, Sharity doesn't have any options to connect to Windows shared printers, and it doesn't let you access your Mac from Windows. For that, Object Development recommends the Samba server package from <http://xamba.sourceforge.net/sambax/> (I haven't tried it; I would appreciate hearing from any readers with experience with it).
It's worthwhile for any OS X 10.1.x users connecting to Windows servers, and the added speed and flexibility will appeal to many Jaguar users as well. One of the two free home versions may be all that many will need.
10.1 users may want also want to check out the modest, 190 KB download of SMB Browse from <http://shukwit.com/main.php> -- a free utility to add SMB browsing to OS X 10.1. I couldn't get it to work at all under Jaguar, but it appears to be a simple application to use in place of the Finder's Go/Connect to Server menu.