Business-like, isn't he?


 

 





biv

ISSUE 435: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE

--Alan Zisman

All computers are not created equal, but Macs
and PCs can be connected and get along - Feb 24 1998

Over the past few months, I've received e-mail from
grateful Apple customers thank- ing me for including coverage of the Macintosh minority, and also from angry Apple customers assailing me for being critical of Apple. I've always felt that despite its minority status, Apple, with its Macintosh and other products, has been a leader in the computing industry, and I've hoped that it could continue to be a significant player.

So I recently decided to do my part to ensure Apple's future: I put my money down to buy a Mac. (Yes, Virginia, even computer columnists sometimes have to spend their own money on hardware. I bought a relatively modest model.)

Having done my part to ensure the future of Apple, now I needed a way to connect my new Mac to my existing Windows network.

As many small offices have discovered, computers by themselves are much less productive than computers that can connect to other computers. Sharing documents and resources such as printers is a crucial part of daily business. Small businesses and home users often connect their computers to other resources via the Internet, but increasingly, they are connecting via small-scale local area networks.

And that's what I've done: I created my own local area network that connects my Windows-based computers.

Macintosh computers have had built-in hardware and software networking support for years through Mac's relatively slow AppleTalk. More recently, higher-end Mac models have also included built-in, higher performance Ethernet hardware.

Since the introduction of Windows for Workgroups in 1993, Microsoft has also included networking support in its operating systems. Most Windows-based PCs don't include networking cards right out of the box, but easy-to-add cards start at around $35.

The problem is that while it's fairly easy to connect Macs to other Macs or PCs to other PCs, it's difficult for small-scale networks to include both Macs and PCs. (If you invest in Novell Netware or Microsoft's NT Server, you can include Macs in those PC networks, but for either, you're in a level of complexity and cost beyond what many small offices need.)

There are alternatives: it is possible to connect Macs and Windows-based PCs without actually connecting to a network. For Mac users, it's easy to read PC files from a floppy disk: any modern Mac can read PC floppy disks. That works fine as long as your data fits onto a floppy disk.

For PC users, a company called DataViz sells Conversions Plus, which allows PCs to read Mac floppies and convert the Mac files to equivalent PC files. Another DataViz product, MacLink Plus-Connect, includes a cable that can link a Mac and a PC via their serial ports, letting files be transferred and converted directly (albeit slowly).

There are ways to integrate Macs and PCs into one another's built-in networking. If you've got an existing Mac network, you can use Miramar Systems' PC-MacLan to connect a Windows 95 machine to your network. The program installs itself as a set of Appletalk options in the standard Windows Network control panel item on your Mac desktop. There's a free working demo of PC-MacLan on the company's Web page (www.miramarsys.com/), but it only runs for 30 minutes at a time, allowing just a tantalizing taste of connecting a PC to your Mac network.

Instead of connecting a PC to a Mac network, however, I wanted to do the reverse: connect my new Mac to my existing Windows 95 network. On the advice of Stefan Oetter at Simply Computing in North Delta, I visited Texas Thursby Software's Web site (www.thursby.com). That company's product, the US$129 Dave, is available for a three-week free evaluation. (Could we imagine a serious software product called "Dave" for PCs? No -- at least not since the failed attempt to market Microsoft Bob.)

Dave is an add-on that allows Macs to connect easily to Windows networks, as long as all computers are using the standard TCP/IP networking protocol. I followed the simple, step-by-step installation instructions and, sure enough, it plugged my new Mac into my Windows 95 network without a glitch.

I simply installed Dave on my Mac, ensured that my Windows network was already properly configured, and plugged my new Mac into my existing local area network. The Windows 95 network suddenly showed up on my Macintosh Chooser, and the Mac showed up in Windows 95's Network Neighborhood. Shared drives, folders, files and printers showed up on both machines. I can even install Mac software onto the PC's hard drive, and run applications across the network.

(A simple but effective trick: add an alias to the PC drives on your Mac's desktop, and a Windows 95 shortcut to the Mac on that machine's screen. Then you won't need to burrow through several layers of folders to be able to access the other machine --you're always just a double-click away from opening the networked drives. It's especially handy on the Mac, where Desktop is always an easily accessible option in software Save and Open operations, so the networked drives are just one level away from that.)

I'm trying hard to resist the tacky metaphor that non-networked computers are sort of like solitary sex: possible, certainly, but less productive than the alternatives. With the help of the oddly named Dave, my new Mac doesn't have to be alone any more.*



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan