Lantastic 6.0-- great system for small networks struggles...

by Alan Zisman (c) 1995. First published in Our Computer Player, November 1995

Lantastic 6.0
Artisoft Inc.
2202 N. Forbes Blvd..
Tucson, AZ 85745 USA
fax: 602-670-7101
$119 (US list) for 1 node, $499 (US) for five nodes

You've got to feel a little sorry for Artisoft... for years, their Lantastic Network Operating System, now in version 6.0, has been the best-selling example of a small network-- a network for small businesses, schools, even homes... anyone with from two to two dozen or so machines to tie together, but not needing the expense and complication of a big, server-based network like Novell Netware.

Tieing together over 2.7 million machines last year, Lantastic has successfully survived competition from networking giant Novell, who clearly aimed their Lite version at the small networks that have been Lantastic's strength.

Lantastic version 6.0 is a bigger program than the previous version, which came on a single 3 1/2" diskette. It adds Windows (3.1) utilities and installation, accounting for much of the added bulk. Installing Lantastic, you can choose to set up each machine as either a Server or a Workstation-- Servers share their drives, and optionally resources such as printers, across the network... workstations can use resources on servers, but do not share their own resources; a simple network could set each machine as a server, but setting up a machine that way requires a larger DOS TSR file than setting it up as a workstation. In either case, the ram required is relatively small, compared to other networks.

Because you can set each machine up to share files and other resources with the network, Lantastic is an example of a peer-to-peer network. This is in contrast to the big networks, such as Netware, that have a dedicated file server, which provides services to a large number of passive clients.

Lantastic offers file sharing, and easy sharing of printing and cd-roms across the network, an obvious benefit for many small offices, and even some homes with multiple computers. In addition, it provides optional e-mail across the network, and scheduling. In a business environment, Lantastic mini-networks can be connected to Netware and Windows-based servers, at a cost of additional conventional ram. In addition, there are strong security features... you can set up multiple levels of access, providing users different abilities to write, create, or modify files in different directories on the server's drives.

As well, it includes its share of frills... users with sound cards,  for example, can record voice messages, and send them across the network.

While Lantastic is DOS-based, it works well under Windows 3.1, including a full collection of Windows utilities, both for controlling the network, and for e-mail, scheduling and other functions.

Because Lantastic is aimed at small networks, primarily in smaller businesses, it has to be usable by companies that lack a trained and dedicated Network Manager, as you'll often find babysitting the big corporate networks. And it pretty much succeeds. If you have no networking background, you really should look through the documentation before diving in and installing the software, but everything is pretty well-explained; there's "A Basic Guide to Everyday Networking", as well as a bigger reference manual. Artisoft's phone support is good-- though you have to pay for the long distance call to Arizona.

Everything I've mentioned sounds good... so why should we be feeling sorry for Artisoft?

The big problem isn't with Lantastic-- it works as advertised, and fills a useful market niche. In many ways, however, this niche is disappearing before their eyes. Starting with Windows for Workgroups, basic peer-to-peer networking has been included in many users' operating environment.

If you bought Windows for Workgroups for the speed increase in 32-bit File Access, you got peer-to-peer networking at the same time. And if you upgrade either that version of standard Windows 3.1 to Windows 95, you get peer-to-peer networking whether you need it or not.

Lantastic provides superior security, more options for protecting server files and directories, and fancier print sharing options than either Windows for Workgroups, or Windows 95. But that distinction may not mean much to many potential customers.... Before, if you wanted a simple network, you had to buy a dedicated network program-- and in most cases, that meant Lantastic. But now, the basic networking provided right in the operating system package may prove enough for many users.

Artisoft has promised a Windows 95 version in a few months-- it's currently being beta tested. And they have promised that it will include an installable file system-- perhaps answering one complaint many power users have had about Win95... it's continued reliance on the antiquated DOS FAT file system. Certainly, this will provide more features than Windows 95's core networking. We'll have to see whether that's enough to allow Artisoft to maintain Lantastic's position as the most commercially successful small networking software.

If you're sticking to DOS or Windows 3.1 for the foreseeable future, and you want to share computer resources around the office or small workgroup, the purchase of a few ethernet cards and copies of Lantastic may be a good solution... but if you're planning an upgrade to Windows 95, you may find that meets your needs.

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