Lantastic 7.0-- More satisfying, less filling

by Alan Zisman (c) 1996. First published in Canadian Computer Wholesaler, November 1996

Is it finally ?The Year of the Network?? It seems like computer magazines started declaring it National Network Year (or whatever), sometime way back in the late 1980s, with the hype continuing nonstop ever since.

More despite the hype than because of it, more and more networks have sprouted up ever since? now growing beyond local area networks to connections to the Internet?the biggest wide area network of them all. And like other software, networking software has gained in features. Once, networks provided shared services like printers, and room to store files on a central hard drive. Add e-mail. Add security. Add workgroup scheduling. Run applications on the server. Collaborate on projects. Finally, try video conferencing across the notebook.

Of course, as our demands on the network increase, we want increasingly sophisticated software. But that means more complexity?systems that are increasingly difficult to set up, administer, and keep up and running.

Artisoft, is an Arizona company whose core product, Lantastic, has been providing simple networking since even before the first ?Year of the Network?. As Microsoft has added basic networking features into its operating systems, starting with Windows for Workgroups, and continuing with Windows 95, Lantastic has been forced to scramble to survive?on the one hand, adding features that added value beyond what Microsoft was throwing in for free, while on the other hand, remaining relatively simple to set up and configure.

With their newest version, Lantastic 7.0, they?ve pretty much succeeded.

A single package includes versions for Windows 95, Windows 3.1 users, and even DOS only machines? and users of these various versions can all connect onto a single network. (OS/2 users have their own version of Lantastic, which can connect along with the other versions, but is not yet updated to version 7.0) As well, users of the new version can work on the same network with users of earlier versions 5.0 and 6.0.

Installation of any version is simple?users should know what sort of networking adapter is installed, and its IRQ and I/O setting; Artisoft includes drivers for a wide variety of common adapters. As well, users should choose a name for each machine, and need to make a fundamental decision?will a machine be installed as a workstation or a server?

Like Windows 95 or Windows for Workgroups, Lantastic can be set up as a peer-to-peer network?machines can all function as servers, sharing printers and hard drives with the rest of the network. Performance will improve, however, if a single machine is used as a dedicated server?allowing other machines to share its resources such as hard drives, printers, CD-ROM?s and more. When run that way, the server doesn?t need to be a real powerhouse?even an old, unused 386 as a print server can adequately serve a small to mid-sized network.

Lantastic can also be used to connect onto bigger networks?hooks to Novell systems are included.

As in previous versions, after installation, network administrators working within Windows or from DOS-based utilities, can set a variety of levels of access, ranging from open access without log-in or passwords, to any desired combination of user and workgroup access levels. For many users, these security features alone make the product a worthwhile improvement over the anemic protection provided by the built-in Microsoft networking.

The big addition, however, is the result of Artisoft?s purchase of InSync ModemShare. This technology now allows Lantastic servers to share modems across the network. Suddenly, a single 28.8 modem and phone line can be made accessible to all the workstations in an office. With the addition of included TCP/IP stacks, each machine could then connect to the Internet. (And with the possibility of multiple servers, multiple modems can be made available for sharing).

Even more impressive, multiple machines can share a single Internet address?making it possible for several workstations to use the Internet at the same time, using a single modem (or faster) connection on the designated server, and a single Internet account. (Note: this feature is only available on Windows 95 installations).

?Aha!?, I hear your cry??What about bandwidth??. Can you really have several users sharing a single, modem-based Internet connection without slowing to a crawl?

Well, it?s not as bad as you?d imagine. Most often, when users are accessing the Internet, they are only actually connecting to another machine in short bursts? the rest of the time, users are reading the downloaded pages, without actually being connected. As a result, two or three users can share a single modem line without noticing it too much. (Of course, as the number of users increases, the possibility of conflict also increases?I?d hate to imagine all 16 workstations on my Lantastic network all trying to use the single 28.8 modem at once). Artisoft recommends getting an ISDN or faster line if you want five or more simultaneous Web surfers.

Artisoft sells Lantastic in new user and upgrade versions, and in single licenses, 10-license, and unlimited installation versions. Costs range from $99 for a single upgrade ($169 for a new user), through $699 for the 10-pack, to $1,399 for the unlimited-user version.

With increasing interest from small businesses and even home users in setting up small networks, and especially with increased interest in connecting multiple machines to the Internet, Lantastic 7.0 should find a ready market?especially with its easy support for a mix of DOS, Windows, Win 95, and even OS/2 machines.

Vendors and consultants hoping to provide ready-to-use systems for these clients should consider becoming familiar with Lantastic, and perhaps offering it as an option on their systems. It fills a vital niche for users for whom Microsoft?s built-in networking is too basic, but Novell Netware is too intimidating, expensive, or complex.

Artisoft-Canada is in Etobicoke, Ontario, and can be reached at 1-800-756-2763.

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