Lantastic 95-- a good choice for small networks

by Alan Zisman (c) 1996. First published in Computer Player, June 1996

10 Carlson Court, Suite 590
Etobicoke, Ontario M9W 6L2
fax: 1-416-213-8602

$189 (suggested list) ?single copy
$669 ? 5 users
$470 ? 2 user kit including network adapters
$100 ? upgrade from DOS/Windows versions

Artisoft Inc.?s Lantastic networking software has long been a favorite among business and home users needing to set up a small network. Only a few diskettes, a bit of RAM and hard drive space, quick and easy to set up. Unlike the big-time corporate networks, users didn?t need to set aside a computer as a dedicated server; Lantastic let users create peer-to-peer networks, where computers could simultaneously act as servers and workstations.

A few years ago, when Microsoft released Windows for Workgroups, with peer-to-peer networking built right into that operating environment, there were fears that this would eat away at Lantastic?s market? fears that have increased as Windows 95 added even more native networking features.

Artisoft?s recent release of Lantastic for Windows 95, however, has demonstrated that there are still reasons to add onto that operating system?s built-in features.

Lantastic-95 comes on a CD-ROM disk, which includes the networking software and the reference manual?as seems to be the trend these days, only a small, printed beginners manual is included. (The software can be obtained on diskette, minus the manual?and a printed copy of the manual can be ordered for an additional $39.95 US).

Like earlier versions of the software, it is a quick and easy install, making it easy to set up a basic network. As with the earlier versions, computers can be set up as either a combination server/workstations, or as workstations alone. Resources can be set on servers as shareable. Functions are easily controlled using the Lantastic Control Panel?which is a separate mini-program, not installed as part of the main Win 95 Control Panel. Note that if other Win 95 networking components are previously installed, you will need to follow installation instructions carefully? you have to remove previously-installed components in exactly the order specified for correct results.

While Windows 95?s built-in peer-to-peer networking can connect to NT or Windows for Workgroups machines, it cannot be used  to connect to Windows 3.1 or DOS machines (except using the now hard-to-find $49 Microsoft DOS Workgroup Connection software). Lantastic-95 can be used to connect to other machines running Lantastic version 5.0 or later (including the low-cost Simply Lantastic version)? that means it can be used in a network including DOS, Windows, and OS/2 computers, as well as Win 95 machines. Of course, your DOS and Win 3.1 machines won?t be able to view long file names on your Win 95 machines.

As well, Windows 95 offers very little security; while it can be set up to appear to require a password at startup, users can bypass that by simply pressing Escape (!). Microsoft seems to imply that users requiring any sort of security should upgrade their hardware and software to Windows NT? their big-time networking operating system.

Lantastic 95, in contrast, offers many levels of security?individuals or groups can have privileges for varying combinations of file reading, writing, creating, deletion, and more? for drives, folders, or individual files. If you prefer, servers can allow free and open access? no password needed.

There are some limitations, however. Lantastic doesn?t make use of the Windows 95 Device Manager to configure networking cards, for example, and recognizes far fewer adapters than Win 95. Your old ArcNet cards can?t be used, for example. The best bet is probably to set yourself up with the inexpensive and widely available NE-2000 clone adapters.

It uses NetBIOS and NetBEUI networking protocols, rather than the newer IPX/SPX. TCP/IP support is limited, unless you purchase a pricy ($299 US per user) add-on.

When Artisoft first announced this product last Fall, they claimed that it would include an optional non-DOS file system, building on Win 95?s Installable File System. This announcement excited many power-users, critical of Windows 95?s reliance on the old DOS FAT file system, while both OS/2 and NT offered more modern file systems. Unfortunately, this feature seems to have quietly vanished from the shipping version.

If you only need to connect Windows 95 machines or Win 95 and Windows for Workgroups or NT machines, and don?t have any security requirements, you can stick with Win 95?s built-in peer-to-peer networking. But if you need to connect a more diverse mix of hardware and operating systems, or if you find Win 95?s security inadequate?but don?t want the time or cost involved in setting up a big-time Netware or NT network, get Lantastic 95.

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