Friday, January 21, 2000

George Mindling Column 1-21-2000 - Networking For Small Businesses

Networking For Small Businesses

With the advent of Windows 95, networking for five or fewer computers became inexpensive and relatively simple. Sharing printers and files without expensive network operating software or a dedicated server PC became a favorite among many small businesses and home offices. With the release of Windows 98, Second Edition. networked PCs may also access the Internet through a single modem using a single ISP log on.

What is all this talk about networking? There are basically two types of networks systems that allow computers to talk to each other. The first is called a "Client/Server" system, which is the evolution of mainframe, real-time communications. This network requires a dedicated computer to be a "server," which can be a PC or a mainframe. The end users, usually desktop PCs, are the "clients." The clients usually have minimal software installed, as all the data collection and processing takes place at the server level of the network. If the server is down, so is the network.

Some client/server networks are small, such as the Novell networks found in most law offices. In the corporate world, the network is often huge, requiring a full-time staff to implement and maintain. 
The other type of network is the one included in Windows 95 and 98. It is called "Peer to Peer" networking, in which no dedicated server is needed. Lantastic, created by Artisoft, pioneered the Peer to Peer implementation of networking, but Windows 95/98 eliminated the need for a separate network operating system.  Each computer can be authorized to "share" certain resources, such as the hard drive or any attached printer. This is a really efficient way for several PCs to access a color printer or a data file.

Networking for small businesses is flourishing as new technologies allow PCs to be networked with a minimum of training and effort. New USB (Universal Serial Bus) interfaces allow .you to attach a PC to an Ethernet network without the hassle of removing the computer's plastic cover. With just two PCs, a "crossover" cable is used to connect the machines instead of a hub. The USB connectors are found on most new PCs. but if you have older units with the USB ports, networking is still fairly easy and inexpensive.

There are "starter" kits available at most office supply and computer stores that supply the traditional Network Interface Cards (NICs) and a small Ethernet hub, along with attaching cables. These kits usually are priced under $90.00 and include any software drivers that may not be included in the Windows operating system. The cards are available in both PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) and ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) format. Just make sure your PCs have the required open slots to add the cards.

While the equipment is locally available and reasonably priced. the set up can be beyond the scope of the casual PC user. If you don't know how to modify your Windows settings or how to download drivers, you should leave the installation and setup to someone who does.

If you are comfortable with configuring and modifying your PCs, then happy networking.

George Mindling © 2000

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