Thomas W. Shinder, M.D.
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Computer Ease

By Thomas W. Shinder, M.D.

    
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The Cyberextended Family

The holiday season has brought a new addition to many homes. Along with the television, the microwave, the cellular phone, and the pager, there has appeared another "must have" -- the personal computer.

The PC has not only become a necessity for working adults in conducting their everyday business activities, but a device required by children and young adults in order to excel in school and even in their personal lives. What self-respecting kid would want to be left out of the latest multiplayer game?

Increasingly, households have more than one computer. Dad has one, to take care of tasks such as financial management and stock portfolio manipulations. Mom might keep all the details of her hectic life organized by using a PIM (personal information manager). And the kids may have their own or share a computer in order to do their homework and, of course, play the latest and greatest versions of DOOM or QUAKE.

There's a computer for Dad, another for mom, one or two for the kids. Of course, each needs an Internet connection. To be without the Internet is akin from being cut off from the rest of the world. Email, the World Wide Web, FTP downloading of important files, and netmeetings all require the Internet. And often you'll all have a dire need to sign on at the same time. So add at least three Internet accounts, and add modems to go with each computer.

Printers are sine qua non. Despite the dream of the "paperless" office, much of what is created on the computer must be moved from the "virtual" to the corporeal. Add some printers.

How about large files? The definition of "large" has changed radically in the last five years. One megabyte was considered very large in 1993, and so those large files could be fit onto a floppy. Now, the family needs to share ".zip" files and compressed ".exe" files, or big graphics documents, which might be imbedded in even larger word processing files. None of these can fit on the conventional 3 1/2" inch conventional floppy.

So we have to add a ZIP or SPARQ high capacity removable storage drive to the mix. Other amenities might include multi-CD changers, a DVD (digital versatile disk), a flatbed scanner, and a digital camera. Everyone in the family will want to use these devices, often at the same time (not unlike common bathroom situations). This could necessitating buying multiple devices to accommodate everyone's wants and needs. Or maybe not.

As you can imagine, the cost of such an endeavor would be enormous. While the cost of high quality Pentium-grade PCs have dropped into the sub $800 range, the costs of all those peripherals far outstrips any reasonable family budget.

What if there was a way to share everything: the printer, the scanner, the CD-ROM drives, all the hard disk space, a single modem and a single Internet connection? This would save thousands of dollars, and allow all family members to access those things they want to use, and use them virtually simultaneously.

The answer is the Local Area Network (LAN). By building our mythical family a LAN, we make it possible for them to share all the resources available to the network. And not only will they be able to share all the "toys" on the network, they will be able to set up their own "post office" and bulletin boards so as to easily share messages with each other. Communication among family members increases, which can only lead to good things.

But aren't networks hopeless complicated, outrageously expensive things, suitable only for large corporations? What is a LAN? A Local Area Network is essentially just a group of computers which are connected to each other. Because they are connected to each other, they can use information and peripherals that are attached to any other computer on the network. Think of this process of joining all the computers together as somewhat like creating one "big" computer that several people can use simultaneously.

Perhaps you've thought about setting up a network in your home. Maybe you use a networked computer at work and have already found the utility and strengths that a net can provide. But you've read about networks in the newspaper or in magazine articles, and the whole process seems very complex.

In fact, if you are comfortable opening your computer and putting a card into one of the add-on slots, then you can have your own network at home. If you use Windows95 or Windows NT, the process is almost automatic.

So, let's get started putting together our family workgroup network.

Some basic equipment: -32bit Ethernet NICs (Network Interface Cards) -Category 5 UTP cabling (Unshielded Twisted Pair) -A "Hub" to connect all the networked computers to. -Your Windows95 or Window NT CD

The NICs look very much like an internal modem and fit inside the computer just like the internal modems do. The "Hub" is the central station where all the cables will be plugged into (the other ends being plugged into their respective computers). The Category 5 UTP cabling allows for reliable data transmission on the LAN and is used to connect the NIC to the Hub. We'll need our Windows95 or Windows NT CDs in order to install the "network protocols" we'll need (protocols are the languages that computers use to talk to either other over the network).

Install a NIC in each computer, per the instructions that come with it. A tip: buy a PCI 32bit Plug-n-Play NIC so that your computer can automatically configure it for you. This will save a lot of headaches by avoiding manual configuration of your NIC. [Always be sure the power is off on your computer before making any changes to its hardware; you can hurt yourself and destroy your computer's motherboard or memory by making these changes with the machine on.]

After all of the NICs are installed into the computers, plug them into the HUB by attaching one end of the UTP cable (which looks like fat phone cord) to each. Make sure that you have enough "ports" in your hub to accommodate all the computers on your family network. The most common types of hubs are the five and eight port hubs (accommodating five and eight computers, respectively). Also, make sure they are "active hubs," that you have to plug into an electrical outlet (these amplify the signal and insure that communications go smoothly in the network.)

Now comes the moment of truth: turn on your computers and expect Windows95 (and sometimes Windows NT) to report to you Windows has found "new hardware". You'll be asked to provide the disk with the drivers for the NIC (this disk should have been included when you bought the NIC). Follow the instructions and install the drivers. Go through this process with each computer on your family network. Windows95 or NT should have told you to restart your computer. If not, restart your computer now.

So far, so good? At this point, the hardware is in place, but now we need to provide the protocols (or languages) which the computers need in order to talk with each other. This is where your Windows95 or Windows NT CD-ROMs are going to be needed.

Right click on the "Network Neighborhood" icon on your desktop and then click on the "properties" selection from the pop up menu. Click on the "Protocols" tab and look in the window to see if "NETBEUI" shows up with an arrow pointing to something that looks like the name of your NIC. This name should be something like what was on the box, or like the name of the driver you installed, i.e., it should be somewhat recognizable.

If NETBEUI shows up, you're almost done. If not, click the "Add" button, then double click "Microsoft" and select NETBEUI. Windows will then ask you for the installation CD-ROM which you should then put into your CD-ROM drive. After clicking "OK", the NETBEUI protocol will be installed.

One last thing. Go to the "Identification" tab; here's your chance to name your computer and your network! Try to choose a theme and have all the members of the network be part of that theme (My family uses a Star Trek theme, with computers named Enterprise, Starfleet, Defiant, DS9, etc.) Now choose a name for your workgroup, again, with the theme in mind. Remember that each computer on the network must have a different name, but all must be members of the same workgroup. Close the network properties window. You should be asked to restart your computer that this point. Go ahead and choose restart now.

Be sure to repeat the Network Protocol installation, computer name, and workgroup naming process with each computer on the network.

After the restart, all the computers should be connected. To confirm this, open up the Network Neighborhood and if you find the names to all of the computer in that window -- congratulations! If not, then go to the computers whose names do not appear in the window and make sure they have a name, a workgroup assignment, and NETBEUI installed to the NIC.

Now open up one of the computers which appears in the Network Neighborhood. What you should see at this point is an empty window. That's because nothing is yet being "shared" on any of the computers. You have to decide what you want each computer to share with the other computers on the Network.

You can share printers, folders, entire drives, CD-ROM drives, and even modems and Internet connections. To share modems and Internet connections you'll need what is known as a "proxy server" that will handle the modem and Internet connection duties (This does not need to be a dedicated computer; it can be any of the computers already being used on the network).

In order to share, all you need to do is right-click the icon for that resource you want to share. There will be a menu item named "sharing". Click the sharing item and look at the sharing dialog box. In general, you'll click the "shared as" radio button, then type in the name you want this shared object to be known by. Click "OK", which should close the sharing dialog box.

Open up Network Neighborhood again, and double-click on the name of the computer on which you just created the shared resource (in most cases this will be either a folder or a hard drive). You should now see that shared resource in the window for that computer. Double click on that resource, and now you have access to all its contents and properties.

You can do the same with printers and CD-ROMs as well. Just repeat the sharing process as detailed above.

That's it. You now have a family network. You can now create and copy files to folders and drives on the network just like you would on your own computer. You can share files with a simple drag and drop using the explorer. You can print to the single network printer from any computer on the network, even though that printer is on the other side of the house!

What we've done here is create a rudimentary workgroup environment for sharing files, drives and printers. Here's some other things to consider when you're up and running and want to do more with your network and all it has to offer:

Install a proxy server to share a single modem and Internet account so everyone can be on the Internet at the same time using the same Internet account! There are a number of software products such as Wingate, Spaghetti, and Winproxy. You can get really fancy by using Microsoft Proxy Server 2.0 which will also allow you to decide what the kids can see and not see on the Internet.

Install a "post office" which will allow LAN members to send email to each other on your network. Microsoft Mail comes with both Windows95 and Windows NT and allows you setup mailboxes for everyone in the family. Your can also create "bulletin boards" which are accessible to everyone on the network. It's a lot more fun than magnets on the refrigerator!

Move up to a server-based network that will allow you take the load off computers that are in use and provide a central location for all your files and programs. By installing your programs to a server, you save gigabytes of hard drive space because the programs don't have to be installed on every computer, just on the server! And everybody can use the same programs at the same time as well (but be sure to check the licensing requirements before doing this).

Consider security considerations. You can set share level security (specifying who can and cannot see what's inside a specific shared resource) in your present workgroup environment, or user level security in a server based environment (where you assign broad permissions based upon what "group" the member of the network belongs to).

Set up an Intranet! An Intranet is essentially making World Wide Web pages available to everyone on your own private network. You'll need to set up a web server first, though you don't necessarily need a "server" computer to do this. You can create your own Web pages and put them up on your Intranet, to share ideas, communicate, or just get practice with creating web pages and seeing exactly what they'll look like before putting them up on the Internet itself. People on the Internet won't be able to see your intranet web pages unless you have a permanent connection to the Internet and give permission to others to access them.

By setting up and exploiting all the advantages of your network, you'll find greater levels of communication and understanding within your family. You'll also find your productivity exponentially increased. And, if you enjoy computers and the Internet in general, there's nothing as gratifying as creating your OWN net at home!

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TOM SHINDER is a neurologist-turned-computer-professional who is involved in consulting and software training for a large nation-wide company in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolitan area.

For comments to the writer mail to:shinder@dallas.net



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