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 October 1996 Volume 6 • Number 10 

The Well-Connected Office

Using OS/2 to network PCs in the small office ... by Don Limbaugh

"So, Don. You're in charge of networking the office. Can you handle that?" "Sure," I replied.

I managed a confident smile and concealed a golf ball size lump in my throat. A network. Lovely. I suppose I need to be a CNE, know SNA and TCP/IP, be able to use a Novell and a BNC and set up a 10-Base-T. That's a big 10-4. No problem. Huh?

So began my trial-by-fire of networking our three office PCs (now we have six). Learning a new bunch of buzzwords is no fun, especially when it comes to networking. Many people who know about networking paid cash for their training and are not going to water down their investment by giving away free information. The good news is that there are a couple of ways to share hard drives, printers, e-mail, and game strategies without becoming a walking TLA (Three-Letter Acronym) encyclopedia.

Stepping Onto the Platform

It is critical to choose an operating system platform that suits your needs. The easiest way to network an office—with the most evil TLAs hidden from view—is to buy a bunch of Macs and stick them together with Appletalk cords. Voila! A network! Well, maybe it's a little more difficult than that, but you get my drift. Unfortunately, the power and sophistication that comes with cutthroat competition (no, not trout) is lacking in Mac networking.

Unix resides on the other end of the spectrum. Unix provides nothing but muscle and power. Unix walks, chews gum, and indexes the entire Internet at the same time. A Unix computer can act as a server for a theoretically unlimited number of clients. On the other hand, Unix is nothing but TLAs and commands with all the vowels taken out. In addition, Unix has more flavors than most ice cream shops. That must be paradise for programmers (note the sarcasm).

The Gold Goes to Connect

Some marriage of power and ease of use must exist somewhere. If you want a consistent, friendly interface that has the power to run the office, run your old DOS/Windows programs, and connect to the outside world (all simultaneously), then OS/2 Warp Connect is worth a look.

Warp Connect consumes the resources of Windows 95 (roughly 8-16MB RAM, 100 MB of hard disk space). Like Windows NT, it is a true 32-bit operating system. The multitasking ability of Warp Connect is similar to that of Unix (and Linux, AIX, and Mueslix). Network software setup is similar to the Macintosh in its ease of use. The biggest problems new Warp Connect users encounter tend to arise during installation. Once the installation hurdle is cleared, the rest is an easy walk. Although other platforms can match up to Warp Connect in any one area, IBM covers its bases much better overall.

While you can use IBM's own networking protocol, OS/2 Peer, to share resources among machines running Warp Connect, users in a more diverse environment may want to use TCP/IP, the protocol underlying the Internet. With Warp Connect, you can log on to OS/2 Peer, IBM LAN Server, Novell, Microsoft LAN Manager, Windows for Workgroups, and TCP/IP networks simultaneously.

Hooking up the Gear

Now that you have computers and software, you will need to wire them all together.

The easiest-to-use network type that I've found is called "Ethernet." Networking freaks can tell you what is great or stinky about Ethernet. I know only that I didn't need to know very much to use it. You will need one Ethernet network adapter card for each computer. Each network card will have a plug on the back to use to network your systems.

A few different types of plugs are available on Ethernet cards. My favorite is the RJ-45 (ISO 8877) plug because it is relatively inexpensive, the phone company can wire the longer distances for you, and it can be expanded to use faster networking equipment. The RJ-45 plug on a network card resembles a telephone jack on the wall. Our office has a 10-base-T (10 megabits-per-second, or Mbps) network that uses the RJ-45 plugs and cabling. This network is not as fast as the newer 100-base-T (100 Mbps) networks, but it suits our purposes. (It will likely serve yours as well, unless you're looking to use your network for heavy-duty multimedia applications like videoconferencing.)

If you are using the less expensive 10-base-T setup, you will need what is called "Category 3" or better cabling. There are several places around the Willamette valley that will make this cable to the lengths that you require. Make sure that they put the RJ-45 connectors on for you unless you want to buy your own tools. If you know that you want to upgrade to a 100-base-T system soon, you will need the better "Category 5" cabling. If you use the phone company for wiring, they will need to know the connector type and cable type as well.

You will need a "hub" that connects all of your computers. A hub routes network data from the original computer to wherever it needs to go. If you are on a two-computer network, you will not be able to string one cable between the two systems. You still need a hub. We use an eight-station 10-base-T hub in our office. It is a box with a power adapter and 8 female RJ-45 plugs. Every computer needs a cable with a male RJ-45 plug on each end. One end plugs into the network adapter on the computer and the other end plugs into the hub.

Once you have the network adapter cards installed, the hub in place, and all of your computers attached to the hub, you are ready for the software installation.

Taking the Plunge

Software installation is slightly more involved when you throw networking into an already complex Warp installation. Refer to my August 1996 article "Getting By in a Warped World" for tips on installing Warp—or stop by Powell's and buy a book on using Warp such as Uncensored Warp.

Before installing anything, it's a good idea to come up with a unique name for every computer on the network. You'll need to do it sooner or later anyway.

Warp Connect install begins automatically after the operating system is installed.

The most important factor when installing Warp Connect is to determine what type of network adapter you need. The number of network drivers bundled with Warp Connect is rather small. I found a generic NE2000 (the Kleenex of network cards) addon software driver on the Internet, but had little success getting it to work with the card that I had.

If you have not yet bought cards, you'll want to obtain a list of OS/2-compatible network adapters from one of the IBM sales lines (your local IBM rep. can help you find the right person). If you have not yet bought a card for your machine, I suggest an Artisoft Noderunner card for systems without a PCI bus. If you don't know whether or not you have a PCI bus, don't try this networking thing on your own. Rent or draft a geek. 3COM PCI cards are a good choice for PCI equipped systems.

Follow the instructions for installing and configuring your card. You may need DOS (and a geek) to do this. During installation, you will be asked what kind of network adapter you are using. You will need to know such vital statistics as adapter IRQ and I/O port settings. When you are assured that Warp Connect and your adapter are playing together, this data is registered with something called Multi-protocol Transport Services (called MPTS or "muppets"). MPTS is great because it configures every network protocol to your adapter, so you only configure once.

If you read and follow the directions carefully, your installation should go smoothly. If not, the network adapter, IRQ, or I/O port settings may be fouling up the process. If you are sure that these are correct, call IBM or seek a geek.

Getting out of the Blocks

My experience is with the OS/2 Peer networking software, so I will ignore all of the other options (especially TCP/IP). I never could figure out enough TLAs to make TCP/IP work, so I stuck with the friendlier IBM Internet Connection (phone only). I am told that the Novell and LAN Server connections work smoothly.

Your desktop will have three network related folders: OS/2 Peer, Network, and UPM Services. The OS/2 Peer folder contains all of the good stuff. There are several icons in the OS/2 Peer folder. The most important are Sharing and Connecting, Network Messaging, Clipboard and DDE, Information, Peer Workstation Logon, and Logoff.

"Sharing and Connecting" is the program which allows you to connect to the resources of other users. It also allows you to declare which of your resources—hard drives, floppy drives, removable (e.g. CDROM) drives, directories of a drive, printer ports, and serial (communication) ports—are going to be available to other users. You may restrict usage on each of your resources. If you want others to read your data without messing it up, for example, you might allow "read only" access to a directory on your hard drive. Some files, such as database programs, lock files for writing even when they are only being read, so "read only" access will not work with them. You must allow "read/write" access in those cases and back up whatever files you wish to preserve. You may also restrict access of a resource to a single user or group of users.

Announcing the Results

"Network Messaging" is OS/2 Peer's internal e-mail system. It will keep track of incoming letters to you from other workstations. When your system starts up, the messaging program is launched and runs in the background. If you receive a message from someone, your machine will beep four times and their message will pop up on your screen. The neat part is that it will pop up whether you are in an OS/2, DOS, or Windows screen. The incoming message screen allows you to read your message in its entirety, reply, or hold it for later so you can go back to what you were doing.

Sending an original message is versatile as well. After choosing "Send New" on the Message menu, you simply type your message and click on "Send." You have four options. You may send your message to a user such as Bob in Sales, to a computer such as that 386 in the basement, to a group of users such as the accounting dept., or to all users. It is a replacement for the interoffice memo.

The Closing Ceremonies

You must log on to the network to use its resources. The "Peer Workstation Logon" program will allow you to do this. You should also log off when you are finished for the day.

If you change users and passwords, you will need to take advantage of the programs in the "UPM Services" folder. If you are migrating from Windows for Workgroups, you will need to follow the instructions in the README files on the installation floppies to make your transition go smoothly.

The ideas in this article are intended to give you a thumbnail sketch of networking a small office. Hopefully you will avoid some of the problems that I had. It is my hope that your office will become as well-Connected as ours is.

Special note: A new version of OS/2 (Warp 4, code-named "Merlin") is scheduled to be formally introduced on September 25 and widely available by the end of the year. IBM promises you an easier interface, easier install, better device compatibility, and automatic network connections. They also promise that about 80% of the code is the same as Warp Connect. Therefore, most information in this article will be valid for the new version. On the other hand, versions of OS/2 have been released late before (though never as bad as Windows 95, which was over two years late), so waiting around until it is available may not be much fun either.

Online OS/2 and Networking Resources

Basics
Ethernet Tutorial: This link will download a compressed HTML file that covers some networking basics: http://www.cit.ac.nz/smac/dc100www/others/ether.zip

Short, but moderately helpful definitions of all those TLAs and other networking lingo: http://web.syr.edu/~jmwobus/lans/comfaqs/lan-glossary.html

Network cards
The Warp Pharmacy's Hardware Shelf provides some OS/2 troubleshooting information for a few different type of LAN cards: http://www.zeta.org.au/~jon/HardwareShelf.html

If you haven't yet bought your networking hardware, IBM maintains a list of network adapter cards compatible with OS/2 Warp Connect 3.0: http://www.austin.ibm.com/pspinfo/nicwc30.txt

If you already have network adapter cards and want to know how they're supported under Warp Connect 3.0, IBM also maintains a LAN Adapter Support page: http://service.software.ibm.com/os2ddpak/html/lanadapt/index.htm

Cabling
Cabling FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions): It's heavy, dry, and dull, but it'll probably tell you what you need to know about cables and plugs: http://web.syr.edu/~jmwobus/comfaqs/faq-comp.dcom.cabling

Network Components: Contains a nice discussion (with pictures!) of cabling: http://www.cit.ac.nz/smac/nm210/networks.htm#cables

OS/2 Home Pages
OS/2 Warp 3.0 Home Page: http://www.austin.ibm.com/pspinfo/os2too.html

IBM's page announcing Warp 4.0: http://www.austin.ibm.com/pspinfo/os2.html