9 Apr 1995

Adding Internet Access to PC's

In 1994, the Internet moved from obscurity to the front page of newspapers and magazines. This sudden explosion of interest caught the vendors unprepared. Microsoft had no significant Internet offering, and IBM spent most of the year repackaging its older products.Some level of Internet support will shortly be included in every operating system. Those who continue to cling to Plain Old Windows running over Plain Old DOS will need the instructions provided here to add low cost Internet support to the old systems. Those who upgrade to OS/2 or Chicago may benefit from a few pointers to additional application programs. Those who have to support bunches of users on many different systems need a survey of all the options.

Vendors Develop Interest

Initially, networking for Personal Computers meant file sharing through Novell Netware. Novell captured 80% of the market because their software ran best on old, small, underpowered machines. Long distanced communication for PC's meant access through modems to BBS (bulletin board systems).

Large corporate networks used SNA. For a long time, PC's connected indirectly to these networks through a card that emulated a 3270 terminal. Although IBM provided software to connect PC's more completely through Token Rings, this option was not widely exploited.

The Internet was an experiment funded by the Department of Defense. The design was to provide universal communications using simple programming that ran on any type of computer. Such generality meant that the software could not be optimized and was, relative to other options, somewhat inefficient. It became popular on generic Unix systems that had no vendor proprietary protocol. In the early days, a system that could support the Internet services cost tens of thousands of dollars. Then chip technology took over, so today a $400 card that plugs into an HP printer supports an Ethernet connection and has Appletalk and Internet protocols built-in. The inefficiencies of Internet protocols are currently a problem for devices trying to connect fiber optic cables with gigabyte data speeds, but they pose no problem for ordinary network speeds.

Because of the early government funded research and the relative simplicity of the programming, there was a large body of public domain code available. Early PC support for the Internet was based on several university projects. This was then improved and repackaged by a number of small software companies. IBM got into the Internet indirectly through university research or its Unix systems development. Microsoft initially had no interest in Internet.However, chips got cheaper and faster, and there was this large body of neat stuff driven mostly by university research and some government funding. The effect was the same as a room full of fumes waiting for a spark. Suddenly, the Internet appeared on the front pages of all the newspapers. The big vendors had to redesign or repackage their systems to take advantage of the opportunity.

New Operating Systems

Those who are hopelessly old fashioned can stick with Windows 3.x. Since neither Microsoft nor IBM is particularly interested in developing for this system, Plain Old Windows is supported by small software companies and shareware. The simplest upgrade to the old system is a shareware package called Trumpet WINSOCK. It supports both LAN-based connections and dial-up modem access using the SLIP protocol. This is the most widely tested of the Internet software packages. There are, however, a few inexpensive commercial products of note. A subset of the full Netmanage product is available in a "sampler" system inserted as a disk in a number of Internet connection books. Both Trumpet and SAMPLER provide basic network connectivity without any applications. Users can then acquire separate applications from the Internet, perhaps following the recommendations given later in this article. For those who like a complete solution, Spry offers the quaintly named Internet in a Box. FTP Software, Inc. was one of the early leaders in PC Internet software and has recently updated its code to use modern Windows interfaces.

Internet connectivity is a major feature of IBM's "Warp" (OS/2 3.0). IBM has had a complete set of Internet client and server applications for OS/2 since 1990. They have been improved over five major releases and now represent a mature and comprehensive solution. These applications take full advantage of the multitasking environment of OS/2, allowing the user to transfer several files at a time in the background, and using background idle time to prefetch information before the user needs access to it. Since individuals have difficulty gaining individual access to the Internet, this new OS/2 release is bundled with a "one button connect" through the Advantis service (a joint venture of IBM and Sears). OS/2 is available in Personal (home) and Corporate (LAN) versions.

Windows NT 3.5 provides built-in support for low-level Internet connections. Natively, NT uses the Internet to provide wide area file and print sharing. Microsoft bundles in no application programs. As will be seen in the later sections of this article, there is a large body of free or low cost Windows software to fill in all the missing pieces. NT requires more memory, and it would not be as interesting if Windows 95 (Chicago) was still planned for release in a few months. However, now that Chicago is delayed, NT represents the only solid Microsoft platform with full Internet connectivity and support for all the new and old Windows applications. The server pclt.cis.yale.edu used most commonly to view this document is an NT machine running Web server code developed by the EMWAC (European Microsoft Windows NT Academic Centre) project sponsored by Microsoft, DEC, and several other companies at the University of Edinburgh.If Windows 95 were available today, and if it met all of its design objectives for reliability, compatibility, and low resource use, then it would be an obvious choice. However, only test versions are available now and the final product remains an unknown quantity. It will support basic Internet connectivity for LAN and dial-up clients. A large body of freeware and shareware will provide all the necessary client programs. If it works.

Special Cases

Some topics are of such a specialized interest that they need to be handled separately. When it is necessary to pay for a real product, and it comes with real documentation, then it makes sense to use the manuals as the main reference. This document can then be used to install a few additional shareware programs that may be of additional use.

Overview

A hypertext system allows the reader to jump around. This is useful because most ordinary users do not need to view every possible set of instructions. Someone installing on an Ethernet doesn't care about modems. Someone installing under Windows for Workgroups doesn't need information about NT or OS/2.

It seems impossible to customize a path for every individual. There is a common body of Internet planning that many people will need to know. In most cases, they will be expected to fill in information such as an IP address, subnet mask, and name server address. If the network administrators have set up a DHCP server (generally on a Windows NT 3.5 Server machine), and the user is installing a Microsoft client package, then the configuration can be done automatically. Unfortunately, there is no way to create a special hypertext path through the material for the handful of users who will be able to skip configuration of the numbers.

The first group of articles explains to the reader why there are any decisions to make in the first place. There are different types of LANs, different types of phone connections, different strategies for indexing data, different methods for encoding image and sound, and different ways to structure the network. A friendly LAN administrator may give you a crib sheet with all the answers. These articles explain the questions.

The second section is a more detailed plan and checklist for initial connection. What are the three types of connections between an Ethernet card and the wall plug? What are the types of COM chips used to drive a modem? How do you manage IRQ and DMA issues? If the hardware is already installed (say to talk to a file server) then these items can be skipped.

Alternate paths now cover installation under different circumstances:

Installing Trumpet WINSOCK under Windows 3.x for a modem connection
Installing a LAN connection with Windows for Workgroups 3.11
Installing and configuring Internet support in Windows NT 3.5
Installing and configuring Internet support in OS/2 Warp
Installing and configuring Internet support in Windows 95 (Chicago)

Each of these cases provides a simple closed installation path with a single vendor support. After any of these clean installations, the reader can continue with the application programs described in the next section. This leaves the sloppy problem of adding Internet connection to the LAN using Packet Drivers and Trumpet WINSOCK under some version of Windows 3.x. This is actually a sequence of operations, since the Packet Drivers can be installed naked, on top of Novell support, or on top of Microsoft support.

The final section discusses the various Internet services available and the programs that can be used to take advantage of them. FTP file transfer, Gopher menus, Web document browsing, E-mail, and searching tools will be described. Viewers for graphics, sound, and PostScript will also be reviewed.

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Copyright 1995 PC Lube and Tune -- Windows on the World -- H. Gilbert