Friday, August 15, 1997

Plug N Play - "ish"

Editor's NOTE: This is a moldie oldie that I pulled from a text dump archive. None of the links will work anymore (or 99% won't) - but the names and companies have NOT changed.

Setting up a LAN can suck.

I recently upgraded the LAN (Local Area Network) on our cadre of Macs here at ClickWare to 10 Base T Ethernet. It was a fairly straight forward process: plug the AAUI adapter into the back of the machine, connect the cable to the hub, go to the "Network" control panel and specify "Ethernet" rather than "LocalTalk". Done. All the machines now "talk" to each other, share network printers, modems, can "see" all the hard drives on all the machines, etc. Total time: 35 minutes from the arrival of the FedEx package.

Since having donated our "screamingly fast" 386 SX 33 PCs to our local university earlier this year, we've been "Mac OS only" shop for over 6 months now. Two columns ago ("Virtual (PC) Reality") I shared my very positive experience with Virtual PC for the Mac. It allows high-end hardware to emulate the Pentium CHIP, and thus run Windows 95/NT/OS2/Warp, etc.

Virtual PC works very well, and shares all the printers, modems, etc. that are installed on the Ethernet network - completely seamlessly.

Being the "speed pig" that I am, and with the news of the assimilation of Apple by Bill Gates, I decided that it was time to buy at least ONE dedicated PC (with the thought of buying several more). Besides, the upcoming release of FileMaker Pro (4.0) has really cool cross-platform hosting capabilities that I wanted to test.

Day 1: Bought the PC (a 166Mhz NEC "Ready" 9337, Pentium, 32MB RAM, 4 GIG hard drive, 24x CD ROM) and a NEC MultiSync XV17+ monitor from my local Circuit City Superstore. I was SHOCKED that this hardware cost LESS than my Mac SE (in 1986). I said to myself, "See, your readers who are jumping to the PC platform from the Mac were right - it is much cheaper!"

Day 2: Having installed the Windows 95 versions of all the software that I use (FileMaker, ClarisWorks, StuffIt Expander, etc.), I loaded (downloaded) new replacements for Email clients, screen capture utilities, etc. After a couple of hours of trying (and using my Mac to browse the NetCom Web Site for the 6 pages of notes on DNS name servers, configuring logon names, etc.) - I was even "connected" to the Internet for email and Web Surfing. Everything was working just fine. There was just one minor problem - the computer wasn't connected to the LAN, so I had to send files from the Mac to an email account, and download the file on the PC - just to transfer files between the two machines.

At this point, I'm thinking, "Hey, this DOES work pretty well. It's no Mac, but it doesn't suck TOO BAD."

Day 3: I get the brilliant idea to add a PCI Ethernet card to the PC so that I can "talk" to Windows 95 (running on the Mac OS via Virtual PC) across our entire network. Since we have printers that are cross-platform ready (Apple 16/600 with fax cards) - AND I have no problems printing from Virtual PC, I think to myself, "This should be a SNAP! After all, Windows 95 is much better than Windows 3.1 because of 'Plug N Play' technology." I order the card (3COM Etherlink XL COMBO 3C900-COMBO) from PC Warehouse, as well as a copy of LapLink software. Total: $200 and change.

Day 4: The hardware and software arrive (by a sheer act of God) via Airborne Express. I eagerly read the manual for "Upgrading" the PC, remove the cover, install the card into the PCI slot, replace the cover, plug in the Level 5 10 Base T cord (not included - ordered for $12.00 extra), and restarted the PC. I was greeted by a "Wizard" (read: a piece of software designed to look like it knows what the hell it's doing, but really has less of an idea than you do) informing me that I installed a new piece of hardware that it didn't recognize.

"Hooray!", I cried. "Maybe this will be as easy as the Mac! (gulp) Maybe I've been wrong to slam the Borg Leader (Bill Gates) for all these years.", I exaulted. The wizard showed me a list of "drivers" for the card I had installed (the one for the hardware I had didn't appear in the list), but there was a button titled "Have disk". I had a disk that came with the card. Giddy with excitement, I inserted the disk, clicked the "Have disk" button, and clicked "OK" at the prompt.

I might as well have blown my head off with a shotgun.

After "loading" 10 files from the diskette, I was prompted to insert the Windows 95 CD. I did. I clicked OK. The "wizard" choked - it couldn't find a file, but did offer a nice 2 inch text block to enter the full path to the "missing" file. Having dealt with PCs for years before the Mac, this didn't intimidate me in the least. I typed "Q:\". No good. I clicked "Skip this file", and it seemed happy - and "completed" the installation. "Hmmm...", I said to myself, "It must not have needed that file so badly after all. I mean, hey, it 'finished' the installation. Cool."

In hindsight, I should have slashed my wrists at this point - it would have saved LOTS of time.

Needless to say, the card didn't "see" printers or anything else. Luckily, I have a good friend, Marc Norman who is a Mac and Windows Networking/FileMaker GOD. He and I spend the next 6+ hours on the phone deleting stuff, adding stuff, and restarting after every try. Still, no good.

Day 5:Marc calls NEC, and speaks to several technicians before hooking up the very friendly, helpful Anne Martinez (extension 7637). She informs us that there was supposed to be TWO disks, and that we were supposed to insert disk 2 FIRST. I download the software from the NEC site (on the PC), and Marc and I spend another 9 hours and 30 minutes over the next two days trying every conceivable installation option we can think of (and restarting the computer after every one).

Day 6: I spend another 6 hours trying to get the card to print a test page on the networked printer. No luck. Marc is busy, but promises to get back to me with an answer from Anne at NEC in the morning.

Today: I'm waiting from a call from NEC, still can't print a test page, and am still sending myself email to transfer files.

What I learned: Call the folks at Dell computers - order EVERY CONCEIVABLE piece of hardware that you'll ever need (including SCSI cards, audio cards, extra hard drives, ethernet card, modem card, and anything else you can think of). That way, it will be "configured" by the factory, and just NEVER upgrade ANY software. Of course, the price will be about $1,500 more than I paid for my "bargain" PC, but it will save you the literally 100+ hours of your time just to get the damn thing to work.

I just realized for an extra $1,500 I SHOULD have spent to have the computer properly factory configured I could have bought another top-of-the-line Mac that I really WANTED in the first place...

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