By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers
Networking is cheap. Homes, schools and offices all over the country are doing it. It's a built-in feature of Windows and Macs.
Connecting to the Internet is cheap, too. For $20 a month, an Internet provider can connect your computer to the Web
Unfortunately, most of these small networks are needlessly cut off from the Internet. The people who connect their computers through small networks probably don't realize they can put their entire networks and all the computers on those networks on the Internet for $25.
That's not a misprint. A program called NAT32 (http://www.nat32.com), costing only $25, can give Internet access to everyone on a network. All that's needed is a single Internet connection -- a standard kind of dialup connection -- on one of the PCs. The others get their Internet connections through that computer.
This gets even better, so stay with me. NAT32 has to run on only one PC -- the one with the Internet connection -- so the total software expense, whether the network has two computers or 200, is $25. The other computers do not have to use any special software. They just connect across the network.
The other computers can be Apple Macs or PCs. It doesn't matter. If the Macs can connect to a standard Ethernet network -- and nearly all modern Macs can -- then they can share Internet access with other Macs and PCs on a network. The PCs on the network don't have to be running any particular version of Windows, either. Any version from Windows 3.11 to Windows 98 will do. (Nor do the "PCs" on the network have to be PCs. They can be Unix computers, Silicon Graphics workstations, Amigas, or any other computers that can connect to a standard network.)
Better yet, NAT32 doesn't use a proxy server -- a kind of network "bridge" that's very popular these days -- and so it has none of the many drawbacks of proxy servers. It uses network address translation (NAT) instead. This means all the computers on the NAT32 network are completely isolated from outside intrusion. In normal circumstances, no one on the Internet can "see" a computer served by NAT32 on any network. Only the single computer that has the Internet connection is "visible" to outside computers.
NAT32 needs only a small amount of computing power, so it will run perfectly well on a slow PC, such as a 486 PC that's too outmoded for most modern games and programs. The NAT32 PC does have to be running a current version of Windows --Windows 95 or Windows 98 (or Windows NT, the big brother of the other versions) -- but it does not need a lot of processor speed. Anything from 16 MHz on up will do. (That's not a mistake. If you can get Windows 95 or 98 running on any slow PC, that PC will do fine as the NAT32 server.)
This probably sounds too good to be true. But unlike so much of the hype in the software world these days, descriptions of NAT32 usually are too conservative; people who have used NAT32 probably worry that no one will believe them otherwise. Imagine: You pay $25 to connect all the computers (hundreds, if you'd like) on a network to the Internet. You get a safe network that can't be broken into. You can connect Macs and other non-PC computers. You don't have to use a fast PC as the NAT32 server. There's no need for any special software on the networked computers.
NAT32 works with the three standard kinds of Internet connections -- dialup services (ones that use your modem and phone line), ISDN connections (using digital ISDN modems) and cable Internet services. It should also work with ADSL modems. It requires an Ethernet network. (This is the standard method for home, office and school networks.)
You connect the first PC to the Internet whatever way you want, then run NAT32 on that PC. The only changes you make to the other computers are revised entries in their TCP setup forms. In simple terms, the other computers are told to connect to the NAT32 computer, not directly to the Internet, and the NAT32 computer handles the translation of internal computer addresses to external ones.
The Windows 95 and Windows 98 version of NAT32 costs only $25. A Windows NT version costs $40. You can download NAT32 and try it at no charge for as long as you want. The free version stops running after an hour, forcing you to restart it. This is an excellent way to try out NAT32.