By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
See if this is a typical scenario at your office or home: You have two or more PCs networked together, but only one of them has an Internet connection. You'd love to be able to share that connection with the other PCs, but that seems impossible.
Well, it's not impossible. In fact, it's absurdly easy. If all the non-connected PCs are running Windows (version 3.11 or later) and the PC with the connection is running Windows 95 Windows 98 or Windows NT, you can set them up so that they can all get onto the Internet through that single connection in a couple of minutes.
The software that does this is WinGate. If you have just two PCs connected to each other—a typical situation in many homes—the WinGate software is free. You have to pay a relatively small fee for more connections—$110 for six PCs (the one with the connection and five others), on up to $320 for an unlimited number of connections.
You can download WinGate from many sites, but you probably should check out the WinGate home page at http://wingate.net/ for more information first. The site is well organized and has explanations of all the features of this amazing program.
WinGate does not have to be installed on all the PCs on the network. Running it on the PC with the Internet connection is all that's needed. On the other PCs, you change some settings in the Control Panel. That's all you do.
Because I usually get blank stares when I talk to PC users about WinGate, I'd better explain what it does in plain English. Read this part carefully.
First, WinGate requires three things:
At least one connection to the Internet of any kind. This can be a normal dialup connection, a direct line, a cable modem connection, and so on.
A network connecting PCs. Network cards (one for each PC) don't have to cost more than $10 to $20 if you shop around, and network cabling is cheap. (The PCs can be separated by hundreds of feet if you buy enough cable.)
Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT. The PC running WinGate must use those three operating systems. The PCs that are connected can use one of those three or Windows for WorkGroups. (This is also called Windows 3.11. Go to http://wingate.net/wg-w311.htm for help configuring Windows 3.11 with WinGate.). I use WinGate under Windows 98, so don't bug the WinGate folks with questions about whether it works under Windows 98; it does.
Second, WinGate multiple connections at the same time. This is the biggest source of confusion when I tell others about WinGate. If my PC has an Internet connection, I can be logged onto my mail server and onto the Web while your PC is logged onto its mail server and browsing its own Web sites, through my connection.
Third, if you're using a dialup connection, the PC that has the modem and phone line does not have to be connected to the Internet first. If I have the dialup connection on my PC and you tell your PC software to get your mail, WinGate automatically dials out from my PC to take care of the connection.
Fourth, WinGate handles all standard Internet activity—mail, Web browsing, ftp transfers, RealAudio and RealVideo feeds, IRC chat, and so on. Any Internet program that has a setting for a proxy server—which is what WinGate actually is—can work with WinGate. (Most programs do, although I've seen some freeware programs that don't.)
Fifth, WinGate can easily be set up to block access to certain sites or to keep particular PCs on the network from doing various things. One PC could be limited to mail only while another could be denied access to sites with the word "babes" in the address, for example.
Do you lose performance when multiple PCs are accessing the Internet through one connection? If you have, say, five users browsing the Web at the same time, you'll notice a slowdown, but in a typical setup, in which a single "slave" PC is connected to the WinGate-equipped computer, you probably won't see much difference. WinGate stores everything that is accessed in its own cache (disk buffer), separate from any browser cache you're using, and this helps a great deal.
If you have a high-speed connection—a direct line or a cable-modem hookup—the limiting factor will be the speed of your PC network and the overhead at the WinGate PC. Use the fastest PC on your network for the connection, or, if you have dozens of PCs connected to one WinGate PC, use a PC for the WinGate connection that isn't doing anything else most of the time.
A final point: If you search, you'll find other programs that are designed to do the same thing. I've tried many of them, and they're either much more expensive or less flexible in how they can be set up. WinGate is the best of the bunch by far.