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Using a Windows 95 peer-to-peer network
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

Using a Windows 95 peer-to-peer network

Technofile for Feb. 23, 1997
This is an expanded version of the column that appears in print.

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Setting up a Windows 95 PC network is simple and easy, as we saw last week. Using the network is even easier.

(If you missed last week's column, you can read it on the World Wide Web at

I'll describe the ways you can use a Windows 95 home or small-office network shortly. Let's get some of the technical stuff out of the way first.

Normal networking, like the kind you'd find in a large office or university, uses what is called a client-server system. The client is the computer you use; the server is a computer somewhere else, maybe in another room or even farther away, that stores things for you and everyone else on the network. The server also does other jobs, such as handling printing and mail.

Client-server networking works well. It's also expensive, both for the equipment (a separate computer just to handle the network) and for the personnel (someone who takes care of the network). That's why another kind of networking is becoming popular. It connects computers without using a server. Because all computers connected this way are equal, it's called peer-to-peer networking.

Peer-to-peer networking has been around quite a while. PC users may not want to admit it, but Apple's Macintosh made peer-to-peer networking an affordable reality more than a decade ago. Macs use AppleTalk and simple cables to connect to each other. In some ways, AppleTalk isn't up to the kind of networking we're talking about here (it's slow, for one thing), but we can't deny that it blazed the path for PCs.

In the Windows world, Microsoft's Windows for Workgroups (especially version 3.11) had the biggest effect, and is still in use today in hundreds of thousands of offices around the country. Windows of Workgroups is robust and easy to use. But it's now outmoded by the built-in peer-to-peer networking in Windows 95.

Most of the networking pros I've talked to consider peer-to-peer networking dreadful, but they may feel that way because they're not familiar with the way Windows 95 handles it. Under Windows 95, peer-to-peer networking is transparent _ it's built into the basic way Windows works. Most users probably would not find anything different between a networked PC and one that stands alone, except for their ability to retrieve files stored on another computer or print through a remote printer.

Now the easy parts.

Setting up a printer that's connected to one PC as the network printer is easy under Windows 95. Click on the My Computer icon, then click on the Printers icon. Click on the Add Printer icon and follow the instructions in the window. You can't do it wrong, because the setup wizard gives you only two choices, and both are clear. (Microsoft should get a lot of credit for these wizards; they're the best examples yet of its research into how ordinary computer users can get lost when they're faced with too many choices.)

Sharing drives is simple. Right-click on a drive icon in My Computer and choose Sharing. Click on ``Shared As:'' and type in a name. (A tip: Don't put any spaces in the name. Space can confuse some programs.) Then choose the type of access. ``Read-Only'' means remote users can open files and folders but can't change them. ``Full'' means remote users can do anything they want to your files and folders, so be careful. ``Depends on Password'' lets you choose passwords for both kinds of access.

You can do the same thing for folders. Right-click on a folder and choose Sharing, then follow the same routine you use for drives. Shared drives and folders show up in the Network Neighborhood of each computer on the network.

An older method of sharing drives is also available. It's handy if you use older software that doesn't understand the Universal Naming Convention, a way of listing locations using a double backslash at the front of the name. (In Windows 95, all shared items have UNC names.) A UNC name looks like this: \\Mary\C\Shared Files\Schedule.txt.

The older method is called drive mapping. Open the Network Neighborhood and click on the icon for another computer on the network, then right-click on one of the drives attached to that computer. You'll see ``Map Network Drive.'' Windows 95 will suggest a drive letter for you, but you can choose any other unused letter. (Tip: If you don't see many choices of letters, you probably have a line that reads ``LASTDRIVE='' in a file called the CONFIG.SYS in the root of the C: drive. Change the letter that appears after the equal sign to a letter high enough to give you more choices. Make sure you use SYSEDIT.EXE to do this. Don't use Notepad, which is Microsoft's big floozy. You have Sysedit on your hard drive, and you can get it to run just by typing Sysedit in the Run window.)

Mapped drives are special. Drives on other computers on the network that are mapped to your PC show up along with your own drives in My Computer. That means you can run programs or access data from another computer on the network just as if you were doing everything on your own drive. (To the software, the mapped network drive looks just like one of your own drives.)

A great candidate for a shared drive is a CD-ROM drive on another computer on the network. You can even play games or run entertainment software on another PC's CD-ROM drive across the network. You can even do this while that remote computer is busy with other tasks. And if you have a fast CD-ROM drive on that PC, two or more remote users can access the drive at the same time.

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