Thoughtful, detailed coverage of the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, plus the TidBITS Content Network for Apple consultants.

Macintosh PPP Overview (Part 2)

[This week we finish Travis's overview of PPP software for the Macintosh begun in TidBITS-306, highlighting ongoing PPP projects as well as commercial PPP implementations. -Geoff]

The "Future of PPP" Projects -- Two different groups recently put together "collective PPP" projects - attempts to gather the best of all of the different Merit MacPPP-derived versions together into a single, coherent release, which could then be used as a basis for building future PPP software. For the moment, they still count as MacPPP-derivative software, and most of the latest versions of MacPPP add-ons and configuration information work with them, which may cease to be true in the future if they continue to diverge. Both of these programs are available in the MacTCP software directory on Info-Mac.

MacPPP 2.2.0a was written by a Belgian group called MacBel UG vzw. It features:

  • The Username/Password features from 2.0.1cm4.
  • The background connection feature from 2.0.1cm4.
  • Display of the connect speed in the PPP status window.
  • The high-speed serial port fixes from MacPPP 2.1SD (2.1.2SD's predecessor).
  • Support for PSI's ISDN service, from John Stephen, who also implemented that feature for 2.1.2SD.
  • Timing fixes for some modems, also from John Stephen.
  • A major makeover of the Config PPP control panel and a redesign of the PPP status window, for a cleaner interface.

Unfortunately, MacPPP 2.2.0a is apparently not compatible with Open Transport. It also didn't work correctly with my old PowerBook 170's internal modem, so either it doesn't incorporate the PowerBook fixes from 2.0.1cm4 and/or 2.1.2SD, or it tried to incorporate them and they don't work properly. 2.2.0a ran fine on my IIci at home and my Quadra 840AV at work. MacPPP 2.2.0a might worth a try if you don't use Open Transport or a PowerBook, and I like the revised interface.

However, MacBel has discontinued work on MacPPP 2.2.0a. I received email from Lieven Embrechts, the contact listed in the 2.2.0a documentation, stating, "Development [on 2.2.0a] is stopped. We are now working on different projects." This means that although 2.2.0a is worth a look (and should still be usable if you have no problems with it), I cannot recommend it.

FreePPP 1.0.2 is the successor to MacPPP 2.1.2SD, and Steve Dagley is still the guiding force, although he has included contributions by a large number of people, making FreePPP a group project. The name change came in part to eliminate some of the confusion surrounding all the derivative MacPPP releases with similar names and different numbers.

[Sharp-eyed readers may have seen FreePPP 1.0.3 appear last week; that version has been retracted because it exacerbated a problem initiating PPP connections from within an application rather than from the control panel. FreePPP 1.0.2 has been restored to the Info-Mac archives and should be considered the current version. -Geoff]

In addition to the features in MacPPP 2.1.2SD, FreePPP adds:

  • CHAP support, for the few hosts like MCI that require CHAP authentication. (I haven't tested this; my provider doesn't use CHAP.)

  • A new PPP Status window, with progress icons and more connect information. The window can be shifted into the background, allowing background connections; it's a little large onscreen, though.

  • Improved stability with virtual memory. (I haven't tested this; I use RAM Doubler and haven't had problems. However, RAM Doubler can cause many of the same compatibility issues as virtual memory, and many people on <comp.sys.mac.comm> are still reporting troubles.)

  • A "Disable Automatic Connect" option that keeps FreePPP from dialing automatically when something tries to open MacTCP. This fixes problems with "ghost dialing" experienced by some users; unfortunately, the option may need to be turned off for some PPP add-ons to work.

  • A "Long Redial Delay" option that stretches the time between redials to one minute.

  • A Username/Password feature similar to that in 2.0.1cm4 was just added in version 1.0.2; it enables you to use the ID and password information from MacPPP/FreePPP's Authentication dialog box (normally used only with PAP and CHAP authentication) in your connect script.

I'm currently using FreePPP 1.0.2 on my 840AV at work and my new PowerBook 5300; it appears to be stable, and runs well. However, reports from Macintosh newsgroups still cite a few stability problems and the FreePPP group is working to resolve them.

I'd like to see FreePPP get a revamped control panel, along the lines of 2.2.0a. The current control panel is a slightly changed version of the original, which was a front-runner for the Ugliest Control Panel in Existence award. Work is underway on alternative interfaces for FreePPP, so hopefully we'll see improvements in future releases.

Commercial PPP software -- Although there are plenty of free options if you want to use PPP, some people feel more comfortable with a commercially supported product. There are a few available right now; I haven't tried any of them, since I've been happy with the freeware products. None of the PPP add-on programs for the MacPPP derivatives work with these commercial products.

InterPPP II -- InterCon Systems was one of the first developers of commercial Internet software for the Mac. Their version of PPP, InterPPP II, supports AppleTalk over PPP as well as TCP/IP (think Apple Remote Access, which is supposed to be switching to a PPP foundation with the next major release). However, this is only an advantage if your host also supports AppleTalk access via PPP, which isn't true of most Unix-based Internet providers. InterPPP II can also establish SLIP connections and is supposed to be compatible with Open Transport 1.0.8. InterPPP II uses CCL scripts (like Apple Remote Access) to handle dialing and login. It has built-in scripts that should handle most modems; built-in scripts also handle logins for people who use Telebit or most Unix-based PPP servers, PSI InterRamp, internetMCI, CompuServe's PPP, or PPP servers that use PAP or CHAP authentication. However, people who don't use one of these might need to write their own CCL connection script, a potentially daunting task.

MacSLIP was originally a full-featured SLIP implementation; in version 3.0, it adds support for PPP. MacSLIP's maker, Hyde Park Software, says on their Web page that MacSLIP 3.0.2 also supports Open Transport, making it an alternative to MacPPP 2.1.2SD/FreePPP. Several people on <comp.sys.mac.comm> have offered strong recommendations for MacSLIP, stating that it's more robust than the MacPPP derivatives. MacSLIP uses a scripting language to set up connections; although this is more powerful than the "prompt-response" setup that the MacPPP derivatives use, it can be more difficult to set up. MacSLIP comes with the commercial version of Eudora, as well as with MicroPhone Pro, although it's worth checking to make sure both have the latest version.

SonicPPP is a PPP client available from Sonic Systems, the Macintosh networking company; it can be downloaded from their Web site. SonicPPP appears to work only with PPP servers that support PAP or CHAP authentication; it has no provision for a login script, so I was unable to test it with my Internet provider.

VersaTerm SLIP -- Although not a PPP program, this SLIP implementation is notable because it reportedly supports Open Transport. At least one reader has written to comment that VersaTerm AdminSLIP works fine on his Power Mac 8500. VersaTerm SLIP is available as part of several of VersaTerm's Internet software bundles.

Recommendations -- These recommendations apply primarily to the freely available programs because they're more commonly used and because I haven't tried many of the commercial options.

  • If you use Open Transport, there's only one freeware choice right now: MacPPP 2.1.2SD, or (given some testing time to make sure the bugs are out) its successor FreePPP 1.0.2. None of the other MacPPP derivatives work under Open Transport. You could also try the commercial MacSLIP or InterPPP II, if you want to spend the money.

  • If you use a PowerBook, I'd also go for MacPPP 2.1.2SD, or FreePPP 1.0.2. The fixes for slow PowerBook modems are a definite help here. Given the troubles I had, I don't recommend MacPPP 2.2.0a.

  • Some people have had specific problems with the original MacPPP, as shown by the lists of fixes implemented in the various derivative versions. You might look over the lists and see if one of them matches your situation.

People who don't fit these special cases have a wider selection:

  • I suggest you start with the original MacPPP 2.0.1. It's likely to give you the least grief, clunky interface and all. Further, all the derivative versions are compatible with 2.0.1's configuration file, so the work you do in setting up a connection will be saved if you switch to a different version. Just don't mix and match the PPP extensions and control panels between versions!

  • If you want to enter your user name and password at connect time, consider MacPPP 2.2.0a; the enhanced interface is nice, and the other improvements can make life easier. However, since the authors have stopped development, no further upgrades or bug fixes are likely to appear. You should also look at FreePPP 1.0.2, with its newly-added support for using the Authentication dialog's information in connect scripts.

  • If you don't have any specific needs, but want something nicer than the original MacPPP 2.0.1, try both FreePPP 1.0.2 and MacPPP 2.2.0a, and settle on the one you like the best.

I have to admit I'm encouraged by FreePPP 1.0.2, and with what I saw in MacPPP 2.2.0a. It's too soon to say what will happen with FreePPP, but it presents a future growth path for Macintosh PPP software born of community spirit, and that's something everyone should be happy about.

(This article is based on information from my Web page on Macintosh PPP software. I'll continue to update the page with new information on PPP programs as I find it.) pppstuff.html

Hyde Park Software (via TriSoft) -- 800/531-5170
512/472-0744 -- 512/473-2122 (fax) -- <>
InterCon Systems -- 800/468-7266 -- 703/709-5500
703/709-5555 (fax) -- <>
Sonic Systems -- 800/535-0725 -- 408/736-1900
408/736-7228 (fax) -- <>
Synergy Software -- 800/876-8376 -- 610/779-0522
610/370-0548 (fax) -- <>


READERS LIKE YOU! Support TidBITS by becoming a member today!
Check out the perks at <>
Special thanks to Roy Gay, Kerry Hughes, Laurie Iten, and Ray
Cheydleur for their generous support!