Not surprisingly, readers deluged us with additional comments, questions, and details surrounding my article "Creating a Simple Ethernet Network" in TidBITS-446. Much of the discussion has taken place on TidBITS Talk, so to review more than I've summarized here, look at recent posts in the TidBITS Talk archive.
Additional Resources -- We received a number of pointers to sites containing additional information on Ethernet networks, including Robert Woodhead's tips-filled tale of installing an Ethernet network, a site containing information on structured cabling, the Three Macs & a Printer site, Ambrosia's Networkable Mac Games Networking 101 page, and John's Closet. All are worth investigating.
Fast Ethernet Backups -- Kudos to Peter Jones <email@example.com> for suggesting a great reason for choosing Ethernet instead of LocalTalk. If you back up a several-gigabyte hard disk over the network, LocalTalk may prove too slow. Add several Macs with large hard disks to your network backup system, and backups may take too long to complete overnight. This is probably more of a problem in a small office situation than a home, where backup speed matters less. For more information on backups, see my series on the subject.
Did We Need Hubs? A number of people argued with our choice of 10Base-2 in our home, saying that we wouldn't really have needed hubs since we could just have run more 10Base-T cable, which is cheap. That's generically true, but our specific situation involved long cable runs that utilize three holes in the outer walls. Running more than one or two wires simply wouldn't have worked physically, which is why I commented that we would have needed a hub at each location. If you're in a situation where the wire is exposed or easily strung over a drop ceiling, say, then you could avoid multiple hubs.
Sharing an ISDN Connection -- Several readers noted that the Sagem Planet ISDN GeoPort Adapter can provide Internet services to all the Macs on your network, much like Vicomsoft Internet Gateway, Vicomsoft SurfDoubler, and Sustainable Softworks' IPNetRouter. Also, Sagem has announced a USB-based ISDN terminal adapter for iMac users. However, Erik Buelinckx <firstname.lastname@example.org> commented that he'd found the performance to be slower for the other Macs on the network.
LocalTalk Printers on Ethernet -- In our recent iMac coverage, we looked closely at putting LocalTalk printers on an Ethernet network, so I didn't think to revisit the topic again. Even so, the topic confuses many people, so here are the possibilities.
Download and install Apple's free LaserWriter Bridge software on a Macintosh that is connected to both your old LocalTalk network (which might be just the printer and that Mac) and your new Ethernet network. LaserWriter Bridge takes the print traffic from the Ethernet network and sends it out via LocalTalk to the printer. Remember that you won't see any speed increases in printing because the LocalTalk network is still a bottleneck. Some people have had problems with LaserWriter Bridge, although it's worked fine for us. Since it's free, there's no harm in testing it. Note that the file linked below also contains an updater for Apple's LocalTalk Bridge, which enables you to share all LocalTalk devices on an Ethernet network. However, LocalTalk Bridge isn't free, and I doubt you can find it for sale.
Buy a hardware LocalTalk-to-Ethernet bridge. A number of companies make these bridges - including networking vendors like Asante, Farallon, and Sonic Systems - and they're often used to make LocalTalk printers accessible to an Ethernet network. Look for Asante's Micro AsantePrint; Farallon's EtherMac iPrint Adapter, EtherWave Printer Adapter, and EtherWave MultiPrinter Adapter; and Sonic Systems' microPrint/2, microPrint/12, and microBridge TCP/IP. Prices and availability vary, but these devices should be in the $100 to $400 range, and some are available from TidBITS sponsors Small Dog Electronics and Cyberian Outpost.
Finally, Stephen Peilschmidt <email@example.com> recommended free print server software that accepts print jobs from a Mac on the network, then sends them on to the printer, freeing the Mac doing the printing from processing the print job. Print servers offer other capabilities as well; if you're interested in off-loading print job spooling to another Mac, check out the 1.6 MB Printdesk Lite 1.5.6 from Nine Bits.
Dayna's Dead -- In my list of well-known Macintosh networking companies, I included Dayna Communications, which is unfortunately now owned by Intel. Worse, Dayna officially closed its doors last month for future product sales. Intel has left Dayna's Web site active (which is misleading, since there's no disclaimer on any of the pages about how Dayna no longer exists) and promises to provide technical and warranty support. You might be able to find some cheap prices on new Dayna hardware for a while, but if the prices are the same, I encourage you to support companies that are active players in the Macintosh market.
Crossover Cable Conundrum -- Several folks observed that crossover cables can be a pain for regular usage. The problem is that unless one Mac is on when you turn on the other, AppleTalk won't sense the existence of the network. The problem is primarily annoying, and Travis Butler <firstname.lastname@example.org> informed us that you can work around it by switching the AppleTalk control panels on both Macs to something other than Ethernet, closing them, and then switching them back to Ethernet. Travis recommended Tim Kelly's $3 shareware FruitSpeak control strip module to simplify this switching. You could also use Apple's Location Manager (which ships with Mac OS 8.1, and is available for PowerBooks running earlier systems) to accomplish the same thing.
Network Security -- When I wrote about sharing files between computers, I should have mentioned that if you're also connecting your network to the Internet, you should be careful to use passwords. Although it's a bit less likely to affect Mac-only networks, I've heard of situations where PC users with cable modems can access their neighbors' files over the Internet connection.
Long Cable Runs -- 10Base-2 networks can have a maximum of 185 meters (607 feet) per segment, whereas 10Base-T networks max out at 100 meters (328 feet) per segment. These limitations seldom come into play, but they're worth keeping in mind if you want to network multiple buildings (something we've considered doing with our neighbors). Data Comm Warehouse has a decent chart showing the variables.
Grades of Twisted Pair Wiring -- When you buy cable for a 10Base-T network, pay attention to the grade of the cable and the components. High-speed networks require higher grades of cable and components than voice or low-speed networks (Kee Nethery of Kagi once ran a LocalTalk network on hot and cold water pipes). Category 3 is the minimum for 10Base-T networks, and Category 5 (called "Cat5") is the minimum for 100Base-T networks. If you're installing new wire, you should use Cat5 cabling, since it's the most likely to work for any future networks.
Multiple Operating Systems -- Peter Wood <email@example.com> asked if there's any problem networking Macs running different versions of the Mac OS? The simple answer is no, there's no problem at all. You might run into a situation where creating the network engenders a situation requiring a new version of the Mac OS, though. For instance, installing LetterRip Pro on our SE/30 was the only reason we bothered to upgrade to Mac OS 7.5.5 and Open Transport (which LetterRip Pro requires).
PC Cards, Older System Versions -- Peter Adams offered two minor points. First, PowerBooks using PC Cards (and possibly Macs using other less common Ethernet devices) to gain access to an Ethernet network may have "Alternate Ethernet" in their AppleTalk and TCP/IP control panels rather than "Ethernet." Don't be confused - if you have only one choice that mentions Ethernet, that's the right one. Second, Peter commented that if you run an older version of the Mac OS, you may need to install Ethernet drivers for your Ethernet card. Those drivers should be included, but if not, download and run Apple's Network Software Installer 1.5.1 (note that it's a disk image and requires either Apple's DiskCopy or Aladdin's ShrinkWrap to mount). If that doesn't work, you'll need to call tech support.
Wireless Ethernet -- Finally, although no one mentioned it, I'd like to throw in a quick comment about wireless Ethernet. A company called Digital Ocean makes several wireless networking products for the Macintosh, but the products have suffered from high prices and poor performance. Digital Ocean's Web site doesn't respond, and I can't find anyone selling these products (Manta and Starfish for Ethernet, Grouper for LocalTalk). However, on the bright side, Henry Norr's MacWEEK news report for this year's WWDC contained a comment that Apple might be working on wireless Ethernet modules for a new Comms Module slot in future Macs. There's no telling if and when this product will come to pass, but in the meantime I'd like to register my vote for an inexpensive wireless Ethernet solution for home networking. I wouldn't even object to seeing it in Bondi blue.