DataClub is one of those programs that people thought would die a horrible death when System 7’s FileSharing appeared. From what I gather from talking to the folks at International Business Software and from using it on our Macs here, DataClub is still doing well, and for good reason.
Before System 7 came out, people usually used TOPS to share files among several Macs. AppleShare was too pricey and required a dedicated Mac, and some of the shareware and freeware applications didn’t have quite enough in the way of a feature set. Then came DataClub, which has a completely different way of looking at the concept of file sharing, one which just might finish TOPS as a peer-to-peer networking program (although Sitka is currently pushing the inter-platform connectivity TOPS offers to Macs, PCs, Sun workstations, and soon, pen-based palmtops).
Most file sharing programs try to replicate the original disk or folder on the secondary machine, which is a fine way of doing it in most cases. However, this gets confusing when you have ten or twelve folders mounted as volumes via TOPS. If nothing else, on a compact Mac screen, it can be hard to find the right one. In contrast, DataClub takes all the space you allot to it and creates a single virtual volume. On our network, Tonya’s Classic had about 4 MB free and my SE/30 had about 7 MB free, so the DataClub volume appears to have about 11 MB free. As you add more Macs to the virtual volume, the virtual volume size increases, so a normal five or six Mac network could easily appear to have a DataClub volume of several hundred megabytes.
There are a couple of advantages to this system. First of all, it is less confusing. There is only one network volume, not ten or twelve, and everyone has the same one, although users and groups can be set up with AppleShare-like access privileges so there’s no need to worry about security. Second, because everyone with a hard disk contributes space, everyone can opt to create new folders on his or her Mac’s hard disk, thus making those folders available to everyone else while retaining the speed of having files available on the local hard disk. Of course, using a file over the network is not nearly as fast.
As a rough estimate, I’d say that DataClub is a little faster than TOPS and about the speed of a dedicated AppleShare server. Actually, I’m talking about DataClub Classic, which is the version used only in peer-to-peer networks. If you can spare a dedicated server, DataClub Elite will provide even better performance on that dedicated Mac. In addition, the manual, which is clear and generally helpful (though I do admit that I didn’t look at it until I wrote this review) suggests that you avoid putting applications in the DataClub volume if possible since running an application over a common LocalTalk network is slow and frustrating. For Macs without hard drives (or PCs for that matter) the AppleShare client software that ships with the computer will allow any floppy-only Mac to act as a client and mount the DataClub volume over the network – a good way to squeeze a few more months from those aging Pluses.
Back to the advantages of the virtual server system. Third, because no single Mac has to provide all the disk space for the network, any one of the Macs can be shut down or even removed from the network without causing a major hubbub (assuming no one is using the files on that Mac’s hard disk at the time). Files in DataClub that are on a disconnected Mac’s hard disk merely look greyed out; similarly, when a Mac is away from the network, all the other files are greyed out and only local DataClub files can be accessed.
This may sound like DataClub sits in the background making sure that files are where it wants them to be. That’s true to an extent, but you have a fair amount of control over where you put files, and the administrator can also move folders around to more evenly distribute the load. Oh, didn’t I mention the administrator before? You don’t actually need one unless you are planning a relatively complex DataClub network with users and groups or want to get load statistics, etc. If you just want to share files, you can simply run the installer, restart, and be on your way. IBS has even sold various cheap DataClub packages in the past without the administrator software, in part to make DataClub available at a reduced price, and in part because you don’t need it in every case.
There are some limitations to DataClub. It does conflict with some other extensions, but IBS lists known conflicts in the release notes. You can’t move an item from the DataClub volume on to the desktop, but if you try, DataClub will helpfully tell you that it can’t do that and ask if you want to copy the item to the startup disk’s desktop. Even under System 7, you can’t leave files and folders in the Trash; DataClub will tell you that it has to delete them immediately and ask for confirmation. I assume that these last two limitations have to do with not implementing the System 7 invisible folders in some way, but it’s not really a big deal, and it might be a common problem with networking software. You might also cause some confusion if one person tried to delete a file while another person tried to copy it, or something like that, but I wasn’t able to seriously confuse DataClub in my tests. You do need 2.5 MB of RAM and 2 MB of disk space to run DataClub, and 2.5 MB of RAM with DataClub and System 7 will leave little for the application you want to run. But you knew you were going to need more memory anyway, and it’s cheap these days. One final caveat: you have to be a bit careful with your disk space because if you have 5 MB free on your hard disk and your DataClub volume claims it has 6 MB free, only 1 MB of that 6 MB is coming from another machine. The other 5 MB is the same 5 MB your hard disk has free. So it might seem as though you had 11 MB available, when in reality, you only have 6 MB.
All this said, who should buy DataClub? As clever and useful as it is, it can’t come close to System 7’s FileSharing in cost, and in the case of very small networks, like our two-Mac network, DataClub is overkill. It’s simply easier to turn FileSharing on and off when we need it and not worry about it most of the time. However, I see the ideal DataClub network as one made up of five to ten Macs in a small office situation. In that situation, DataClub provides storage to everyone on the network and does so in such a way that everyone can easily access public files. There’s no hassling with multiple network volumes or asking if so-and-so has turned on FileSharing, both problems likely to occur otherwise. Larger networks will probably need the added speed of DataClub Elite, in which each of the user machines can still contribute disk space to the virtual volume, or even AppleShare 3.0, but I’m not going to make any sweeping statements about large networks, since I’m no expert. Suffice it to say that for a small office networks, DataClub will provide an admirable file sharing service. Oh, a 3-pack of DataClub Classic will run about $265 mail order, but keep an eye out for one of those great deals IBS occasionally has.