Like an increasing number of small organizations, TidBITS has no central office. We all work from our homes and collaborate primarily over the Internet. We use private email and mailing lists to communicate back and forth; rely on private Web servers for statistics, plus editing and posting of TidBITS Updates; and transfer drafts of articles and issues to and fro during editing. Over the years, we’ve worked up various procedures for handling all these tasks, and although they’re specific to TidBITS, many organizations have roughly similar needs.
Enter AppleShare IP — When Apple announced AppleShare IP 5.0, with its combined support for HTTP, FTP, and Internet email, I jumped at the chance to give it a test run in part for those features, but also because of one fabulous new capability that we’d been wanting for years – standard Macintosh file sharing over the Internet to those running the AppleShare Client Chooser extension 3.7 or later, which works with System 7.5 and later and ships with Mac OS 8. (Accessing shared volumes over the Internet is easy. Open the Chooser, click the AppleShare button, click the Server IP Address button, enter the IP address of the AppleShare server in the dialog that appears, and then click the Connect button before proceeding as you would normally with an AppleShare server.)
Why was this important for TidBITS? With six staff members working on any one file, we must pay careful attention to who has a file checked out and when a file is ready for someone else to edit. For a while, we used a NetPresenz FTP server to store files, and we moved files between IN and OUT folders, appending appropriate initials so others could figure out who had each file. This process was a pain. We had to type complicated pathnames, which were easy to screw up. When the time came to check a file back in, we had to either replace the file in OUT and rename it back to IN, or upload to IN and delete the file in OUT. Renaming and moving files aren’t actions that most FTP clients do well.
In contrast, the Finder is great at both moving and renaming files, and once we had AppleShare IP up and running, everyone on the staff could mount our internal file server just like any other AppleShare volume. On occasion, people even opened files over the Internet, though that was generally too slow, since we have only a 56K connection; it might work quickly enough over a T1. Finally, although our system is specific enough that we don’t have to do this often, we can use Find File to search for files on volumes mounted over the Internet, which is quite handy.
Exit AppleShare IP — Unfortunately, AppleShare IP 5.0 had problems. It was a RAM pig, requiring 32 MB of RAM (it took me an hour to get inside our Power Mac 7100/66 to install enough more RAM – not an auspicious debut). AppleShare IP’s interface is based on OpenDoc, and although that might have been politically correct at the time it was being developed, it made for a confusion of multiple administration programs. Worse, OpenDoc prevented me from restarting the server automatically every night, since AppleShare IP put up a confirmation dialog on quit. With a normal Mac application, the free utility Okey Dokey Pro would have been able to punch that button and let the restart continue. But, OpenDoc’s buttons were invisible to Okey Dokey Pro. In addition, I was trying to run an unstable custom version of Apple e.g. for a searchable database of TidBITS articles; when it crashed, Keep It Up couldn’t restart the computer because of this same AppleShare IP confirmation dialog. In short, AppleShare IP didn’t play well with others, and in a fit of pique I deleted it and reinstalled a clean System Folder so I could revert back to WebSTAR, NetPresenz, and Personal File Sharing. (Note that I was using AppleShare IP 5.0 – a bug fix 5.0.2 appeared shortly after I decided to make the switch back, and it’s possible that it addressed some of my irritations.)
Enter ShareWay IP — I might have had a revolt on my hands if I’d forced everyone to go back to the FTP file shuffle. Luckily, at about that time, Open Door Networks released ShareWay IP (now at version 1.1.1), a small application that acts as an IP gateway for Personal File Sharing or any other AppleTalk Filing Protocol (AFP) compliant file server (such as earlier versions of AppleShare or those available in Windows NT, Novell NetWare, or Unix AppleShare servers).
TidBITS isn’t a large organization, and where AppleShare IP was a painful level of overkill, ShareWay IP was ideal. Where I was hard pressed to satisfy AppleShare IP 5.0’s 32 MB RAM requirements, I could duplicate its services in less than 8 MB of RAM using WebSTAR 1.3.2 for HTTP, NetPresenz 4.1 for FTP (it could also have served HTTP if I’d been even more RAM-constrained), Eudora Internet Mail Server 1.2 for email, and ShareWay IP Personal in conjunction with Personal File Sharing for Internet file sharing.
Of these, ShareWay IP was the only newcomer to the mix, and it performed flawlessly. The Personal Edition works only with Personal File Sharing on a single machine, but as a result, its only control is a Start button that activates the IP gateway once file sharing has started. ShareWay IP assumes correctly that if you quit while the gateway is active (the Start button changes to Stop when active), it should make the gateway active again on the next launch.
In short, ShareWay IP Personal Edition is dead simple. Open Door Networks sells two other versions that enable one Mac to act as a gateway for any other machine on the network that has file sharing active or is acting as an AFP server. ShareWay IP Standard Edition enables this for one other server, whereas ShareWay IP Professional Edition enables it for multiple other servers, plus adds access statistics, graphing, logging, and a sortable list of active connections.
Minor Problems — In extensive use of ShareWay IP, we’ve run into no problems at all that can be traced to ShareWay IP itself. We have, however, had one nagging problem that seems to be related to Apple’s AppleShare client software. When some, but not all, of us dismount the file server’s volume, the Finder often restarts or hangs on their machine. It doesn’t seem to affect the server at all, but is extremely frustrating. Keeping the server mounted over the Internet all the time isn’t a viable option because our comparatively slow Internet connections mean changes on the server can cause slowdowns for everyone who has the server mounted.
The only generic problem with ShareWay IP is that it has no security features, relying instead on the security of the servers for which it’s acting as a gateway. That makes some sense, but many people turn file sharing on and allow guests full access. That’s always a poor practice, but in a situation where ShareWay IP might be making that Macintosh accessible to the entire Internet, the ramifications can be even more serious. If you end up using ShareWay IP, be careful about security on the servers you make available to the outside world of the Internet.
In some respects, ShareWay IP offers better security than other solutions, such as FTP. ShareWay IP uses a specific port number for connections, so an access control list in a router can block incoming connections to that port except for selected machines. Plus, since AppleShare uses two-way random number exchanges to encrypt passwords, they never cross the network unencrypted, unlike FTP.
Also, there’s no logging built into ShareWay IP Personal or Standard Editions, or Apple’s Personal File Sharing. The File Sharing Monitor control panel in System 7 and the Activity Monitor tab in the File Sharing control panel in Mac OS 8 can tell you who’s logged in at any given time, but if you want logging you need either ShareWay IP Professional or the combination of AppleShare IP itself and AFP Logger, also from Open Door Networks.
ShareWay IP includes electronic documentation in HTML format, and although it’s rather spartan, it matches ShareWay IP’s minimalist interface. The Personal and Standard Editions of ShareWay IP share the same documentation, which could prove slightly confusing to users of the Personal Edition.
One Trick Ponies — There’s no question that ShareWay IP is a one-trick pony. It has a single function – making AFP-compliant file servers accessible to Macintosh users over the Internet or via TCP. It uses almost no RAM, has a minimal interface, and doesn’t appear to have any performance or stability implications for a server. In short, ShareWay IP is ideal for small organizations that need to share files over the Internet, and it’s become an essential part of our toolbox of Internet server software.
The current version of ShareWay IP is 1.1. ShareWay IP Personal Edition is available directly from Open Door Networks for $79 ($69 educational). The Standard Edition is $249 ($179 educational), and the Professional Edition costs $479 ($349 educational). In comparison, AppleShare IP costs range from more than $800 for a 5-user license up to about $2,000 for an unlimited-user license. Ten-day evaluation copies of all versions of ShareWay IP are available, as are volume discounts for the Personal and Standard Editions.