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Home networking with Jaguar

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This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on November 8, 2002
(Issue 2045, Shop Till You Drop)

As I wrote last week, we recently received a review copy of Jagaur — the new upgrade to OSX for the Macintosh.

While Jaguar installed seamlessly and quickly (under half an hour), and immediately found my friend's cable modem connection via the LAN I plugged into, what was even more intriguing was the possibility of networking with my WindowsXP computer.

In the not-too-distant past, only serious geeks had home networks. For one, there was no real motivation to have one — few of us did any heavy-duty computing at home. One personal computer was generally enough. And even if you had two or more (whoa, serious dweebdom there) and wanted to share files between them, you simply saved the files to a floppy.

But the recent growth of high-speed residential Internet access is changing the formula. Now, with the kinds of speed available with DSL or cable connections, multiple computers can share the same pipeline to the 'Net.

Suddenly, multiple computers at home makes some sense: One on which the kids can do homework (sure to become as essential a home appliance as the microwave), and another for mom and dad to send e-mail, check the stocks, or manage the fantasy football team.

The fact is that just as families with only one bathroom have a lot of fighting for priority (sorry, kids), so — increasingly — will homesteads with only one computer.

Impetus for the home LAN

And with multiple computers in the house comes the desire to share files between them. Perhaps you only want to maintain (and buy cartridges) for one printer — a home LAN (local area network) solves that problem. Or junior wants you to check his homework — setting up a share directory can facilitate that.

Even more prosaic uses such as simply backing up your data files to each other's hard drives in case one of them goes down can bring on a desire for a home LAN.

Microsoft has done a decent job in the last few releases of making it easier to set up a Windows network without first possessing any in-depth computer skills.

But getting other operating systems to interact with Windows remained tough.

So if you were one of the growing number of households with both Macs and Windows boxes (or Linux), getting them to talk to each other was a pain.

No translator needed

Until now.

With the release of Jaguar, Macs can now interact directly with Windows computers. Unix and Linux users won't be surprised to learn that since OSX is built on a Unix base, SAMBA — a utility to let Unix and Windows computers network — is built into Jaguar.

Now, setting up Jaguar to see and be seen by my Windows XP box was not nearly as simple as getting Jaguar to see the DSL Internet connection. It was, however, quite a bit easier than administering SAMBA under a traditional Unix/Linux desktop.

The SAMBA administrator is fully embedded and integrated into OSX's System Preferences menu, under the Sharing option.

The built-in Mac Help Files walked me right through the process. Once I set it up, going to My Network Places on the XP desktop (Network Neighborhood in older versions of Windows) brought up the new Workgroup link (if you already have a group named Workgroup, my guess is the Mac will show up in there), with the Mac identified as a SAMBA connection.

Fine-tuning the LAN

I've only played with this new connection for a little bit as I write this. OSX being a variant of Unix, you've got to set the permissions for each directory you want to share over the network. And since both computers are directly connected to the Internet, I've not yet ironed out all the local network vs. firewall issues — it may be that for fancy stuff like that, you still need to suck up to the geeks in your circle.

But I'm able to open the Mac's share directory/folder from Windows, move files back and forth, play my iTunes music collection on either computer, and generally move into a new realm of home computing — and all with less than an hour of tinkering (which would be less if you know what you're doing).

I've not yet dug into XP enough to get it's share directories to show up in the Mac's finder. But that's a Windows issue — and another column.