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February 2000 General Meeting Report

by Steven Kiepe, Vice President for Programs

February's general meeting was conducted in a manner considerably different from previous meetings. Unlike the traditional sessions dedicated primarily to demonstrating developer hardware and software packages, the February meeting was a combination history lesson, tutorial and hands on demonstration of the rapidly expanding field of computer networking, especially as it relates to the Macintosh. On hand to try to put several decades worth of knowledge into layman's terms was Terry Davis, Senior Systems Engineer for Asante Technologies, Inc., and Ed Meurer, Account Manager from Synergy Sales and Marketing in Rockville, MD.

After analyzing the range of networking expertise in the audience, Terry mixed prepared remarks with a general question and answer session. Terry's prepared remarks included a presentation on networking technology including AppleTalk, LocalTalk, USB, Ethernet, network architecture types, hardware requirements and other pertinent topics. He was aided primarily by Ed but accompanied by the somewhat questionable efforts of Steve Kiepe and Tom Witte.

Beginning with the most basic type of networking common to virtually all "legacy" Macintosh computers, a set of LocalTalk adapters was shown to the group. These adapters, about the size of a small box of matches, have a cable that plugs into the serial port (printer port) of most Macs. The adapters are then connected using a pair of unshielded wires. Most houses are wired for at least two different phone circuits/numbers and the unused circuit is generally well suited for use as a LocalTalk network. The connection between a computer and any other device on the same lines constitutes a network. A LocalTalk network is often used to connect Macs with compatible printers and for many users of Apple LaserWriter printers, a LocalTalk network may be the most convenient means of connecting one or more Macs to their printers. Localtalk networks can be up to 4 times as fast as a 56Kbps modem connection (depending on data compression) but it can still take as long as 48 seconds to transfer the data contained on a single floppy disk.

The most common types of networks in the business world are those based on the Ethernet standard. Ethernet networks come in many configurations and use many different wiring schemes including some with names like ThinNet, 10Base2, 10BaseT, 100BaseT and others. What they all have in common is speed &emdash; up to hundreds (and now thousands) of times faster than a LocalTalk network. When it comes to moving large files such as those created by graphics programs, databases and the like, a LocalTalk net just will not do. Just as cable modems and Direct Subscriber Link (DSL) modems are pushing 56Kpbs modems into obsolescence, Ethernet is the key to getting high capacity data into your computer (or sharing an Internet connection among several computers).

The demonstrators opened the cases on a few of the demonstration Macs and with video camera capturing the process and retransmitting it to the big screen, showed how simple it is to install an Ethernet card in a Mac with either a NuBus or PCI card slot. Most new Macs don't have to go through this step as they come with built in 10baseT or 100baseT Ethernet jacks. A few machines have built in Ethernet circuitry but require special adapters to connect into an Ethernet network. Once the basics were explained, the demonstration group proceeded to build an Ethernet network between an iMac DV, a Quadra 650, a PowerPC 7200 and a LocalTalk equipped NEC Silentwriter 95F laser printer.

As his mix of highly and lesser skilled cohorts labored on stage, Terry revealed the mysteries of hardware hubs to connect different computers into a local area network and switches to connect multiple networks. Terry explained the functions of Asante's 10/100baseT Smart Hub and its use as a central connection and switching point for an Ethernet network. He continued into the use of hubs and switches to allow a network of computers to share a single cable modem or DSL connection. He also explained the use of Asante's new FriendlyShare kit, a software solution that enables one computer with high speed Internet access to act as the connection point or server for all of the other computers on the network.

After an extended period of answer questions, it was time to demonstrate the network. The first few connections went smoothly and a connection was established between the iMac and the LocalTalk only laser printer by using an AsanteTalk Ethernet to LocalTalk adapter. A roadblock was encountered in tying all the other computers together on the network until it was made apparent that one of the unpaid helpers had plugged the wrong cable into the network hub. Once that was resolved, all of the computers began rapidly transmitting data between each other and the networked printer.

Terry finished his presentation by fielding many more questions on networking, covering the gamut from problems in getting a cable modem to work with a Mac through tying Macs and Wintel PCs into the same network. Terry fielded all questions regardless of relevance to Asante's product line, even answering questions on competitor's products.

It's difficult to tell how many folks went home and immediately began stringing Ethernet cables between the rooms of their house but interest in the topic was obviously quite high. Alas, the time available for the meeting had come to an end and it was necessary to end the presentation. Asante generously donated the 10/100baseT Smart Hub and Switch and the FriendlyNet USB Hub for the WAP raffle. Terry also came to my aid on the spot by changing out my AsanteTalk adapter that somehow got broken during the demonstration. Thanks Terry!

On to the drawing. A slew of books was distributed first: Corel Draw 8 for Windows to Pat Fauquet; two copies of Creating Cool HTML to Jo Giogianni and Thomas Berens; and Think Different to John Barnes and Bob Wilbur. The morning's big prize winners were Marty Ditmeyer who took home the Asante FriendlyNet USB Hub and Ingrid Berdahl, winner of the Asante 10/100baseT Smart Hub and Switch. Congratulations to all of our winners!

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Revised March 26, 2000 Lawrence I. Charters
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