You may experience more problems than you expect trying to connect a stand-alone Windows XP computer to another stand-alone computer running a different Windows OS. For example, suppose you bring home a loaner laptop running Windows XP from the office and want to transfer some files to your home system running Windows 98. Since all versions of Windows come with the Direct Cable Connection, the operation should be simple, right? Well, almost.
Windows XP's Direct Cable Connection configuration and connection procedures have a few subtle differences that can make the operation a bit tricky. I’ve developed a simplified strategy to solve the problem. Here's how to always configure the Windows XP system as the guest and then configure the other versions of the Windows operating system as the host.
What about Windows NT?
As you may know, Windows NT didn’t come with the Direct Cable Connection utility. Rather Windows NT uses Remote Access Service (RAS) for direct connections, and even then can only use a serial cable connection. Since RAS is a completely different animal, I won’t be covering it in this article. Instead I’ll refer you to Mike Jackman’s article, Setting up cable connections from Windows 2000 to Windows 9x and Windows NT 4.0
An overview of the XP Guest approach
Before I get started with the actual procedure, let me lay out my XP Guest approach in more detail. As you may know, the Direct Cable Connection utility isn’t designed to provide a simultaneous two-way communication channel as a standard peer-to-peer network connection would. Rather, when using the Direct Cable Connection utility, one computer is configured as the host and the other computer is configured as the guest. Therefore, you really have only a one-way communication channel where the guest computer can access any shared resources on the host computer, but the host computer can’t access resources on the guest computer.
With this in mind, I’ve found that when using the Direct Cable Connection utility to connect Windows XP to other versions of the Windows operating system, it’s better to configure Windows XP as the guest and the other Windows operating system as the host. That way, I can standardize my approach and focus on one set of configuration rules. Plus, I’m always using the newest Windows operating system as my working platform.
It’s important to keep in mind that even though the Direct Cable Connection utility provides a one-way communication channel with its guest/host model, you can still transfer files back and forth between the two computers. The only real limitation imposed by the one-way communication channel is that you must perform all your transfer operations from the guest computer. In other words, you can’t use the host computer to access the drives on the guest computer.
Choosing your cable
You can use either a null-modem serial cable or a direct parallel cable to connect your computers together with the Direct Cable Connection utility. However, I recommend that you avoid using a serial cable connection because parallel connections are much faster. This is due to the fact that a parallel connection is capable of processing more data at a time than a serial connection can. Let’s take a closer look.
In general, the reason parallel cables are faster is because they transfer data eight bits at a time over eight wires, whereas serial cables transfer one bit at a time over a single wire.
If this data transfer example isn’t enough to convince you, let’s take a closer look at transfer speeds. A serial cable connection is capable of a transfer speed somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 KB to 14 KB per second. A standard parallel connection is capable of a transfer speed of between 40 KB to 70 KB per second. Therefore, if you select the parallel cable for linking two computers together via the Direct Cable Connection utility, you’ll definitely get much faster transfer performance.
You can walk into any computer store or connect to an online store and purchase a direct parallel cable specifically designed for connecting two computers together with Direct Cable Connection. These types of cables will cost around $8 to $15, and are typically available in 6-foot to 10-foot lengths.
Now, if you have a lot of large files to transfer with Direct Cable Connection, you might want to investigate the DirectParallel Universal Cable from Parallel Technologies—the same company that licensed the parallel connectivity technology used in Direct Cable Connection to Microsoft. When using a DirectParallel Universal Cable, you can expect data transfer rates of between 300 KB and 500 KB per second.
To achieve such high transfer rates, the DirectParallel Universal Cable employs intelligent circuitry built right into the cable head. This circuitry automatically detects the type of parallel port in your system and configures the fastest possible transfer rates. The DirectParallel Universal Cable package sells for $69.95 and can be ordered directly from Parallel Technologies.
Making the physical connection
Once you’ve obtained a direct parallel cable, you can connect the two systems even before you complete the configuration procedure. That way, you’ll be all set to go once you have both systems configured.
Basic network configuration
In order to connect two systems with the Direct Cable Connection utility, each system must have the base networking components installed. This installation includes:
- Client for Microsoft Networks
- File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks
- Network protocols
In addition, any system configured as a host must have a computer name assigned to it. Furthermore, the host system must be sharing a drive. And, if the host is a Windows 2000 or a Windows XP system, the shared drive must have Full Control Permissions enabled.
Configuring the XP guest system
Configuring the XP guest system is a pretty straightforward procedure. To begin, access the Control Panel and select the Network Connections icon. If you’re using Category View, you’ll have to select the Network And Internet Connections category first. Once you have the Network Connections window open, select Create A New Connection under the Network Tasks heading. When you see the Welcome To The New Connection Wizard screen, click Next. You’ll then see the Network Connection Type page, where you should select the Set Up An Advanced Connection option (see Figure A). Then, click Next.
|On the Network Connection Type page you’ll need to select the Set Up An Advanced Connection option.|
When you see the Advanced Connection Options page, select the Connect Directly To Another Computer option, as shown in Figure B. Then, click Next.
|You’ll next select the Connect Directly To Another Computer option.|
At the Host Or Guest? page, select the Guest option, as shown in Figure C. Then, click Next.
|Since you’re configuring the XP Guest system, you’ll select the Guest option.|
You’ll now see the Connection Name page and will assign a name to the connection, as shown in Figure D. As the New Connection Wizard suggests, you should use the computer name assigned to the host system to which this connection is intended to provide access. In the case of this particular example, the computer name of the system I’m creating a connection to is called Jupiter. To continue, click Next.
|You’ll name the connection after the host computer.|
At this point, you’ll see the Select A Device page and you should select the Direct Parallel (LPT1) setting from the Select A Device drop-down list, as shown in Figure E. Click Next to continue.
|The Select a Device drop-down list should contain the Direct Parallel (LPT1) setting by default.|
When you see the Completing The New Connection Wizard screen, click Finish. As soon as you do, you’ll see a Connect dialog box. However, at this point you’ll just click Cancel because there are a few other configuration settings that you may need to adjust on your XP Guest system. You'll also need to configure your Host system.
The necessary network protocols
Up to this point, configuring the XP Guest system is the same for connecting to all versions of the Windows operating system. However, there are different protocol settings that you need to use for the XP Guest system, depending on whether you’re connecting to a Windows 9x/Me Host or to a Windows 2000/XP Host. Let’s take a closer look.
Once you close the Connect dialog box, you’ll see the Network Connections window again. At this point, right click on your new connection icon, which will appear under a new section titled Direct, and select the Properties command. Now, select the Networking tab in the properties dialog box. On my example system, the Networking tab in the Jupiter Properties dialog box looks like the one shown in Figure F.
|The default networking components are added to the connection when you create it.|
The Windows 2000/XP Host connection
When configuring your Windows XP Guest to connect to a Windows XP Host or a Windows 2000 Host, you only need to have the three default networking components installed in their default configuration. As shown in Figure H above, these are Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), File And Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks, and Client For Microsoft Networks.
The Windows 9x/Me Host connection
When configuring your Windows XP Guest to connect to a Windows 95 Host, a Windows 98 Host, or a Windows Me Host, you’ll need to add the NWLink IPX/SPX/NetBIOS Compatible Transport Protocol to your connection. The reason is that these older operating systems were designed to use NetBEUI as the default protocol for Direct Cable Connection, so they may not be able to use TCP/IP—Windows XP’s default protocol—as the communications channel for the Direct Cable Connection.
Couldn’t you just install NetBEUI?
As you may know, Microsoft included the NetBEUI protocol on the Windows XP CD. However, installing it can be time consuming and really isn’t worthwhile, since the NWLink IPX/SPX/NetBIOS Compatible Transport Protocol is readily available in both operating systems.
To add NWLink IPX/SPX/NetBIOS Compatible Transport Protocol to Windows XP, click the Install button. When you see the Select Network Component dialog box, select Protocol from the list and click the Add button. Then, select the NWLink IPX/SPX/NetBIOS Compatible Transport Protocol from the Select Network Protocol dialog box, as shown in Figure G, and click OK. You’ll then need to reboot your system.
|You’ll need to install the NWLink IPX/SPX/NetBIOS Compatible Transport Protocol on a Windows XP Guest system that will connect to a Windows 9x/Me Host.|
Configuring a Windows 2000/XP Host
The steps that you’ll take for configuring a Windows 2000 and a Windows XP Host are almost identical. You’ll begin by creating a special user account, then creating and configuring the actual Host connection.
Creating a new user account
To create a new user account, access the Control Panel, open the Administrative Tools folder, launch the Computer Management console, expand the Local Users And Groups branch, and select the Users folder. Now, right-click on the Users folder and select the New User command. When you see the New User dialog box, type the name of the Guest computer in both the User Name and Full Name boxes. Be sure that you leave both the password text boxes blank. Then clear the User Must Change Password At Next Logon check box and select the Password Never Expires check box.
For instance, my XP Guest computer is named Venus, so my example New User dialog box on my Windows 2000 host system looks like the one shown in Figure H. To complete the operation, click Create. You’ll immediately see another New User dialog box and will have to click Close. The XP Guest computer name will now appear in the list of users. You can then close the Computer Management console and the Administrative Tools folder.
|You’ll create a special user account for logging on to your Windows 2000/XP Host.|
Creating the Host connection
After you’ve created the XP Guest connection, creating the Host connection via the Network Connection Wizard in Windows 2000 or the New Connection Wizard in Windows XP system is easy. In fact, the majority of the steps you took in the New Connection Wizard for configuring the XP Guest system are the same ones you’ll take when configuring a Windows 2000 or a Windows XP Host. Let’s take summary look at those steps and then pick up at the point where things change.
From the Network Connections window in Windows XP, you’ll click the Create A New Connection task. Or, from the Network And Dial-up Connections window in Windows 2000, you'll click Make New Connection. Once the New Connection Wizard gets rolling, you’ll subsequently choose the Set Up An Advanced Connection option and then the Connect Directly To Another Computer option in Windows XP. In Windows 2000, the Network Connection Wizard jumps right to the Connect Directly To Another Computer option. Then, on the Host Or Guest page, you’ll select the Host option.
Which option is best?
The Advanced Connection Options page in Windows XP’s New Connection Wizard provides you with two viable choices for creating a Direct Cable Connection host: Connect Directly To Another Computer and Accept Incoming Connections. (Check out Figure C.) Since you’re creating a host connection, you might be tempted to select the Accept Incoming Connections option; however, the route that the New Connection Wizard takes when you select this option includes several pages on settings that aren’t necessary for a Direct Cable Connection, which could trip you up. So I recommend that you use the Connect Directly To Another Computer option.
At this point, you’ll see the Connection Device page, and you should select the Direct Parallel (LPT1) setting from the Select A Device drop-down list, then click Next to continue. When you see the User Permissions page in Windows XP or the Allowed Users page in Windows 2000, you’ll select the new user account that you created earlier, as shown in Figure I.
|You need to select the special user account in order to associate it with the connection.|
When you click Next, you’ll see the final page in the wizard and will click Finish. The default name for the Host connection will be Incoming Connections for both Windows XP and Windows 2000. However, in Windows 2000, you have the option to rename the connection if you wish. You’ll now see a new item in Windows XP’s Network Connections window or Windows 2000’s Network And Dial-up Connections window called Incoming Connections.
Configuring the Host connection
At this point, you have a couple more settings to configure before the Host connection is complete. To begin, right-click the Incoming Connections icon and select Properties. When you see the Incoming Connections Properties dialog box, select the Users tab and select the Always Allow Directly Connected Devices Such As Palmtop Computers To Connect Without Providing A Password check box, as shown in Figure J.
|Since you didn’t add a password to the special user account, you need to specify that a password isn’t required.|
Then select the Networking tab and double-click the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) component. When the properties dialog box appears, you’ll need to select the Specify TCP/IP Addresses option, then type two consecutively numbered, unique Class C IP addresses in the text box, as shown in Figure K. Make sure you leave the Allow Calling Computer To Specify Its Own IP Address check box blank. Then, click OK twice to close both dialog boxes.
|Since Windows XP and Windows 2000 use TCP/IP as the default protocol for a Direct Cable Connection, you’ll want to specify two unique Class C IP addresses to use for this connection.|
Connecting to a Windows 2000/XP Host
Once you’ve configured your Windows 2000/XP Host, you can establish your first connection from your XP Guest system. To do so, you’ll start by accessing the Network Connections window and double-clicking the appropriate Direct connection. You’ll then see a Connect dialog box and will type the name of the user account you created on the Host system in the appropriate text box, as shown in Figure L, then click Connect. Be sure to leave the Password text box blank.
|You’ll type the name that you assigned to the special user account and leave the Password text box blank.|
Then, click the Connect button. When you do, you’ll see a connection progress dialog box momentarily appear on the screen. You’ll then see a connection icon appear on the system tray along with a pop up balloon that informs you that the connection is now established. If you click the balloon, you’ll see a Status dialog box like the one shown in Figure M.
|You can use the Status dialog box to monitor your connection.|
Now that the connection is established, all you need to do is map a drive letter to the shared drive on the on the Host system. To do so, pull down the Tools menu in the Network Connections window and select the Map Network Drive command. Then, select a drive letter, type the UNC path to the shared drive on the host system, and click Finish. When you do so, Windows Explorer will open and display the contents of the connected drive, and you can begin transferring files. (When connecting to a Windows XP Host, you may be prompted for the user account again.) Figure N shows my example Map Network Drive dialog box.
|When you see the Map Network Drive dialog box, you’ll need to select a drive letter and type the UNC path in the Folder text box.|
Configuring a Windows 9x/Me Host
Configuring a Windows 9x/Me Host system is a bit different from configuring a Windows 2000/XP Host. To begin with, the Direct Cable Connection utility isn’t installed by default during a typical Windows 9x/Me installation procedure, so chances are that you’ll have to install it. You’ll then need to add the IPX/SPX protocol.
Installing Direct Cable Connection
If the Direct Cable Connection utility is installed on your Windows 9x/Me system, you’ll find it on the Start | Programs | Accessories | Communications menu. If it isn’t there, you’ll need to install it.
To install Direct Cable Connection, open Control Panel and double-click Add/Remove Programs. When you see the Add/Remove Programs Properties dialog box, select the Windows Setup tab. Now, choose Communications from the Components list box and click the Details button. When you see the Communications dialog box, locate and select the Direct Cable Connection check box from the Components list box and click OK twice. Windows 9x/Me will then prompt you for your installation CD and begin installing the necessary files.
Adding the IPX/SPX protocol
As I mentioned earlier, in order to ensure a reliable connection between a Windows XP guest and a Windows 9x/Me host, you need to use the IPX/SPX protocol with the Direct Cable Connection utility. To install the IPX/SPX protocol, open the Control Panel and double-click the Networking icon. Then, in the Network Properties dialog box, click the Add button, and double-click the Protocol component. When you see the Select Network Protocol dialog box, choose Microsoft from the Manufacturers list box and IPX/SPX-compatible Protocol from the Network Protocol list box.
Connecting to a Windows 9x/Me Host
To connect your XP Guest to a Windows 9x/Me Host, you’ll begin by launching the Direct Cable Connection utility on the Windows 9x/Me Host and configuring it to listen for a connection. To do so, access the Start | Programs | Accessories | Communications menu and select Direct Cable Connection. When you see the Direct Cable Connection wizard, select the Host option, as shown in Figure O, and click Next.
|You’ll first select the Host option from the Direct Cable Connection wizard.|
On the next page, select Parallel Cable On LPT1 from the list, as shown in Figure P, and click Next. When you see the last page in the wizard, make sure the Use Password Protection check box is clear, then click Finish.
|You’ll then select the parallel cable option.|
You’ll then see the a Status dialog box, which initially informs you that the Direct Cable Connection utility is waiting for a connection, as shown in Figure Q.
|Once you complete the Direct Cable Connection wizard, you’ll see a status dialog box.|
At this point you’ll move over to your XP Guest system, access the Network Connections window, and double-click the appropriate Direct connection. You’ll then see a Connect dialog box and should immediately click the Connect button. There’s no need to fill in the User Name or Password text boxes.
You’ll then see a connection progress dialog box momentarily appear on the screen, followed by a connection icon appearing in the system tray along with a pop-up balloon that informs you that the connection is now established.
To complete the procedure, all you need to do is map a drive letter to the shared drive on the on the Host system. You can follow the same instructions given earlier for connecting to a Windows 2000/XP Host.
Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.