So, you took the plunge and bought a new PC to replace the outdated, three-year-old 166 that you’ve been pounding on since you bought it to replace that 486… Instead of relegating your old machines to the closet or garage, how about setting up that home network that you’re always talking about? Obviously, there’s still a lot of juice that you can squeeze out of these victims of Moore’s law.

Armed with your Windows 98 SE (which most likely came with your latest PC purchase) and a few extra bits of hardware, you have the ingredients for a home network that rivals those at many small businesses. As with most network solutions, a home network offers several benefits. Whereas you currently may be haunted by one lone Internet connection for the entire family, Windows 98 SE takes the pain out of scheduling “computer time” for the entire family. Instead of having to shell out more dollars for a second or third printer, Print and File Sharing takes on a whole new meaning in the home.

Of course, setting up a home network also gives you a microcosmic example of how corporations view their budgets and finances in light of their technology and equipment. For newbie techs planning to climb the corporate ladder into management, building and maintaining a SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) network will provide as much a study in technical design as it does in enterprise resource planning. CIOs don’t make it to the top of the corporate food chain based solely on their knowledge of UNIX, after all.

Let’s say that you already have your major components: a new 700 Athlon that runs Windows 98 SE, a Pentium 200 and a 486/75 (both running Windows 95), and a printer. For about $100, you can have these components share resources. Nowadays, a 4- or 5-port Ethernet hub can be purchased for as low as $30; network cards cost as little as $10; and depending on the length of the CAT 5 that you need, you should set aside $5 to $7 per section. As with anything else, you get what you pay for—you could be in for some extra configuration and hair pulling if you go with the blue-light special, so you might want to spend a little extra time researching hardware before buying anything. You also can buy a pre-packaged “network-in-a-box,” which includes everything that you need to connect two PCs together (basically what’s listed above). For additional PCs, you’d have to buy extra NICs and cables.

Windows 98 Software
Windows 98 SE includes integrated networking support for many of today’s better-known networks, such as Novell, Banyan, IBM, DEC, and others; however, its support for these networks isn’t without some problems. Windows 98 SE won’t support early versions of these systems. Many 16-bit networking components are limited in the Windows 98 environment, and they will experience major difficulties. Windows 98 SE prefers 32-bit protected-mode networking components, which afford simplicity by moving the network configuration files away from any startup files (such as Protocol.ini or Autoexec.bat) and over to the Windows registry, and by providing support for multiple network clients at once. Real-mode 16-bit network clients are limited to supporting one client as the primary network client at a time (but you can still have multiple 32-bit protected-mode network clients, as well).

Nonetheless, the Microsoft networking family will be the obvious focus of this discussion. More than likely, you’re already familiar with the client/server environment. A Windows 98 Small Office/Home Office network is only slightly different.

Now that you have a box full of extra parts that you just bought, what do you do? It’s time to roll up your sleeves and break out the tool kit; cracking open those PCs is the next step, especially if you’re not already familiar with the insides of all your machines. Remember, your new network cards are going to take up resources just like any other peripheral. More than likely, you bought PCI NICs. You should have appropriate, open PCI slots. On your lower-end machine (such as a 486), you probably will need to fill the slot with an EISA network card. Again, be sure to plan accordingly before you make any purchases, or you’ll be going back to the shop.

Next, you’ll need to consider the placement of your hub. Preferably, it should be near the PC that you use the most so that you can monitor and troubleshoot the hub more easily. Are all of your PCs in the same room? If not, how are you going to handle the cabling? For a clean look, you can use a drill to hide your cabling inside the walls of your home. If this option isn’t open, try to run your cables along the baseboards. Keep in mind, however, that your 10BaseT twisted pair cabling can’t exceed 325 feet in length, or it won’t operate efficiently. Unless you want to connect a PC in the basement with one in a second floor bedroom, it shouldn’t pose a problem. You may have to consider centralizing your hub, instead of placing it next to one PC, particularly if you’re trying to maximize cable lengths. (Theoretically, two PCs can be as far as 650 feet apart—as long as there is a hub between them!)

Windows 98 SE has refined its plug and play support immensely—especially its network cards. Obviously, there’s no need to add a plug and play network card manually. Once it has been physically installed and Windows 98 kicks up, the first thing you should see is a dialog box that says, “Windows has found new hardware…” At most, the Select Device box will pop up, and you’ll have to direct Windows 98 to the location of your device’s drivers (be it on a floppy disk, a CD, or a directory on your hard drive).

If you have decided to use an older legacy network card, you’ll have to follow the directions outlined below:

  1. Go to Start | Settings | Control Panel
  2. Open the Add New Hardware applet by double-clicking it
  3. Run the Add New Hardware Wizard; let Windows 98 search for the hardware—if Windows 98 doesn’t find it, add the hardware manually by choosing the device and clicking “Have Disk” in order to delineate the driver path to Windows (i.e. floppy, CD, etc.)
  4. Click “Finish” and reboot, if prompted

Unless you are installing on an older PC, you should have no problems with the installation. Keep in mind that one of the most common issues of installing new hardware, particularly a network adapter, is the availability of system resources, especially IRQs. As a rule of thumb, a BIOS with a date earlier than 1996 may pose a problem with IRQ resourcing. In such cases, a serial mouse (utilizing a COM port) and a modem have probably already made themselves comfortable at IRQs 3 and 4. Adding a network adapter may complicate things, especially if it makes itself at home at either of the aforementioned IRQs. Be prepared to deal with many more IRQ conflicts.

Simplify your life by pulling the modem out of the machine in question because you’ll be able to take advantage of Windows 98 SE’s Internet sharing. Other than that, you’ll have to allocate system resources manually from the Properties tab. A plug and play device and an old BIOS may pose issues because they may have created a homestead of favored IRQs or DMAs. I’ll go over manual configuration in more detail below.

Windows Networking Components
Once you’ve resolved the hardware and cabling issues, you’re ready to deal with the software components of your Windows 98 network. By now, your PC has rebooted, and the Network Neighborhood icon should appear on your desktop. If you right-click and choose Properties, you’ll be able to configure your box for the network. (You can also reach this point via the Network applet in your Control Panel.) Under the Configuration tab, you can add and manipulate Clients, Adapters, Protocols, and Services.

Windows 98 SE comes pre-equipped to handle a variety of network clients. Since we’re dealing with a Microsoft environment, I’ll review only the available Microsoft clients.

The “Client for Microsoft Networks” will be required on all the PCs that are involved in your Windows 98 network. As its name suggests, it provides logon capabilities to the network.

“Microsoft Family Logon” is also available as a client. At logon, it will bring up a dialog box that will display a list of all users who have access (read: a personal profile built) on that particular machine. Since you’re building a home network, this function is probably unnecessary, unless you plan on sharing your PC and everyone would like his or her own preferences when logging on to a particular machine.

You may have dealt with adapters already, especially if you had to add your network card manually. This option facilitates the installation of network adapters. You also can specify the use of drivers, such as ODI or NDIS. In this case, NDIS (Network Driver Interface Specification) may apply, for it is Microsoft’s adoption for separating protocols from network hardware. ODI is standard for Novell.

Once an adapter is installed, resources and protocol settings can be configured, such as IRQ, I/O settings (under the System applet in the Control Panel), and protocol bindings (under the Network applet).

To configure your network adapter manually, follow these instructions:

  1. Go to Start | Settings | Control Panel
  2. Double click the System applet
  3. Click on the Device Manager tab; find Network adapters and expand the category to view the list (NOTE: If you have a modem and an NIC, you should see listings for Dial-Up Adapter and your Ethernet adapter; if you have two NICs, there should be a listing for each NIC; and if you have only one, you should see only one Ethernet adapter listing.)
  4. Highlight the desired—or troublesome—adapter and click Properties. You’ll see three tabs: General, Driver, and Resources. The General tab will provide you with information about the device’s type, manufacturer, and version, and about its status and usage, as delineated by the box’s admin (read: you). The Driver tab contains the device driver’s information; you can get a tree of the driver’s file details and update or reload the driver. The Resources tab allows for manual configuration if you’re displeased with the automatic settings. In order to choose this option, you’ll need to uncheck the Automatic Settings box, highlight the resource type that you want to modify (Interrupt Request, Memory Range, or Input/Output Range), and select Change Setting. The Edit XYZ Range box (where XYZ is your resource) allows you to enter a specific range, and the nearest valid range will be selected automatically. Be sure to pay attention to the Conflict Information box for any problems.
  5. Click OK when you’re finished with your configuration and reboot so that the changes can take effect.

You ought to know that you can add Virtual Private Networking (VPN) support from the Select Network Adapter box. Just choose Microsoft under Manufacturers and Microsoft Virtual Private Networking Adapter from the Network Adapters list. Windows 98 will ask for the directory with the necessary files, and you’ll need to reboot.

If you decide to add VPN to your configuration, you’ll notice that a second dial-up adapter and a Network Driver Interface Specification Wide Area Network (NDISWAN) protocol for the virtual private networking adapter have been thrown into the Control Panel’s stable. The second dial-up adapter will appear as Dial-Up Adapter #2 (VPN Support).

Keep your eye on your client’s Identification tab. If you don’t configure each box with a different Computer name, you’ll get a network error. Likewise, you might want to settle on a common Workgroup name for a simpler way of sharing resources.

If you plan on using Windows 98 SE’s Internet Connection Sharing, your host machine must have two separate interface cards: an NIC for your internal SOHO network and a modem or secondary NIC for those with high-speed Internet connections, such as xDSL or cable, in order to handle the link to the Internet. Windows 98 will support up to four network adapters in a single machine. If you need more, you really should reconsider splurging on NT licenses.

TCP/IP, NetBEUI, and IPX/SPX are the most commonly used protocols on a Microsoft home network. TCP/IP is required for any activity on the Internet. TCP/IP is also necessary if you plan on using Windows 98’s Internet Sharing Connection. If you want to keep your SOHO fast and simple, NetBEUI will supply great transport. Unless you’re dialing into a Remote Access Server (RAS) that supports your NetBEUI, however, you won’t be surfing much on the Internet. (Your ISP doesn’t fall under this category.) If you want to play games on your SOHO, you’ll need to use IPX/SPX. Although it’s standard on Novell, many game developers have embraced IPX/SPX for LAN game use.

Under Services, you’ll want to install File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks. It allows the nodes on your SOHO to share files and printers.

To install this service, follow these directions:

  1. Go to Start | Settings | Control Panel (or right-click your desktop Network icon and choose Properties)
  2. On the Configuration tab, select Add…
  3. Under Select Network Component Type, highlight Service and click Add…
  4. After Windows 98 expands the driver cab file, choose Microsoft from the manufacturers list, select File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks, and click OK (Win98 will install, but you may be prompted for the location of the Win98 directory on your hard drive or CD.)
  5. Reboot so that the changes can take effect

Once this service is installed, you’ll need to complete the following procedure on every PC that will be sharing this service:

  1. Go to Control Panel | Network applet
  2. Click File and Print Sharing
  3. In the box that appears, select the appropriate box (I want to be able to give others access to my files, or I want to be able to allow others to print to my printer(s)) and click OK
  4. Reboot
  5. If necessary, go to the Access Control tab on Network properties and configure your desired access controls (either Share-level or User-level)

Windows 98 SE isn’t without its problems. The most significant one is that security features are all but non-existent. If you plan on mainlining the host of your network to the Internet, the least you can do is turn off File and Print Sharing. Installing a simple software firewall or proxy service, such as WinGate or SyGate, will provide more control of any traffic that goes through your Internet connection.

Ivan Mayes has been hacking around on typewriters and computers since he was 15, and he learned the ways of war on a Commodore 64. He holds degrees in English and Spanish, and he’s an MCSE. An equal computing opportunist, he is prone to use any computer, regardless of make, model, or operating system.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.