Wouldn’t it be cool to access the Internet from any room in your house? Until now, this was an option only for the wealthy. In the past, getting simultaneous Internet access from multiple PCs required either an expensive proxy server, or multiple phone lines and multiple accounts from your Internet service provider (ISP). However, Windows 98 Second Edition includes a tool that allows you to connect multiple PCs to the Internet without the extra expense. In this article, I’ll discuss this feature and provide you with a step-by-step method for getting all of your PCs connected.

Before you begin
Before you begin, there are a few things you have to do to prepare your computers. First, all your computers must be connected to a network. The network provides the cabling and the infrastructure that makes Internet sharing possible. There are several ways of accomplishing this task. Depending on the size and speed of the network you want, you can go to the computer store and buy a home networking kit, which is designed to handle two to four PCs sitting close together, or you could design your own custom network. Designing a custom network is a lot more work and expense, but it is very entertaining—and often more rewarding in the long run.
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Once you’ve connected your computers to the network, I recommend using the NetBEUI protocol to handle communications between the PCs. The reason for this is that although TCP/IP is usually a better choice, the procedure that I’ll demonstrate here will reconfigure TCP/IP and make it unsuitable for pretty much anything but Internet communications. If you want, you can go ahead and install TCP/IP on all your computers using the default configuration. This will save you time later.

Finally, select the PC you plan to use to connect to the Internet. The Internet-sharing components were originally designed to work with a dial-up connection. However, there are unconfirmed rumors circulating on the Internet that these components will also work with other types of connections, such as cable modems or DSL modems.

What’s really going on?
If you’ve had much exposure to networking, you know that a connection to the Internet is based on TCP/IP. Normally, when you connect to the Internet, you’re dialing into a DHCP server. A DHCP server is responsible for distributing IP addresses on a temporary basis. Your computer takes over the IP address assigned to it until you hang up, at which time your ISP relinquishes control of the address.

Because you have this IP address, your computer functions as if it were on a network during the time it’s connected to the Internet. As a matter of fact, the Windows 98 module that makes the connection possible is called the Dial-Up Networking Adapter.

TheprocessofsharinganInternetconnectionreallyinvolvesnothingmorethantyingtwonetworkstogether. The first network is the temporary dial-up network between your computer and your ISP. The second network is the network within your house.

In large networks, a router, or a Windows NT server that’s configured to function as a router, joins the Internet connection to an existing network. In the Windows NT implementation, the Windows NT Server often makes the connection to the Internet. The same server usually runs a DHCP service that works in the same manner as the one that your ISP uses. When computers on the network are turned on, the DHCP server assigns them an IP address to use for a limited amount of time.

Managing large blocks of IP addresses
Large blocks of IP addresses tend to be expensive and difficult to acquire. Therefore, in many networks, the IP addresses assigned by the local DHCP server are bogus and will work only on that network. If allowed access to the outside world (via the Internet), they would likely interfere with legitimate IP addresses used by other networks. Therefore, Microsoft Proxy Server is used to act as a go-between for the address acquired from your ISP and the bogus addresses on your local network.

For example, suppose that a client computer on your network wants to access www.techrepublic.com. First, it enters the request in its Web browser. The request is then passed to the proxy server. The proxy server then uses its address rather than the illegitimate address from the client to pull the page from the Internet. Once the proxy server has downloaded the page, it sends the page across the local network to the client that requested it.

The Windows 98 Internet-sharing mechanism works similarly to the implementation that I just described. In the Windows 98 implementation, the Windows 98 computer that’s attached to the Internet functions as a router, a DHCP server, and a proxy server, all in one. What’s so great about it is that although you lose some of the features found in the Windows NT Server implementation, such as proxy caching, the entire setup is infinitely simpler to configure and maintain than its Windows NT counterpart. If you know what you’re doing, you can set up the Windows NT implementation that I described earlier in three to four hours. Setting up the Windows 98 configuration can be done in half an hour.

If all of the stuff that I just described is making your head spin, don’t worry. You don’t need to know any of it to make the Internet sharing work. It’s simply there for those hardcore computer junkies out there (like myself) who actually enjoy this stuff.

The initial configuration
As I mentioned, setting up the Internet-sharing components is fairly simple. To begin, go to the computer that will be physically connected to the Internet. On that computer, open Control Panel and double-click the Add/Remove Programs icon. When you see the Add/Remove Programs Properties sheet, select the Windows Setup tab. Now, find the Internet Tools option in the components list and select it. Be sure to click on the words Internet Tools and NOT the check box, or you’ll remove any Internet tools that are currently installed. When you’ve selected Internet Tools, click the Details button. When you do, you’ll see the Internet Tools dialog box. Select the check box next to the Internet Connection Sharing component and click OK. Click OK again to close the Add/Remove Programs dialog box. You’ll be prompted for your Windows 98 CD. Upon inserting the CD, the necessary files will be copied, and the Internet Connection Sharing Wizard will launch.

At this point, make sure you have a blank floppy disk handy because the Internet Connection Sharing Wizard will walk you through the process of creating a disk that you’ll use later to configure the other computers on your network. The process of creating the disk is simple and straightforward. Once the wizard finishes, you’ll be prompted to remove the disk and reboot your computer.

Setting up the clients
Now that you’ve installed the necessary components on the computer that will share your Internet connection, you need to configure your other computers to use it. The first step in doing so is to make sure that TCP/IP is set up correctly on these PCs. To do so, open Control Panel and double-click the Network icon. When you do, you’ll see the Network Properties sheet. Select the instance of TCP/IP that’s bound to your network card. It will look something like this:
TCP/IP -> 3COM Ether link

Although the exact line will differ on everyone’s individual PC, it isn’t the line that binds TCP/IP to the Dial-Up Networking Adapter. If TCP/IP isn’t installed on the PC, you can add it by clicking the Add button. When you do, you’ll see the Select Network Component Type dialog box. Select Protocol and click the Add button. At this point, you’ll see the Select Network Protocol dialog box. Select Microsoft from the Manufacturers column, and then select TCP/IP from the Network Protocols column. Click OK to install the protocol. You’ll be prompted to enter your Windows 98 CD. Once the necessary files are copied, you’ll be asked to reboot your computer.

After you’ve installed TCP/IP, select the instance of it that’s bound to your network card, as I described earlier, and click the Properties button. When you do, you’ll see the TCP/IP Properties sheet. First, select the IP Address tab. The IP address should be set to Obtain An IP Address Automatically. Next, go to the Gateway tab. Remove any installed default gateways by selecting them and clicking the Remove button. Repeat the process by visiting the DNS Configuration and WINS Configuration tabs and removing any installed DNS and WINS servers. Once you’ve done so, click OK. Windows may need to copy a few files from the installation CD and reboot your computer.

Click through to the next page to findouthowtoconfiguretheclient’sbrowsers.

Configuring the client’s browsers
Once you’ve verified all the TCP/IP settings that I’ve discussed, you have to configure the Web browser on your PCs. You must be running Internet Explorer version 3 or later. I recommend version 5. If you prefer to use Netscape, the latest version is supposed to work, but I haven’t tested it. Before you begin configuring the browsers, though, you must sign on to the Internet with your computer that will be sharing the Internet connection.

Once you have a compatible browser installed and your main computer is dialed into the Internet, insert the disk that you created earlier. Now, go to the Run prompt by selecting the Run command from the Start menu, type A:\ICsclset.exe, and click OK.

At this point, the Browser Connection Setup Wizard will launch. This wizard is extremely simple to follow. The wizard does all of the work. It will load a few files and reconfigure your browser to connect to the Internet through your network. As soon as you complete all the steps, the browser will launch and connect you to the Internet. You’re now free to surf the Web from any computer on your network.

A few things you should know
Although that concludes the setup process, there are a few things you need to know before I turn you loose. First, any time you want to surf the Web, your main computer must already be connected to the Internet. That’s because the other computer’s ability to connect to the Internet depends on an active connection on your main computer.

The other thing that you should know is that the Internet Connection Sharing component doesn’t provide any kind of active caching. This means that if two or more people try to surf the Web at the same time, you’ll notice that the connection may run significantly slower than when a single person is online. This is because the users are competing over a limited amount of Internet bandwidth.
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Brien M. Posey is an MCSE and works as a freelance technical writer and as a network engineer for the Department of Defense. To comment on this article, please post a comment below or drop us a note.