Article by Kevin Savetz

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Copyright © by Kevin Savetz


In OS (operating system) years, Windows NT is practically ancient. The first version of the OS was released in 1993, and the latest version, 4.0, came in 1996. Microsoft hasn't released a service pack (a bundle of updates and fixes) for WinNT since 1999. When you search for information about WinNT at Microsoft's Web site (http://www.microsoft.com), the company pushes you to upgrade to Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 (expected for release April 24).

This might make you think of WinNT as a dead horse. But it's not--far from it. WinNT is still widely used and loved (well, used, anyway) in business and networking environments because it offers advanced networking and security features that are lacking in Windows 9x and WinXP. Because networking is the heart of WinNT, we'll look at the networking tools built into this Microsoft OS. We'll focus primarily on NT Workstation, the desktop version of the OS.

The Network Control Panel. You can't get your WinNT machine on a network without spending some time in the Network control panel. This control panel is where you'll configure WinNT's networking abilities, not just for TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol), but also for a host of other protocols.

There are five tabs in the Network control panel: Identification, Services, Protocols, Adapters, and Bindings. When you install WinNT the first time, the installation process will ask for the name of the computer and its workgroup. The Computer Name is simply a name, as long as 15 characters, that uniquely identifies that computer in the workgroup. To change it, click the Identification tab and press the Change button. There are different naming rules depending on your network type. For the best results, use letters, numbers, and a dash; stay away from spaces and other characters.

A workgroup is a group of computers connected with networking software and hardware. In a large office, workgroups help subdivide a LAN (local-area network; a group of computers connected so they are able to communicate with one another) so you don't have to navigate through a sea of 1,000 other workstations, 300 printers, and so on. In the Member Of section, you can tell WinNT the name of the workgroup you're part of. (In a business setting, the network administrator will tell you what the workgroup is called. At home, label the workgroup as something simple, such as WORKGROUP.) Type the name carefully; an incorrect setting will mean you can't connect to the other PCs in your workgroup.

The Network control panel's Protocols tab lets you control the protocols that the computer uses to communicate with other machines. In most home networks and in many offices, the only protocol you'll need is TCP/IP. But WinNT offers support for a litany of others (including some that have been all but abandoned since WinNT's original release). Press the Add button to add a new protocol to the computer's repertoire or highlight an existing protocol and press the Properties button to configure an existing one.

Although it's practically buried, that Properties button is the key to configuring the PC's behavior on the network. For instance, for the TCP/IP protocol, pressing the Properties button shows you where you set the machine's IP address, subnet mask, router, and DNS (domain name server) settings (if DHCP [Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol] isn't setting those for you). The exact settings vary depending on the protocol, so be careful; an incorrect setting can maroon your computer on an uninhabited island on the network or even interfere with other machines on the LAN.

If your Internet connection is made over a cable modem or DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) line, your computer has an Ethernet card. WinNT obliquely calls Ethernet cards and other network cards "adapters." These are listed under the Network control panel's Adapters tab. Windows can't use a network card unless it's configured under this tab. If your Ethernet card isn't listed, press Add and choose the model of the card from the list. Even better, if you have the driver disc or diskette that came with the card, click Have Disk and point Windows to the driver file.

The Network control panel's Services tab lets you view, add, and remove WinNT network services. These are programs that work behind the scenes to add networking features, such as file sharing and remote printing, to a LAN.

The final tab in the Network control panel is Bindings. A binding is simply a link among an adapter (or Ethernet card), protocols, and services. For example, Windows needs to know that Internet traffic goes though the Ethernet card, so the TCP/IP protocol is "bound" to the Ethernet adapter.

Network Neighborhood. On the WinNT Desktop, you'll see an icon labeled Network Neighborhood. This sounds friendly and inviting enough. If your computer is part of a LAN, the Network Neighborhood tool lets you access the other computers and printers on that LAN. For example, an office may have a file server that is a central repository for forms that everyone needs. Or there might be a printer on the network that any computer can use. These would be visible in the Network Neighborhood.

Just because a computer is visible in your Network Neighborhood doesn't necessarily mean you can access it. You may have to log in with a username and password. Once you're logged in, you can browse the directories on the remote computer just as you can on your own PC, even dragging icons to copy files between the machines. (Depending on your access permissions, you may not have permission to look at, copy files from, and copy files to every directory.)

You can even make a networked computer behave just like a drive on your own PC by assigning a drive letter to the remote computer. This can be a more convenient way to access remote files. First access a computer in your Network Neighborhood. Right-click on the topmost directory, and choose Map Network Drive from the menu. In the Drive drop-down menu, choose a drive letter to assign to the remote computer, such as E: In the Connect As field, type the username needed to connect to that computer. (You can leave this blank if it's the same as your WinNT login name.) Select Reconnect At Login to make the remote drive permanent or leave the checkbox blank for a one-time connection. From then on, you can access the remote computer just like a regular drive in Windows Explorer or My Computer.

LAN Connection. If you have a cable modem or DSL Internet connection that several computers will share, your WinNT machine will connect to the Internet as part of a LAN. This will involve connecting each computer's Ethernet card to an Ethernet hub and then connecting the hub to the cable or DSL modem.

Adding a WinNT PC to a home network is straightforward thanks to the Internet Connection Wizard. To access the wizard, double-click My Computer, then Control Panel, and then the Internet Options control panel. Click the Connections tab, then click the Setup button. You'll see three options to choose your type of Internet access, including signing up for a new dial-up (modem) account, using an existing dial-up account, or connecting to the Internet over a LAN.

Because the computer is connected to a LAN, choose the third option and click the Next button. On the next screen that appears, the wizard will ask whether you will connect via a modem or a LAN. Click the LAN option and then click Next.

The wizard will ask if you want to use DHCP, which is a protocol that makes network management easier by letting a router (such as your cable modem or firewall) dole out IP addresses, DNS information, and other essential networking information to the computers on the LAN. This allows for managing networking details from a central point, namely the router. If you need to change the Internet DNS later, for example, the router will feed the new information to each computer so you won't have to update the network settings on each PC manually. If you're in a business environment, ask the network administrator if you should use DHCP. In a home environment with even a few networked PCs, DHCP can make life easier. If you have a hardware firewall/router, check the device's manual to find out how to enable DHCP.

You may need to reboot your computer at this point. Afterward, the wizard will continue where it left off. Next, the wizard asks about your proxy server, which is a computer that acts as an intermediary between client PCs (such as your WinNT computer) and the Internet. Proxies are gatekeepers that can speed up and provide security to Internet connections; they are often used in business settings. If you're on a home network, you probably don't have (or need) a proxy server, so select the Automatic Discovery Of Proxy Server option and click Next.

In a business environment, you may have a proxy server (so ask your network administrator for the best setting). If so, select the Manual Proxy Server checkbox and click Next. On the next page, you will be prompted to type the IP address and port number of the proxy server for five different types of Internet services, including Secure, HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), FTP (File Transfer Protocol), Gopher, and Socks. (The proxy server may be the same for each service. If so, fill in the top HTTP field, and click the Use The Same Proxy Server For All Protocols checkbox.) Click Next. On the next page, you'll be prompted to enter any exceptions to the proxy server rule, that is, servers you want to connect to directly instead of through the proxy. If there are exceptions, type their addresses separated by semicolons. (You may not need to do this, however.) Click Next.

That's it. You'll see a final Completing The Internet Connection Wizard page. Make sure the Connect Immediately checkbox is selected and click Finish to test your Internet connection.

Connect With A Modem. A broadband Internet connection is nice, but most home users still use an analog modem to connect to the Internet. WinNT's dial-up Internet software works with ISPs (Internet service providers) that use PPP (Point-to-Point Protocol), which includes practically every ISP. There's a notable exception, however: If you use America Online, skip these instructions and install AOL's own software instead.

To configure a PPP Internet connection, open the Internet Properties control panel. Click the Connections tab, and then click the Setup button to start the Internet Connection Wizard. Choose the I Want To Transfer My Existing Internet Account To This Computer checkbox and click Next.

If you haven't configured a modem yet, Windows will need to know about the modem that's connected to your PC. Because WinNT doesn't directly support USB (Universal Serial Bus), you'll need a serial modem. Make sure it's connected and turned on, and Windows should detect your modem.

If Windows can't determine the modem type in place, you can specify it by either picking the manufacturer and model from the list or (and this is your best bet) click the Have Disk button and point Windows to the driver file on the floppy diskette or CD that came with the modem. You'll also need to know which COM port (communications port) the modem is connected to (probably COM1 or COM2). After the modem drivers are installed, you'll have to reboot.

After the system reboots, the Internet Connection Wizard will reappear. You can choose whether you want to sign up for a new Internet account or use one you already have. In either case, the Wizard will dial a toll-free phone number and walk you through the process of choosing an ISP.

If you already know the phone number for your ISP, it's easier to choose the I Want To Set Up My Internet Connection Manually option. On the following page, click the option to indicate that you connect over a modem. Next, the wizard will ask for the ISP's phone number. (An Advanced settings button will let you change the ISP's connection type, login procedure, and the IP address it assigns to you. Leave these settings alone, as the vast majority of ISPs use the default settings.)

On the next page, the wizard will ask you to type the username and password for your ISP account. Type them carefully (capitalization matters) and click the Next button. Finally, you'll be asked to give the connection a name. Consider naming it something like "Connect to EarthLink." As you click Finish, the Wizard gives you the option to log on immediately. Do so to make sure the connection works properly.

If you ever need to change your ISP's phone number or login settings, you'll find them on the Connections tab of the Internet Options control panel. To change the modem's dialing settings--for example, if it should dial a code to disable call waiting--use the Modems control panel.

The next time you want to connect to the Internet, simply start your Web browser. A Dial-up Connection window will appear. Press Connect to dial in. You can select the Connect Automatically checkbox, which lets Windows connect to the Internet whenever it needs to. This is only a good idea if the modem has its own phone line.

If you're using a notebook computer that you use to dial in from several locations, use the Modems control panel to create dial-up settings for each one. Click the New button to create a new location. For instance, you might have a location called Home that turns off call waiting and dials a local number, plus one called Office that dials 9 to get an outside line, and a third called Out Of Town that uses a calling card to call your ISP long distance.

If you're ever curious about the quality of the modem connection, open the Dial-Up Monitor control panel, which will tell you about the speed of your connection and any transmission errors that occur.

Nifty Networking. Windows NT may no longer be state-of-the-art when it comes to operating systems, even for networking tasks, but it is still functional, giving you the ability to network a group of computers together to share resources, an Internet connection, and more.

Hot Tip: Share A Printer

If there's more than one computer in your home, it makes sense to connect them together to form a LAN (local-area network). With a LAN set up, you can better use your available resources. For example, you can share the same printer among two or more Windows PCs.

To do so, double-click My Computer on the Desktop, double-click Control Panel, and open the Printers control panel. Next, find the icon for the printer that you want to share. Right-click that icon and select Sharing. Now select the Shared option and give the printer a sensible name. Finally, you'll need to install drivers for other operating systems that will use your printer. For example, if the other computers on your LAN run Windows 95, select that driver and press OK. Now, your printer will be visible in the Network Neighborhood tool of the other computers on the LAN.

Be careful about sharing printers if you're using a cable or DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) Internet connection. Your printer could end up being accessible by your ISP's other customers. You probably don't want anonymous neighbors using your printer. Installing a firewall or disabling printer sharing will solve the problem.

In a small office setting, the Scheduling and Security tabs of the Printer Properties panel can be useful, too. The Scheduling tab can make the printer available only during certain hours, and the Security tab lets you manage who can use the printer.

Reprinted with permission from Smart Computing magazine.


Articles by Kevin Savetz