Last month, I discussed Internet commerce--ways to sell stuff on the Net. This month I'll get back to more practical concerns and talk about real-world issues such as dialing out from your Windows NT and Windows 95 network to the Internet and taking advantage of port sharing.

SAPS: RAS's Other Half
NT's Remote Access Service (RAS) works well for dialing in to your NT server or workstation, especially from another NT system or from Win95. But RAS won't let one computer use a port on another computer on your network--no sharing. This restriction is a problem in the typical office: Joe wants to call a BBS, Maude has to dial up a credit-check bureau that's not on the Net, and Bill wants to get his America Online (AOL) email. You don't want a modem and a phone line for each person's computer. And making each person walk to the server to dial out is inconvenient.

Several third-party companies have built software to fill this gap in NT so that any PC on a network can do asynchronous communications through a shared port. I'm most familiar with SpartaCom Asynchronous Port Sharing (SAPS), so I'll concentrate on it. Such software fools a client PC into thinking it has an extra serial port, although that port is on the network.

SAPS is reasonably priced by the number of users and number of ports being shared. Even better, the two-user, one-port version is available for free download on the TSP Web site.

Once you download the software, you can unpack the files. Be sure to print and study the documentation before installing the package. Next, make sure RAS is loaded and running. SAPS depends on RAS, so the SAPS server won't load until RAS does. SAPS will just sit, halfway loaded, no message, until you fire up RAS. Keep this fact in mind if you do anything to RAS, because it stops loading automatically if you change its parameters. If that happens, you have to pop open the Services control panel and re-enable RAS's automatic startup.

NT services are one of the big differences between NT and Win95. NT services are like UNIX daemons and fill the same niche. Services perform a function in the background, and no component is visible to the user; like RAS, they're controlled through separate front-end software.

In the example of a SAPS installation, suppose you share a port enabled for RAS dial-in, probably the one you use to call the system on those rare times you go home. SAPS is a good citizen: When it needs the port, it uses NT services to take the port from RAS, uses the port for dial-out, and then hands it back to RAS. (You can separately assign ports to RAS and SAPS, but in this small-office example, you have only one modem for both dial-in and dial-out.)

As SAPS installs its server software, a SAPS control panel will appear. Open it, click Shares, and select the serial port you want RAS and SAPS to share. Give it a resource share name, such as modemone. The clients will use this name. (You can add an access password here.) Save changes, and open the Services control panel. Stop and restart the SAPS service to make your changes effective. Make sure both SAPS and RAS are started and will start automatically in the future.

Testing SAPS
From a Win95 workstation, click Add/Remove Programs, and install the client software (which, of course, you can leave in a convenient shared directory on the network). The SAPS client software will ask for a serial number and key, and the freeware version's instructions supply two sets. The serial number is 16 digits, all uppercase. The key is 8 digits (this fact isn't clear in the documentation). You can install the serial numbers on as many computers as you want, but you can't share them between clients.

You must enter the redirected serial port's name, \\mainserver\modemone, in this example. You can set a timeout on disconnect. Now Win95 will add a COM port, a software-only port for SAPS. Reboot the Win95 machine. When it comes back up, open the Modem control panel, and click Add Modem. You'll see Win95 find the new COM port and then configure the modem. If this step doesn't happen automatically, add the modem yourself. Any Win95 or Win3.1 communications applications will now work without complaint.

HyperTerminal is a more full-featured, 32-bit, NT 4.0 version of the Win95 program that has been around for the past year. (One improvement this version offers is support for the very efficient Zmodem file transfer protocol and long filenames.) This program works fine for dialing out through SAPS, so (in the situation I set up at the beginning of this column) Maude can call the credit-check bureau. Win95 Dial-Up Networking, and therefore any Internet software using it, will be fine. The SAPS redirection solution also works for the person who wants to get email from AOL. AOL's 2.5 or later software requires you only to point it at the soft COM port (but it supports only up to COM4).

The only Windows applications I've found that won't work with SAPS are the proprietary ones that come with a PC--specifically, the Compaq and Packard Bell phone, fax, and message applications, which work only with the PC's internal modem. DOS applications may not work under Windows with SAPS; test them carefully.

I highlighted the Win95 support for SAPS, although it supports DOS, Win3.1, OS/2, and NT clients. This support is essential for the typical multiplatform site.

SpartaCom's technical support for SAPS has been nothing less than excellent. The support staff has courteously helped, even with questions on the freeware version, and returned calls promptly.

In the rosy future, all companies will have full-time shared connections to the Internet. Through such connections, everyone in the office will connect to any service they desire. Until then, SAPS offers a good way to share your existing resources, and avoid putting phone lines to all your PCs.

Zetafax: Another Piece of Port Sharing
One program that is fully aware of SAPS and RAS is Zetafax, the NT-based faxing software that TSP also sells. You can pool modems between SAPS, RAS, and Zetafax, but anyone planning a great deal of faxing had better get one line dedicated to the task.

A trial version of Zetafax is on the TSP Web site. For more information about Zetafax, see John Enck, "The Fax of Life," February 1996, and Andy Smith, "Product Update: Zetafax 4.50M," July 1996.

If you don't need the power of Zetafax, Win95's own FAX services (via Exchange) will work fine through SAPS, dialing out through the shared SAPS modem. I don't recommend this approach for more than a stopgap, but then I don't much like Win95's built-in faxing support.

Coming Up
Now I've covered the basics--free and inexpensive ways to dial in, dial out, and have internal email. The time has come to discuss inexpensive external email from a practical perspective: connecting your network to Internet email.

And don't think my whole life revolves around dialtone and IP. The computer-graphics industry is heating up again. Actually, it never cooled, but here in Los Angeles, it's big news.

Finally, I've been getting some good feedback from my readers. Thank you for keeping me honest, and keep it coming.

SAPS

SpartaCom * 770-455-0701
Web: www.tspco.com

Zetafax
Zetafax * 770-457-0703
Web: www.tspco.com