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No reason for brand wars

On one of the train forums I frequent, a legitimate question quickly degenerated into brand wars. And brand wars are one thing, but when people hold their preferred company to a different standard than the other company–in other words, one company is evil because it does something, but their preferred company does the same thing, it isn’t productive.

Actually, I see very little reason for brand loyalty as it is. I drive a Honda and I use a Compaq computer. Do either of those companies have any loyalty to me? No. To them, I’m just a source of income from yesterday.I don’t like the categorization of companies as "good" and "evil." Companies don’t exist to be good or evil. Companies exist for one reason: Make money. And one thing to remember is that companies will always do exactly what they think they can get away with.

In the case of the toy train wars, the two antagonists are Lionel and MTH. MTH is a scrappy underdog that got its start building trains as a subcontractor for Lionel. A business deal went bad–in short, Lionel left MTH high and dry on a multimillion dollar project, so MTH decided to go on its own and sell the product Lionel decided it didn’t want, but Lionel didn’t like the idea of one of its subcontractors competing with it while also making product for them, and understandably so.

MTH and Lionel have been mortal enemies ever since.

A few years ago, MTH accused Lionel of stealing trade secrets. The specifics are difficult to sort out, but someone with intimate knowledge of some of MTH’s products started designing equivalent products for Lionel. MTH sued and won, to the tune of $40 million. The case is now in appeal.

There’s no question that Lionel benefited from this contractor’s knowledge of the competing product. The question is who knew this was going on, who authorized it, and what an appropriate punishment would be. The only people who are questioning guilt have blinders on. There is no innocence here–just possible degrees of guilt. The other question is appropriateness. Lionel doesn’t have $40 million in the bank. Arguably the company isn’t worth a lot more than $40 million. So that $40 million judgment is essentially the corporate death penalty.

MTH is anything but perfect and holy, however. The thing that bothers me most about MTH is its attempt to patent elements of DCC (Digital Command Control), a method for automating train layouts. It’s an open industry standard, widely used by HO and N scale hobbyists. So MTH was seeking to collect royalties on something that’s supposed to be free for everyone to use. That’s a particular pet peeve of mine, and it’s the reason I haven’t bought any MTH products since 2003.

I came close to relenting this weekend though, when I saw some people bashing MTH while holding Lionel up as some kind of perfect, holy standard. It made me want to go buy a bunch of MTH gear, photograph myself with it, and post it on some forums so I could watch these guys have a stroke about it. Fortunately for them, I have better things to do with $200 right now. I also looked on my layout, and I don’t know where I could put the things I would have considered buying.

I’m more familiar with the computer industry than I am with anything else, and if you mention any computer company, I can probably think of something they did that would fit most people’s definition of evil. HP? Print cartridges that lie about being empty. Lexmark? Same thing, plus using the DMCA to keep you from refilling them. Dell? Nonstandard pinouts on power supplies that look standard, but blow up your motherboard if you try to use non-Dell equipment. IBM? Microchannel. Microsoft? Don’t get me started. Apple? Lying in ads.

As far as I’m concerned though, the most evil company of all is Disney. Disney, of all people? Yes. Disney is the main reason for the many complicated rewrites of copyright law that we’ve had in recent decades. Whenever something Disney values might fall into the public domain, Disney buys enough congressmen to get the laws changed. Never mind that early in its history, Disney exploited the public domain for its gain as much as anyone (which was its legal right), even to the point of waiting for The Jungle Book to fall into the public domain before making the movie, in order to avoid paying royalties to Rudyard Kipling. The problem is that now that Disney is the biggest kid on the block, it’s changing the rules it used to get there, so that nobody else can do it.

Unfortunately I’ve even seen not-for-profit corporations, companies that exist mostly to give away money, do dishonest things and essentially steal. If a charity can and will do these things, you can be certain that a for-profit corporation will.

So I don’t see any reason for brand loyalty, aside from liking a product. If you buy a company’s products and you like them, fine. Keep buying them. But that doesn’t make the people who prefer a competitor’s product evil. They didn’t sign off on the decisions, and your favorite company has done its own share of underhanded things too, whether you know it or not.

And there’s certainly no reason to go to war for your company of choice. It wouldn’t do the same for you.

Another look at color laser printing

I’ve been watching color laser printing for about 10 years. I remember when I was impressed to see one priced at $9,999. (No, that’s not a typo; I meant to type 10 grand minus a dollar.) And I remember I was riding the Metro in Washington DC in 1997 the first time I saw one priced under $4,000.

Today, you can buy a color laser for less than I paid for my first black and white laser, a Panasonic Sidewriter model that cost me $349 in 1994. If you shop around, you can get one for considerably less.

I haven’t bitten just yet, but I’m getting closer.I loved the Sidewriter line. I’d have loved it even more if I’d been paid on commission when I was selling them. You could tell how much I’d worked in a given week by the number of Sidewriters that were on the sales floor. If I’d been allowed to work 40-hour weeks, it might have been impossible to buy one in St. Louis.

The Sidewriter was an easy sell. At the time, a monochrome inkjet printer cost about $150. The Sidewriter cost $349 with rebates. (Regular price was $399.) I told the potential purchaser to do the math. Inkjet cartridges cost about $40 at the time, and, like today, were good for about 500 pages. Sidewriter toner cost $50 and was good for about 2,000 pages. So you’d have to buy $120 worth of ink to print as many pages as the Sidewriter would do, out of the box. By the time you used a second cartridge, the Sidewriter had paid for itself–and that’s just from a monetary standpoint. From a convenience standpoint, the Sidewriter won hands down. What would you do if you ran out of ink late at night in the middle of printing something that was due the next morning? In 1994, there wasn’t anyplace you could buy an ink cartridge at midnight. That’s not always true today.

Needless to say, if someone came in looking for a printer, if they weren’t interested in color, chances were they walked out with a Sidewriter if they talked to me.

I’m still looking for a color printer that matches the Sidewriter’s economy for home use.

If you’re looking for a color laser printer, there are several avaliable under $400 today from the likes of Hewlett Packard, Minolta, Lexmark, and Samsung. If you shop carefully, it’s possible to get HP’s most stripped-down model, the 2550L, for $250-$275.

But there’s a downside to the 2550L, besides the most obvious downside of the tiny 125-sheet tray. The cartridges are set to print 2,000 pages and then stop, regardless of whether there is toner left. You can’t refill them, and you can’t use third-party cartridges. At least the 2550L ships with full cartridges, not half- or 1/3-full starter cartridges.

But what’s worse is the toner cartridges cost $80 apiece. There are four of them. Do the math. Also consider that the drum unit is only good for about 5,000 pages in color, and it costs $175.

The HP 2550L is a throwaway printer. Your best bet with this printer is to buy it along with four reams of paper, and when you open that fourth ream, order a new printer. Hang on to any cartridges that still have some capacity left, of course.

From an economy standpoint, the best color lasers on the market today look like they come from Samsung. The Samsung CLP-550 costs more than the HP 2550L, but it’s faster, it’s compatible with PCL6 and Postscript Level 3 (so it’ll work with your favorite alternative operating system, which probably isn’t the case with the 2550L), it comes with both a 250-sheet tray and a 100-sheet tray, and it comes with a duplexer. Printing on both sides of the page without any manual intervention is cool. It’s not a feature you’ll use every time, but it’s hard to live without once you’ve had it.

And more importantly, the Samsung cartridges are refillable. The drum is rated for 50,000 pages, so you won’t necessarily replace it during the printer’s lifetime. The printer also has a $28 waste container that’s supposed to be replaced when it fills up.

The Samsung cartridges cost about $125 each, so they are are more expensive than the HP, but they last for 5,000 pages. And refill kits are available. I’ve seen kits priced at $55 and I’ve seen them priced at $36. If they’re good for 5,000 pages, the cost per page drops to close to a penny per page.

The downside is the CLP-550 comes with starter cartridges that are only rated for 1,500 pages. I don’t know if those starter cartridges can be refilled to full capacity.

I’m not ready to buy one, but if I were going to buy a color laser today, I’d probably get a Samsung.

News analysis

Short takes. Yesterday was a newsworthy day in technology, and I’m sure there’s going to be a ton of misinformation about it eminating from both coasts, so we might as well set the record straight.
Poor quality control drives IBM from the hard drive business! Yeah, whatever. IBM makes one questionable model (and many GXP failures sounded more like power supply failures than hard drive failures), and suddenly everything they’ve ever made is crap. Guess what? Seven years ago you couldn’t give me a Seagate drive, because the drives they were making back then were so slow and unreliable. Maxtors were worse–and my boss at the time, who has a very long memory, nearly disciplined me a couple of years ago for specifying a Maxtor drive in an upgrade. But he’s a reasonable man and saw that the drive held up and performed well. Western Digital has been so hit and miss I still don’t want to buy any of their drives. Though their drives started to look better after they licensed some technology from… Old Big Black and Blue.

And the truth about GXPs: Regardless of how true the quality control allegations are, the drives themselves are the most innovative and advanced IDE devices ever commercially marketed. The platters are made using different materials and processes than conventional discs, which was supposed to make them more reliable. Expect that technology to come of age in a generation or two. The drives even include SCSI-like command queueing (the newest version of Linux’s hdparm allows you to turn this feature on; I have no idea if Windows switches it on by default). The successor to the 60GXP is going to be worth a second and a third look.

Wanna know what’s really going on? Hard drives aren’t very profitable. IBM has a history of spinning off questionable divisions to see if they can survive as smaller, more independent entities. The most famous recent example of this is Lexmark. That’s what’s going on here. IBM and Hitachi spin off and merge their storage divisions, and each company takes a stake in it. If the company mops up the floor with the competition, IBM and Hitachi make lots of money. If the company continues to bleed cash, IBM and Hitachi get nice tax write-offs. Either way, the shareholders are happy.

A number of years ago, IBM was a large producer of memory chips as well. In fact, you can open up a Mac manufactured in the mid-1990s, and chances are you’ll find an IBM-manufactured PowerPC CPU, one or more IBM-manufactured DIMMs, and an IBM SCSI hard drive. Making memory had its ups and downs, and during one of the many downturns in the 90s, IBM got out of the business. There was a time when Intel and AMD were in that business too (I have some old AMD DRAM chips on an expansion card somewhere, and I’ve seen Intel DRAMs but I don’t know if I’ve ever owned any).

This news is a little bit surprising, but hardly shocking. IBM’s making tons of money selling software and services, they’re not making money selling hard drives, and they’ve got a new CEO and nervous investors. This is a way for them to hedge their bets.

And you can expect them to possibly start getting more aggressive about marketing their technologies to other drive manufacturers as well now. Seagate, Maxtor, Western Digital, Fujitsu and Samsung have just changed from competitors into potential customers. Expect disk performance to increase and price to continue to decrease as a result.

How to gauge hard drive reliability. This isn’t exactly news but it seems very relevant. Professional writers don’t see a lot of drives. They can recommend based on their own experience, but their recent experience is going to be limited to a few dozen drives. Message boards are very hit and miss. You have no way of knowing whether it’s a book author hiding behind that handle or a clueless 12-year-old kid. Find an experienced technician who’s still practicing as a technician (I’m not a very good example; at this stage of my career I no longer deal with large numbers of desktop systems–I deal with a handful of servers and my own desktop machine and that’s it) and ask what hard drives they’ve seen fail. When I was doing desktop support regularly, I could tell you almost the exact number of drives I’d seen fail in the past year, and I could tell you the brands. I’d prefer to talk to someone who fixes computers for a large company rather than a computer store tech (since his employer is in the business of selling things, he’s under pressure to recommend what’s in stock), but I’ll still trust a computer store tech over some anonymous user on Usenet or a message board, as well as over a published author. Myself included.

AMD withdraws from the consumer market! AMD mentioned in a conference call yesterday that it plans to discontinue the Duron processor line this year. It makes sense. Fab 25 in Austin is being re-tooled to make flash memory, leaving the Duron without a home. But beyond that, AMD’s new 64-bit Hammer chip is going to hit the market later this year. So they can sell a slightly crippled K7 core as their low-end chip, or they can make their high-end K7 core into the low-end chip and sell the Hammer as a high-end chip. This strategy makes more sense. Clock for clock, the Athlon is still a better chip than the P4. Hammer scales better and performs better. So AMD can pit the Athlon against the Celeron and give P4 performance at a Celeron price, and the Hammer against the P4, which will give P4 clock rates and deliver better performance for 32-bit apps, along with a 64-bit future. There’s not much room in that strategy for the Duron. AMD would rather cede the $35 CPU business to VIA.

Look for the Hammer to gain widespread use in the Linux server market, especially among smaller companies. The Athlon already has an audience there (in spite of some pundits calling AMD-based systems “toys,” you see far more ads for AMD-based servers in Linux Journal than you see for Intel boxes), but the Hammer will become the poor man’s Alpha.

Honest, the money was burning a hole in my pocket!

I went out shopping yesterday for a white gold rope to go with a white gold cross pendant I bought a month or so ago. I’m no expert on jewelry, but my sister knows as much about jewelry as I do about computers and baseball combined, and she said I shouldn’t buy silver unless I was going to wear it all the time. I don’t wear jewelry all the time, so I took her advice and bought white gold.
I found the chain.

Then I wandered over to the electronics aisle. I saw a $129 KDS 17″ monitor. Pass. I saw other monitors of varying sizes and qualities. Then I walked down the next aisle, where I saw HP Pavilion and Sony VAIO computers. Nothing earth-shattering. Then I saw something that made me do a couple of quadruple takes. A Lexmark color laser printer. Price? Seven hundred bucks. I was shocked. I’m pretty sure the last time I looked, the cheapest color laser you could find was $1500. I remember in the summer of 1994 selling a number of color inkjet printers for $649. So $700 for a color laser printer is a significant milestone, and it’s reason not to pay more than $100-$150 for a color inkjet. If you’re serious about color printing, that laser will give far better output, much faster, and at a much lower cost per page.

Yes, I’d love to have one. But I’ve got a Lexmark 4039 I bought in 1996. It still works fabulously. It also still has the toner cartridge that came from the factory in it. Needless to say, I don’t print a lot. So I really don’t know how I could justify a color laser printer.

So I walked on. I spied some DVDs. I flipped through them. Just a bunch of mediocre movies, most of which I’d never bothered seeing, so I wouldn’t have any inclination to pay $12.99 for them either. Then I turned around. Camcorders! I saw some Sony and Hitachi models, VHS-C and Digital-8, priced very nicely. Very nicely. At $200, I don’t understand why camcorders aren’t as common as VCRs were 10 years ago. You can get a nice camcorder now for what a nice VCR cost then. But that wasn’t what I was looking for.

Next section: JVC and Sony camcorders. Much pricier, but they had the magic word I was looking for: miniDV. I looked at the price: $480 on the entry model. That was about half what the entry models cost the last time I looked. I played around with it. The picture was awfully nice. I played around with the more expensive models. The picture wasn’t any nicer. So I wrote down the model numbers. At $480, I was almost ready to buy right then and there. But $480 is too much to spend casually, so I did a little research online.

Camcorder tip: Go ahead and search the Web for camcorder specs and reviews, but expect not to find much. Searching the web gives the impression the JVC GR-DVL805 doesn’t exist. The low-end JVC GR-DVL100 did have some positive reviews. I searched Google groups and found lots of good insights on both models. (If I find a consensus amongst a bunch of hobbyists who bought a product with their own money and used it long enough to get an opinion on it, I generally trust them. I certainly trust them more than a salesman, and there are problems these people will notice that a video magazine won’t due to lack of time with the unit.)

The DVL100 is lightweight, does a great job of gathering light (most JVCs do, in my limited experience), reasonably easy to use, and the price is right. Only complaint I could find: the tape motor is close to the mic, so you’ll get some motor noise. That’s not much concern for me.

The 805 is essentially the same camera, but it can double as a 0.8-megapixel digital still camera. Other than that, it has the same strengths and weaknesses as its cheaper brother. Since a 0.8-megapixel digital still camera is essentially worthless unless you’re shooting pictures for the Web, that feature isn’t useful to me.

Both camcorders had a few other weaknesses: You can’t plug an external mic into them, and while you can dump video from the camera into the computer via a firewire port, you can’t dump edited video from the computer back to the camera. Those are higher-end features. Neither of those matter much to me either. When I’m doing really serious work that requires those, I’ll be borrowing my church’s professional-grade JVC camera, which does everything but autofocus and make coffee. For projects where I record the audio separately (which is common), this camera will be fine. And as a second camera, it’ll be great.

So I bought it.

I’m amazed at how much video recording and editing power you can buy for $2,000 these days. For 2 grand, you can get a Pinnacle DV500 editing board (with Adobe Premiere bundled) and a low-end digital camcorder and still have plenty left over to buy a computer to connect it all to.

Printing with HP

I drove into North St. Louis tonight. The computer lab I set up at Bethlehem Lutheran needed some maintenance. It turned out to be very minor maintenance (fortunately)–their HP LaserJet 1200 printer had come unshared from the Win98 box that hosts it, so none of the other PCs could print. So I reshared the printer, connected the rest of the machines to it again, and printed test pages. It worked. I did a little more cleanup since I was there. These computers live a hard life. Fortunately, they’re completely standard microATX systems so getting parts for them will be easy and cheap.
I really need to set up a Linux box to host the printer though. If the printers were hosted by a keyboardless, headless Linux box, they couldn’t come unshared. A Samba print server takes me about an hour to set up, so it’d be a good investment of time. And I’d have my choice of 486s to do it with. I showed one of their staff how to share out a printer just in case it happens again.

They have a second printer as well, an HP DeskJet 660 donated by one of their field workers, and I was going to hook it up but I couldn’t find the stash of cables I used to have up there. I had a parallel cable out in my car for the longest time too, but I went out there, tore my car apart, and couldn’t find it. I must have given it to someone at some point. So I’ll be making another trip up there next week after I run across one. The DeskJet is just there for backup purposes.

The choice of HP printers may make some people curious. The DeskJet was donated. The 1200 is just a really fast, really inexpensive printer. I know Lexmark has something comparable now, but at the time we bought the 1200, there wasn’t much else in its class. It’s a very solid printer. HP’s not the best about providing new drivers when operating systems come out, but there’s a dirty little secret that apparently people don’t want to talk about (or maybe they don’t know). You can always use an older HP printer driver with newer printers. I could run both the 1200 and the DeskJet off an old LaserJet II driver. Microsoft always provides drivers for some of the classic HP printers. In a pinch, I run laser printers off a LaserJet 4 or LaserJet 5 driver. On high-end printers I lose the ability to select trays, but on a low-end printer like the 1200, I won’t lose a thing. So if you can’t find a driver, try the closest match you can find, and fall back on a lowest-common denominator like a LaserJet II if that fails.


Real keyboards. I’ve written a lot about keyboards in the past. I’m picky. I’m a good typist, or at least used to be before my wrists went the way of Bo Jackson’s hip (with all due respect to Bo Jackson; that’s not to say I could type like Bo Jackson could run or throw or hit a baseball), and the majority of keyboards are absolutely abominable. Maybe that’s because I learned to type on manual typewriters–no, I’m not that old, my high school was just that far behind–but I need some feedback from my keyboard. The first computer keyboard I could touch type on was the old-fashioned IBM PS/2 keyboard. I eventually learned how to handle the abominable cheap oatmeal pieces of junk, but I never learned to like them.

IBM’s buckling spring keyswitches evoked strong emotions; people either loved them or hated them. Other highly regarded keyboards generally used keyswitches made by Alps Electric; they were a little quieter and a little softer but still gave some feedback.

Those who managed to get them swear by their Northgates, or the present-day Northgate clones, the Creative Vision Avant Stellar and the Ortek MCK-142, both of whom boast of their Alps keyswitches and claim the true Northgate legacy. I understand their feel is just slightly softer than the IBM. I had a keyboard with that kind of feel; I believe it probably used Alps keyswitches. I didn’t like it as much. My sister took a liking to it so I let her keep it. I just kept buying used IBM PS/2 keyboards, the older the better. The older ones are theoretically less reliable because of potential heavier use, but they feel better. But two of my IBM keyboards are acting up now, so what to do? Do I really want to buy more used ones that are prone to go south all too soon? An original unused Northgate OmniKey sells for an Imsai price these days; they’re almost priceless. (I see some used OmniKeys on eBay right now for $50; even used ones rarely end up selling for that.) A clone will set you back $130. I’m willing to pay a fair sum for a good keyboard, but I’m a little wary of spending 10-12 times the cost of a normal keyboard on something I haven’t ever used before. I suspect I know their feel; IBM lightened up their feel towards the end, just before they stooped to everyone else’s level and started bundling $12 keyboards with their systems. I suspect the Northgate clones feel like those late-model IBMs, and I want something a little firmer.

Zeos used to sell highly regarded keyboards (from what I’ve gathered, they were actually made by a Taiwanese company called Nan Tan, who’s still in business but seems more interested in making commodity $12 keyboards these days), but Micron bought Zeos years ago and jettisoned the keyboards. Nobody talks about Zeos keyboards anymore. I only used one of those once, and I don’t remember it being the bomb, but I remember it being a lot better than, say, a run-of-the-mill NMB keyboard. Supposedly they used Alps keyswitches as well, so the feel was probably a lot like a Northgate.

I was learning far more about keyboards than I ever wanted to know, but I still couldn’t find anyone who would sell me a decent keyboard for a two-figure price. Then I stumbled across . That’s Unicomp, a small company out of Lexington, Kentucky. The significance? IBM made keyboards there. They spun off Lexmark, and Lexmark made keyboards there. Real keyboards come from Lexington, Kentucky, just like real baseball bats come from Louisville, Kentucky. I don’t know what springs to mind when anyone else hears the word Kentucky, but those are the two things I think of.

In 1996, Lexmark quietly sold their keyboard technology to these guys, who quietly sell IBM lookalike/feelalike keyboards for about 50 bucks. They sell both the so-called “enhanced” models (no thanks) and models with the old-fashioned, loud, patented buckling springs that go clackety clack. They also fix IBM keyboards. I like this. For half the price of an MCK-142, I can have what I really want. They even claim to have a 104-key model with Windows keys, which would be really nice, but I can’t find it on the Web site. I’ll have to call. I’d buy two or three 104-key buckling spring keyboards in a heartbeat because I constantly use the Windows-M and Windows-R keyboard shortcuts. I usually redefine one of the ALT keys as a Windows key using Microsoft’s Kernel Toys, but that doesn’t help you in NT, and it’s good to have two ALT keys. The ALT-arrow key combinations get awkward if you redefine the right ALT key, but ALT-F4 gets awkward if you redefine the left ALT key.

They apparently also had a programmable IBM feelalike in the past, but I can’t seem to find pricing on that one either. Programmable macros along with the IBM feel would be true luxury. I’d probably willingly pay $150 for that, as frequently as I re-key certain strings of characters.

It looks like I need to make some friends in Lexington.

Mouse cursor troubleshooting

Sorry, keyboard secrets will have to wait. No time. But here’s something else.

Case of the disappearing cursor. Maybe you’re lucky and you’ve never seen this, but sometimes the cursor will disappear inside text boxes in Windows NT (and presumably 9x). The solution is to reinstall your video driver — preferably a newer version.

I’ll be back in a bit. I’ve got some cool hotkey tricks. You don’t have to buy a new Microsoft keyboard to have keyboard access to things like the My Computer icon. For that matter you don’t have to buy a new keyboard to get a Windows key either, if you’re an old-timer like me still using an old 101-key PS/2 keyboard (the keyboards of today just aren’t nearly as good as the ones IBM and Lexmark made 12 or 13 years ago–of course, they also cost 10% of what those keyboards cost new).

I’ll spill the beans later this morning.


Poor Windows 98 Network Performance. The MTU once again reared its ugly head at work yesterday. A 1.5 meg file was taking five minutes to copy. Forget about copying anything of respectable size–we’re talking about an all-day affair here. A perplexed colleague called me and asked why. Once again I suspected MTU tinkering. After setting the MTU back to the default of 1500 (the best value to use on a LAN), we were able to copy a 53-meg file in about 30 seconds, which was of course a tremendous improvement.

Once again, don’t run the MTU optimizers on computers that’ll be used on a LAN. The slight increase in modem speed isn’t worth crippling your network performance.

Basic Mac/PC networking. A friend passed along a question about how to build a network either a Mac or a PC could talk on. That can become a complex subject (I wonder if it’s worthy of a book?), but here are the basics.

If all you need is for the Macs to talk to Macs and PCs to talk to PCs, go to the local computer store and pick up a 100-megabit hub with enough ports to accomodate your machines, cables for your Macs, and network cards for your PCs if they don’t already have them. Get a quality hub and cards–the only really inexpensive brand I trust anymore is Netgear, and the general consensus is that 3Com and Intel are better still, though they’ll cost you more. I’ve been bitten by enough failures to decide that $15 network cards and $25 hubs just aren’t worth the trouble.

The Macs should just start talking via the AppleTalk protocol once you direct AppleTalk to the Ethernet port through the AppleTalk control panel. The PCs will need network card drivers installed, then they can use TCP/IP, NetBEUI or IPX/SPX to communicate. Best to use TCP/IP to limit the number of protocols on your network. Assign your PCs and Macs IP addresses in the 192.168.1.x range, with a subnet mask of You don’t need to worry about the gateway or router settings unless you’ll be using the network to provide Internet access as well.

If you want Internet access, you can add an inexpensive cable/DSL router for about $150 that will serve your PCs and Macs without any problems. Assign your router to

Most mid-range HP and Lexmark laser printers will accept a network card capable of talking to both PCs and Macs.

If you want to share files cross-platform, you’re looking at some bucks. You’ll want a Windows NT or 2000 server (AppleShare IP will talk to both, but it’s not as reliable as NT unfortunately), which will set you back about $1000 for the software. Alternatively, you could install DAVE ( ), a product that makes Macs speak SMB over TCP/IP like Windows boxes will, so they can use Windows file shares and Windows-hosted printers.

I also see that Thursby is offering a program called MacSOHO, at $99, to accomodate PC/Mac networks. This isn’t suitable for large networks but for a small-scale LAN in the home, small business, school computer lab or church, it should suffice. You can download a trial version before you plunk down the cash.