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-- by Warren Ernst
If your small company or home office has more Internet users and computers than telephone lines and Internet accounts, why not set up your modems to be shared? Two products, WebEtc 1.1 and WinGate 2.0D, can give everyone in your office access to a phone line for less than it costs to equip them with private modems.
Think of WebEtc and WinGate as miniature proxy servers. They make the modem (or ISDN terminal) and Internet account on one of your Windows 95 systems accessible to the Web browsers, e-mail applications and Internet programs residing on networked computers.
WebEtc 1.1 and WinGate 2.0D share a modem among computers via TCP/IP. This technique has a couple of advantages over other networking protocols. For instance, Windows 95 and NT have TCP/IP networking built in, so if each computer has a network card you don't need to buy anything else to share a modem. In addition, since TCP/IP is built into most modern operating systems, you can share your single modem with Macintosh, UNIX and Linux machines-and nearly anything else you'd use to surf the Net.
WebEtc is the simpler of the two products. It has fewer features and configuration options than WinGate, so it is better geared toward offices without a dedicated systems administrator to set up the application and resolve problems. Upon installation, WebEtc prompts you to name the Dial-Up connection setting, the IP address of your service provider's mail and news servers, and the number of inactive minutes that should pass before hanging up the modem.
Perhaps the trickiest aspect of using WebEtc is establishing the TCP/IP-based network to handle the communications between host and client computers, and then configuring the remote systems' Internet programs. Fortunately, WebEtc provides a Windows-only utility that configures remote versions of Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer and other popular programs to use the WebEtc proxy server. Manually setting these configurations for other platforms is tedious, but not difficult. MicroTest's Web site (http://pda78.pdapage.com/webetc/) also provides complete instructions for installing and configuring TCP/IP over your existing network. The instructions are simple enough for most beginners to follow, but we advise that you read them before installing the product.
WebEtc can transmit several types of requests-such as HTTP (Web pages), FTP, SMTP/POP3 (e-mail) and NNTP (news)-through a shared modem to your service provider. However, information sources that require their own protocol, like Telnet, IRC, VDO Live or RealAudio, won't work.
When WebEtc dials the modem to connect, it gives you status updates on the connection process instead of showing an unsettling empty browser screen, as WinGate does. In addition, as many as 20 users can connect to the Internet simultaneously through your single connection with the basic WebEtc license, which is cheaper than a comparable setup using WinGate. Whether WebEtc was inactive or actively redirecting Internet requests, there was no measurable slowdown of the modem-hosting system.
WebEtc is easier to set up than WinGate and is as intuitive as the leading application in this field, Internet LanBridge 1.29-our WinList product. However, WebEtc handles fewer Internet protocols than its competitors and has fewer configuration options. For instance, it grabbed port 80 and wouldn't let go, forcing us to reroute our internal Web server's connections.
WinGate is a more ambitious personal proxy server than WebEtc, providing configuration options that are sometimes confusing but ultimately powerful. For example, WinGate can handle RealAudio, VDO Live and Telnet, in addition to the typical Internet protocols that WebEtc supports. You can also manually redirect any specific TCP or UDP request from your networked computers directly to a TCP/IP address and port number on the Internet. This is useful when you're using stock-retrieval programs, Internet conferencing/telephony, online games, PointCast or whatever new Internet technology comes along. In addition, WinGate can act as a SOCKS host.
Fortunately, WinGate's documentation, along with its TCP/IP network setup instructions, is in a detailed Windows Help file. You can skim through it quickly without an active Internet connection.
WinGate is compatible with Web, FTP and even internal mail servers, among other things. If you have one computer running these servers concurrently with WinGate, or if they are all on separate machines, WinGate determines if a request should be redirected internally or sent to the Internet via the shared modem.
WinGate's greatest drawback is that it doesn't present a status indicator during the modem's dialing and connection process. When you connect to the Internet, you're greeted with nothing but a blank browser window for up to a minute. This can be quite disconcerting when the modem is located so far away that you can't hear it connect. Despite this, WinGate works well. In our tests, it provided slightly more responsive connections to the Internet than did WebEtc, and it didn't slow the host machine a bit.
Depending on the unlocking code you purchase, WinGate will transform into a two-, five-, 10- or unlimited-user version. The number of users refers to the concurrent, active Internet connections, not computers on your network. You can also obtain a Professional version, which has advanced logging and user-maintenance features.
WinGate requires a more savvy person to install it than either WebEtc or Internet LanBridge. Although most of WinGate's configuration options can be left at default settings, if you're an inexperienced network user you may be overwhelmed. In that case, WebEtc might serve you better.
Share the wealth
Both WebEtc and WinGate deliver: They share a modem among several networked computers without bogging down the host system-useful for two-computer SOHO networks. But in the end, we still favor Internet LanBridge. It offers a simple installation procedure, superior ease of use and extra features, like the ability to limit access times.