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This article first appeared in the October 1999 issue of the Louisville Computer News. It was written by Lee Larson.

LocalTalk to EtherTalk?

Way back in the early days of the Mac, one of the things you could do to hold yourself above the ever growing crowd of people who used those other machines was set up a network almost instantly. From the first 128K Mac onward, the models changed, but you could always count on good old AppleTalk networking from the printer port. Of course it is slow-230 Kbps-but it sure is easy to set up. I remember a Macintosh user group meeting a few years back where an empty room was filled with a fully networked collection of 15 or 20 Macs in about 10 minutes.

AppleTalk networking was one of those good ideas from Apple that came about by necessity. When Apple was working on the original Macintosh in the early 1980's, they were also working on the original LaserWriter. It was obvious to everybody involved that the LaserWriter was turning out to be a pretty expensive peripheral device and it didn't make much sense to use it on only one computer. So, AppleTalk networking was invented to allow up to 31 Macs to share a single printer. From those humble beginnings, AppleTalk evolved into a full-fledged set of networking protocols for file sharing and communications.

Actually, AppleTalk grew in several different directions. The classic way of AppleTalk networking from the printer port is called LocalTalk by Apple. The same type of networking over Ethernet is called EtherTalk. There is even a set of software for token ring networks called TokenTalk.

About a year ago, with the iMac, Apple changed everything by abandoning LocalTalk. They left out ordinary serial ports and announced that from now on EtherTalk is the standard. When the iMac was introduced, most of the hype centered around the newfangled USB port and everyone wondered whether there would ever actually be things to plug into USB. It also had a speedy 10/100Base-T Ethernet port capable of perfectly fluent EtherTalk. But, many of us wondered how we could get it to talk to our perfectly good and expensive LocalTalk laser printers or older Ethernet challenged Macs.

It turns out there are quite a few simple ways to solve the problem.

Many people in this situation already have an older Mac with a printer port. If an Ethernet card is added to such an older Mac, Apple has free software called LocalTalk Bridge to use the older machine as a "bridge" between LocalTalk and EtherTalk. It's a control panel installed on the bridge machine that works in the background to translate traffic back and forth between the two networks. LocalTalk Bridge takes very little memory and works amazingly well, even on older Macintosh II vintage boxes.

There are a few limitation you should know about. LocalTalk Bridge is officially unsupported and needs a version of Mac OS between 7.1 and 8.1. It does not work well with Mac OS 8.5 or newer. With Mac OS 7.6.1 or 8.1 it works very well. The biggest problem for most people is that the bridge machine must be turned on for printing to work.

LocalTalk Bridge 2.1, the final version ever to be, is available on Apple's Web site.

There are also several simple hardware solutions.

Asante has been making the AsanteTalk hardware bridge for several years. It's as simple as such a device could be. About the size of a bar of soap, it has holes for power and LocalTalk connections on one side and EtherTalk on the other. Just plug it in and it's in business; there's no configuration. I installed one for an acquaintance a few weeks ago, and it took longer to open the box it came in than to install the little thing. The only obvious limitation is that the LocalTalk side can address no more than eight devices. The list price is $129, but the usual street price is about $100.

With pretty much the same specifications as the AsanteTalk, but a bit pricier are the EtherMac iPrint adaptors from Farallon. Actually, the iPrint comes in two different models. The LT version bridges EtherTalk to LocalTalk, like the AsanteTalk. The SL model connects some serial port only inkjet printers to EtherTalk. My home network has had an older, and much larger, version of the LT for over a year. I use it to connect my Ethernetted machines to my LocalTalk-only laser printer and PowerBook 180. It's been as reliable as the sunrise and needs just about as much maintenance. The boxes list for $150, but can be had for under $110.

If all you want to do is connect a PostScript laser printer, there a new device that's about the slickest I've seen in quite a while. It's called the DP-101 Pocket Print server from D-Link. It's about the size of a mouse and has a parallel port on one end and an Ethernet port on the other. Plug the parallel port into your printer and your Ethernet into the other end, and your printer's networked just as though it came with an Ethernet port.

Besides EtherTalk, it understands TCP/IP, NetBEUI and IPX printing protocols so your Unix and Windows machines can also use the printer.

I played around with a DP-101 for a few days last month and was quite impressed. It worked flawlessly on an old Apple LaserWriter NTR and a new HP 2100M. It's interesting that the DP-101 adds an Ethernet port to an HP printer for about half HP's price, and the DP-101 is significantly more feature-packed than HP's network card.

The software that comes with it lets you change the EtherTalk printer name and tweak a few other parameters, but you really don't have to change anything, if you're happy with the default printer name. The only limitation from the Macintosh standpoint is that the Laser printer must support PostScript Level 2.

The DP-101 is available for about $100 from several mail order houses. You'll have to check out their web sites because it's not in their catalogs.

We'll likely be seeing a new round of such devices in the near future because Apple is in the process of also abandoning EtherTalk. The captains of the Cupertino mother ship have declared TCP/IP, the language of the Internet, is the wave of the future. Mac OS 9, due in only a few weeks, will take a big step in this direction by allowing every Mac capable of running it to become an AppleShare/IP server. Expect Apple to incrementally remove EtherTalk support over the coming year.

Miscellaneous

Of course the big news in the Macintosh universe is the surprising introduction of the new G4 Macs. With his usual dramatic flourishes, Steve Jobs, Apple's perpetual interim CEO, chose the Seybold Seminars Publishing Conference to roll out what he calls "the first desktop supercomputer." Apple's TV ad with the tanks circling the new Macintosh G4 plays on this theme by pointing out that the G4 machines can't be exported to certain countries because they're fast enough to be classified as supercomputers by the U.S. government. (Of course, Apple probably doesn't have dealers in Iraq, Libya and North Korea, anyway.)

The new G4 machines are really fast-probably twice as fast as a comparable Pentium III machine at doing floating point arithmetic. But, an objective look at the facts shows they're hardly supercomputers by today's standards. Benchmarking tests of the Macintosh G4 show that it can run continuously at about 2 gigaflops with peaks approaching 4 gigaflops. (A gigaflop is a billion floating point operations per second.) A quick peak at the list of the world's real supercomputers, shows this is barely a fortieth of the speed needed to make position 500 on the list. Today's fastest machines are clocked in the teraflop range--trillions of floating point operations per second.

On the software side, Connectix announced the long-awaited Virtual PC 3.0 is available. It features USB support, AppleScript awareness and some speed enhancements. The biggest improvement for many users is that VPC will finally be able to share the Mac's network address.

VPC 3.0 is available in three configurations. Purchasers can get the package with Windows 98 ($179), Windows 95 ($149) or PC DOS ($49) pre-installed. It supports Windows NT, OS/2 and Linux, but those must be installed by the owner.

Louisville Computer Society

The October 26 meeting of the Louisville Computer Society will have demonstrations by Harry Jacobson-Beyer of the free programs NetCD and CD Coyote. NetCD can retrieve information about audio CD's from the CDDB internet database and store the information so Apple's CD Audio Player can display it while that CD is being played. CD Coyote lets users edit the information stored in the CD Remote programs file and export the information to create a CD library catalog.

The Louisville Computer Society meets from 7:00-9:00 P.M. at Pitt Academy, 4605 Poplar Level Road, at the intersection of Poplar Level Road and Gilmore Lane. Everyone is welcome to attend. For more information, on the web go to www.aye.net/~lcs, or e-mail lcs@aye.net.


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