My Networking Nightmare Becomes a Success

And people said I couldn't do it. Ha!

I am successfully transferring files among all the members of my mongrel Wi-Fi home network: Windows 98, Windows XP, Windows Vista 64-bit, Mac OS X and Linux (Ubuntu).

Okay, okay, I cheated a little bit. But I had to.

Last time, I couldn't get Win 98 to connect to Mac, but after much effort solved the problem with the help of a reader and some arcane authentication trickery and changing keys in the Windows Registry.

My final hurdle was Win 98 to Vista. That was the first problem I noticed early on in my project but I saved it for last because I thought the other stuff would be tougher. I mean, it was Windows to Windows, so how hard could it be?

Try impossible.

This post in a Vista forum -- from an expert Microsoft "MVP" -- pretty much sums up the situation:

Network problems with 98, 98SE, XP and Vista

"I've done a lot of tests trying to access Vista's shared folders from Windows 98 (and 95 and Me) over a network. To the best of my knowledge, it isn't possible. Microsoft no longer supports the Win9x operating systems, and compatibility with them wasn't part of Vista's design, implementation, or testing."

I gave it a shot, though.

First, I tried using the NTLMV2 authentication and the Active Directory Client Extension that allowed Win 98 to network with the Mac by changing a Registry setting. No luck.

So then it was time to cheat a little and try different protocols.

A NetBIOS hack

I tried a NetBIOS "hack" that involved using a terminal session and a command to mount the Vista machine on the Win 98 machine as a mapped network drive. I actually found it in a YouTube video, of all places.

The steps were:

•1.     Open a Terminal session with Run>Command

•2.     Type "net view" to see a list of all the computers in your workgroup

•3.     Type "net use Z:\\computername\c$"

•4.     Close out of Terminal, click on Start, open My Computer and double-click on your new Z: drive.

I could open it up and see the Vista shares. I had to turn off some Vista security features, but I opened up a share and transferred a file from the Win 98 to the Vista.


I thought.

I still couldn't grab a file from the Vista and drag it to Win 98.

How about Remote Desktop Management

So I tried Remote Desktop Management. That service isn't built in to Vista Home Premium, but it's in Home Ultimate and business versions of Vista. Of course, I had Home Premium.

But I found a hack on the Web that involved substituting the termsrv.dll Dynamic Link Library file and changing some Registry settings. There was even a version of the file for 64 bit Vista. A batch file copied the file into the "system32" directory and stopped and started the "Terminal Services" service and was supposed to install RDP on the Vista.

As listed in a forum post:

Steps to Add Remote Desktop to Vista Home Premium:

•1.     Download here

•2.     Extract to a temp directory

•3.     Start "Command Prompt" in Administrator mode (Run As Administrator)

•4.     Run the corresponding batch file for your Vista edition

•5.     Allow TCP Port 3389 on Windows Firewall or any other firewall product.

•6.     Done

It wasn't quite that easy but after some tinkering I managed to install it.

Voila! My Vista now had RDP.

Voila! My EULA with Microsoft was shattered. Oh well.

Unfortunately, the hack installed the RDP client, not the server, and I was rudely told by Windows that there weren't any servers in my workgroup.

However, I had access to another laptop with Windows XP Pro, and it could act as a kind of server.

The steps were:

•1.     Click on Start and choose Control Panel

•2.     Double-click on System and click on Properties

•3.     Click on the Remote tab and check the option to "Allow users to connect remotely to this computer"

•4.     There's also a tab for "Select Remote Users" so you go back to Control Panel, click on User Accounts, set up a user with a password, and enter that user into the Remote properties

So my workaround was to add Win XP Pro to the network mix and take remote control of it, transferring a file from Win 98. Then, still controlling the Win XP Pro, I went to Networking and accessed the Vista machine and transferred the file from Win XP Pro to Vista. And the process also worked in the other direction.

It was kludgy and I had to add a new PC to the network, but I was transferring files back and forth from Win 98 to Vista.

Finally FTP

Next it was the FTP protocol.

I installed the open-source Filezilla server software on the Vista and I could access it from Internet Explorer's built-in FTP capability. I could transfer files back and forth from Win 98 to Vista. Of course, Filezilla doesn't support Windows 98, so I had to use an FTP program called Xlight to transfer files back and forth from the Vista.

So two kludges worked: RDP and FTP.

I'm sure there are other protocols a networking expert could probably invoke, and many third-party pay-for apps promise to allow Win 98 to Vista transfers, and I could have sent files attachments through e-mail and IM or used an online storage service. But I wanted to avoid going out and using the Internet. Also, a domain controller network might work, perhaps with Samba Server on a Linux installation.

As for printing, I have an old Epson inkjet on the Win 98 and a slightly newer HP PhotoSmart on the Win XP. After installing the necessary drivers, all the machines could print to both except the Mac. I couldn't get the Mac to print to either one. There must be some workaround, but I'm not going to look for it right now.

Ubuntu Linux was seamless in connecting to both printers, despite their age. It listed literally hundreds of drivers for all types of printers and it quickly found my specific ones and easily installed them and I was immediately printing.

The Win 98 machine, on the other hand, had to find a generic driver off the installation CD for the HP.

Microsoft is the culprit; Linux just works

That perfectly illustrates the main takeaway from this project: in a home network such as mine, Microsoft is the biggest culprit in preventing full connectivity. Microsoft has greatly changed its OSs from Win 98 to Vista, which is explainable due to the age difference and various iterations.

But the Mac could connect to the old dinosaur, and Linux did so easily. You would think that if other companies/consortiums could make their OSs backwards-compatible to old Windows versions, Microsoft should do the same thing. Maybe it wants to force users to migrate from one iteration to the next, while the other companies/consortiums just don't care about that.

But from what I've seen on the Web, there are a lot of people still using Win 98, and I saw dozens of fairly recent forum postings from people doing almost the exact same thing I was.

Another takeaway: Linux was the best OS for "simply working." I was very impressed with it.

I think it's time to put the old Win 98 war horse to bed and go to Linux. The old machine is basically only used for Web browsing, e-mail, IM, burning CDs and printing homework assignments. I'm pretty sure that from what I've learned about Linux so far, it will easily accommodate those operations. I'll find out.

This story, "My Networking Nightmare Becomes a Success" was originally published by Computerworld.

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