25 Years of AppleShare Networking
Low End Mac Staff - 2012.02.02
Long before the the Internet and Dropbox, there were personal computers on local area networks (LANs) and dedicated file servers. 25 years ago, Apple introduced AppleShare, the software that could turn a Macintosh into a dedicated file server on an AppleTalk network using the network ports built into every Mac.
The first commercial LAN was ARCnet (Attached Resource Computer network), developed by Datapoint Corporation in San Antonio, Texas, and put into service by Chase Manhattan Bank in New York in late 1997. "It used a token-ring architecture, supported data rates of 2.5 Mbps, and connected up to 255 computers."
At about the same time, Robert Metcalfe was developing Ethernet at Xerox PARC. The goal was to allow hundreds of computers to share laser printers, which were a very new and very expensive technology. Metcalfe conceived Ethernet in 1973 and says that "ethernet was actually invented very gradually over a period of several years". Early Ethernet networks allowed up to 255 devices.
The goal of networking is to share resources, whether that's an Internet connection, a printer, or files stored on a remote computer. The first widely deployed PC network was Novell Netware, which supported a wide range of networking hardware and used a personal computer (rather than a mainframe or minicomputer) as a server. Netware came to market in 1983, and IBM embraced it in 1984, which helped establish it as the leading network operating system of the early personal computing era.
Macintosh 512K "Fat Mac"
When it was introduced in 1984, the Macintosh was revolutionary in many ways, one being its built-in support for local area networking using Apple's AppleTalk protocols and its LocalTalk hardware. LocalTalk used the Mac's RS-422 printer port and supported a data rate of 230.4 Kbps.
Farallon PhoneNet connectors
The biggest breakthrough in making AppleTalk networking affordable came in 1987 when Farallon released its PhoneNet connectors, which used inexpensive unshielded telephone cables and standard RJ11 telephone jacks, not only making networking more affordable, but also making it easy to create long runs of cable - up to 3,000'! (That's three times the 1,000' maximum distance for LocalTalk.) LocalTalk supports up to 32 devices, which made it great for home and small office use.
Also in 1987, Apple introduced the AppleShare software that allowed users to set up a dedicated Macintosh 512K (or newer) as a file server for a LocalTalk network (With only 128 KB of memory, the original Macintosh didn't have to resources to work as a file server. A Mac Plus with a SCSI hard drive was a much better choice.)
Personal File Sharing became part of the Mac OS when System 7 was introduced in May 1991. Prior to that, there had been a few third-party apps that gave System 6 users limited personal file sharing, perhaps the most used being Public Folder release by Claris, Apple's software division.
Networking and the Mac
Dan Bashur (Apple, Tech, and Gaming): My. how far things have come during the last 25 years! Although AppleShare and LocalTalk began to lay the ground for things to come in terms of short distance file sharing, I can say with much gratitude how I appreciate what the last 10-12 years have done for us with Gigabit Ethernet and AirPort wireless networks by increasing the bandwidth exponentially. This is obviously a far cry from using phone lines to transmit data at 230.4 Kbps, as it was in the humble beginnings of file sharing (but at that time, this data rate was an incredible feat in itself). Technology will always evolve, and as the data transmission rate and bandwidth continue to increase, it will continue to unlock more and more possibilities. It's not a far fetched idea to think that one day you will only need one central computer with your files and applications, while every other device you own will simply access them and utilize them in the "Cloud" regardless of processing demands and requirements, running seamlessly over the air due to the speed data will eventually travel. I'm not so keen on the thought, as I like to have control of my data and like physical backups, but Cloud computing is here to stay.
Reflecting on the proposed future, the present, and past, I can summarize by saying that today's speeds and connectivity options over a network are wonderful and seemingly limitless, offering a wide array of possibilities, but without the groundwork that was laid built that into those early Macs (namely the Mac Plus and 512K), none of today's possibilities or potential for the future would be a reality. The operating system should be equally credited with the hardware and connective options, as they all worked hand in hand. The AppleTalk protocol was built into System 5 - and unbelievably continued all the way through Mac OS X 10.5.8 Leopard! You could still see those old Macs on a modern network, courtesy of AppleTalk continuing to be built into Mac OS X. Sadly, Snow Leopard left AppleTalk behind (I'm guessing the change to x86 only code vs. PPC/Universal Binary had something to do with that), but those early Macs and the software designed for them will never be forgotten.
Thanks a bunch, AppleShare (and AppleTalk), for all the fond memories. I'll never forget how dad's LC, Performa, Power Mac 6100, and Beige Power Mac G3 were all linked together at one point. They would never have gotten along so well without you!
Leaman Crews (Plays Well with Others): I think that AppleTalk's greatest legacy was its simplicity, especially in its original LocalTalk implementation. From a hardware perspective, you couldn't beat the aforementioned simplicity of just hooking up a network via connecting two or more Macs via the serial ports. The ports were built-in, the cables were cheap and easy - and they got significantly more inexpensive once PhoneNet hit the scene. In true Macintosh fashion, this was the network for the rest of us. Anyone could become a network admin with a two-minute lesson.
But the hardware wouldn't have mattered if the software wasn't equally as simple and elegant. Speaking of "true Macintosh fashion", AppleShare made it brain-dead simple to connect to shared folders on the network. Just go to the Chooser, click on the AppleShare icon, and instantly view the AppleShare servers on the network. Click on the one you want, then the login box pops up; from here you can log on as a guest (if enabled on the server) or enter your username and password for the server. Then you are presented with a list of shared folders ("volumes") available to your login credentials; pick the ones you want, and then they appear on your Desktop.
So simple, so easy, so powerful. The elegance was miles ahead of NetBIOS on the Wintel platform, which required a true network admin to set up a Workgroup File Service Host Record or Domain Master Browser (a.k.a. a Primary Domain Controller) or just simply a Domain Controller for your domain, if you weren't a part of a simple Workgroup. Novell Netware may have been easier from an end-user perspective, but it surely required more than a two-minute lesson to set up.
Another thing I give Apple props for is keeping up the simplicity and the seamlessness over the years as technology changed. Once Ethernet started to appear on Macs, EtherTalk was as simple as LocalTalk. Apple made software available for free that could bridge your LocalTalk and Ethernet networks - one machine on the network had to have both a LocalTalk connection and an Ethernet connection to the network, along with the bridge software, and that was it. All devices on the network were all a part of the same AppleTalk zone (roughly equivalent to a TCP subnet) appeared in the Chooser, regardless of what connectivity hardware they used. As TCP/IP became the de facto networking standard, AppleTalk allowed for AppleShare over TCP/IP by clicking the "Server IP Address" button in the Chooser. From there, you could enter an IP address or a DNS name. The underlying technology advanced, but the simplicity remained the same. (Apple was smart enough to license the fantastic ShareWay IP for the transition to TCP/IP, rather than start its own implementation from scratch.)
With the switch to OS X, Apple started to phase out AppleTalk with delicate care. In the beginning, OS X used AppleTalk only for browsing the network and would only connect to printers using AppleTalk directly. File servers needed to be able to do AppleShare over TCP/IP for OS X clients to actually connect. (I remember adding ShareWay IP to a few older machines that didn't have the capability built-in, to allow OS X to connect).
Over time, the far more modern and efficient Rendezvous - officially ZeroConf, and later renamed Bonjour - replaced AppleTalk as the browser. Bonjour also assigns familiar Internet-like DNS names to machines on the network, so that today all of the Macs (and even Linux machines) on my network have simple Bonjour names (like mini.local or ubuntu.local) to allow for quick and easy AFP (the AppleShare protocol) connections. Once again, Apple has kept it simple and easy while keeping up with the latest in technology. That quick two-minute lesson still applies to networking any number of Macs.
DIN-8 plug on printer cable
Charles Moore (several columns): I can't really speak to the pioneering days of AppleTalk and AppleShare, because my experience with using these technologies back in the day was minimal. I remember what a revelation it was when I discovered that I could transfer files from my Mac Plus to my LC 520 via a printer cable without benefit of floppy or Zip disks as a medium.
Another anecdote was how impressed a PC (DOS in those days) oriented relative of mine, who has a post-graduate degree in software engineering, was when he discovered that the Mac came with built-in networking, which he deemed a huge advantage - which of course it was.
Later on, we wired up an ethernet LAN in the house, which is still there, although pretty much dormant in the era of Dropbox, although I still occasionally do data transfers between Macs via direct ethernet cable hookups, especially since I've been using a MacBook with no FireWire support.
Dan Knight (Mac Musings): I remember LocalTalk cabling very well. I worked in a Heath/Zenith computer store in 1987/88, and the entire chain had been authorized as Apple dealers. We had a lot of long cables running between the Macs, the Apple IIGS, and the LaserWriter printer. In my job at ComputerLand (1989-91), we had PhoneNet when I started and moved to coaxial ethernet - much faster, but also a lot more work to install. (I had an SE/30 on my desk and loved it!)
My next job was at a local publishing house, where we had a little over a dozen Macs networked with PhoneNet. We had four book designers, each with a Macintosh IIci equipped with 8 MB of memory, a 40-100 MB hard drive, and Apple's Two-Page Monochrome Display. We had two cover artists who had larger hard drives, 12 MB of memory, and 20" color monitors. In the editorial department, we had a mixture of LCs and LC IIs connected to Mac Portrait Displays. There were two LaserWriters on the network, one in design and one in editorial. We had one 44 MB SyQuest drive with several disk cartridges that we used for daily networked backup using Retrospect and for supplying files too big for a floppy disk to the printer. This was the era of System 7.5, Word 5.1a, and Quark XPress 3.2 - and we designers were remarkably productive with those 25 MHz Macs.
That network started getting flaky as we expanded past 20-25 Macs, and somewhere around there we moved to ethernet for 40x faster networking (about the same difference in speed as between USB 1.1 and 2.0). By the time I left in 2001, we had over 80 Macs on the network, used a high capacity tape drive for backup, and had just entered the G4 era. Through it all, AppleTalk made networking easy, and ethernet made it quick. Kudos to Apple for making networking plug-and-play way back in the mid-1980s!
Allison Payne (The Budget Mac): I've never had the opportunity to use LocalTalk or AppleTalk, but I harbor nerdy fantasies about someday connecting all of my vintage Macs into a big circle of file-sharing awesomeness.
And I can't imagine my computing life without Dropbox, so I'm eternally grateful for the seeds Apple and others planted that have led to so much networking innovation over the last three decades.
Dan Bashur:One more thing to add to this discussion is a link to Adam Rosen's article Vintage Mac Networking and File Exchange. Last night, Austin Leeds and I were discussing this very subject of getting an old Mac on an AppleShare local network over Ethernet that lacks an Ethernet connection or the possibility to add one. Adam's article clearly explains how this can be accomplished with a "middle" Mac you put in-between them that has both an Ethernet and a serial connection so that you can still link them. Adam states that a Quadra is usually a good choice for a "middle" Mac, and if both target machines can boot into OS 9, I would tend to say that a Lombard or WallStreet would also be a great choice.
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