Installing ICS on the server system is quick and easy. ICS uses the Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP), a standard TCP/IP networking service that allows a computer to dynamically assign valid IP addresses to other computers on the local network, thereby enabling a shared Internet connection. The DHCP server then acts as a traffic controller, routing data between the local computers and the Internet. Client systems require only a quick setting change to establish their LAN connection. And since DHCP is a standard protocol, the client computers on your network don't have to run Windows to link through ICS. I routinely use a Windows SE system's dial-up ISDN connection to get Net access for a second computer running Linux.
Unlike NT Workstation, the NT Server package comes with a full-fledged DHCP service that you install and configure with the Control Panel's network applet. But at $540 or so for the five-user upgrade version, it's a fairly expensive option for NT Workstation users.
Fortunately, several third-party products offer cheaper solutions. Sybergen Networks' SyGate 3 has even more features than Microsoft's ICS. Like ICS, SyGate uses DHCP to give IP addresses to computers on the network, works with any PC that has the TCP/IP network protocol installed, and requires no other software or configuration on the client side. Beyond that, SyGate provides firewall software to protect both client and host computers, and its filtering feature lets you limit where client computers surf. If you need to share your network connection with only one or two other computers, SyGate's three-user version is a bargain at $US40. You can buy the software online or download a demo (fully functional for the first 100MB of data downloaded) from www.sygate.com/download.htm.
If you're a complete tightwad (like me), you may be able to share that NT Workstation connection for free. As we went to press, a Swedish company called Weird Solutions was offering a free beta of its forthcoming DHCP Turbo NT utility. This package runs as a service, meaning it loads automatically, regardless of who is logged on. For the current status of the product, see www.weird-solutions.com.
DHCP isn't the only way to share a Net connection. Proxy servers can fill the bill, though they won't dole out IP addresses dynamically. For users who don't mind popping NT's TCP/IP hood to do a little network configuring, the free AnalogX Proxy is attractively lean (a mere 200KB download) and mean. To make setup easier, the program's accompanying readme file explains the installation steps in plain English. The current version of Proxy supports Web and mail connections, and AnalogX promises FTP, chat, and other support in a later version. Hey, what do you expect for free? Find the utility online at www.analogx.com.