The filing system used by Windows 95 and 98 is reasonably straightforward and simple to understand. Providing you're only creating files that will be used on your PC it's fairly easy to keep track of everything. However sooner or later you will want to transfer or copy files to another computer, or import a document from another machine, and that's when difficulties can arise.

This week we're going to look at the various methods of moving files about between computers, in part two we'll take a closer look at file formats, including data compression systems, and how different types of computer -- i.e. PCs, Macs and palmtops -- can be persuaded to talk to one another.

Essentially there are three ways of moving a file from one computer to another. The simplest is to copy the data to a portable storage medium, such as a floppy, optical disc, or tape cassette that can be read by both machines. Secondly individual computers can swap information by cable or wireless communication systems. Third, computers can exchange data en-masse, over a network either locally in an office or company, or a very much larger national or international network like the Internet.

The humble floppy disc is still the most convenient means of transferring data between PCs. The 3.5-inch high-density double-sided diskette is an international standard and most PCs and laptop machines are fitted with a suitable drive mechanism. Floppy discs are cheap, reasonably robust and mostly reliable. Discs can be easily transported and safely sent through the post or by courier (unless they travel alongside a consignment of magnets…). The main drawback of the floppy is its limited storage capacity, normally just 1.4 megabytes, which makes them inconvenient for larger files. Nevertheless that's more than enough for most data files and text documents, indeed it is possible to squeeze the contents of a small novel -- 30,000 to 40,000 words -- on a single disc. We'll look at ways of getting even more information onto a floppy, without compromising compatibility, in part two.

Windows 95/98 is very floppy friendly. The Save As command on the File menu of most Windows applications allows you to copy an open file straight to a floppy disc in your A: drive, right clicking on a file icon in Windows Explorer brings up the Send To option, which includes the floppy disc drive. 

Other portable disc and tape based portable media have much greater capacity (100Mb to 1 gigabyte) problem but none of them are as flexible or widely used as the good old floppy. If you need to move very large files then recordable CD-ROM is definitely worth considering. Blank discs only cost a pound or two and can hold up to 650Mb of data but CD-R and CD-RW recorders are still quite expensive (prices start at around £170). Moreover, the second PC must also have a CD-ROM drive, which is not always possible, or convenient on a portable PC.  High capacity magnetic disc formats such as the Zip, Jazz or L120 are another possibility but few desktop PCs have them as standard and they're even rarer on laptops. Tape-based systems suffer from the same disadvantage; they're also slow and better suited to archiving. 

When two PCs are physically close to one another -- i.e. in the same room, it's a fairly simple matter to link the two machines together by cable. Palmtop and laptop computers often come with their own dedicated 'docking stations', designed for direct connection to a PC, however, it's slightly more awkward when it comes to connecting desktop machines together.

Windows 95 and 98 include a utility called Direct Cable Connection (DCC). The only extra you'll need is the cable. There are two options, serial or parallel. Serial cables connect to one of the PC's COM ports (make sure you use a 'Null Modem' type). A parallel cable link -- it needs to be a bi-directional type -- uses the PCs printer sockets. Parallel connections are faster but cable length is limited to around 5 or so metres. You'll find the DCC set-up Wizard in the Accessories folder (Start then Programs), on Windows 98 you may find it is in the Communications sub-folder. The instructions are simple to follow; nominate one PC as the Host (the PC you want to access), and the other as the Guest (the one you use to access information). You will have to enable sharing on the files you want to access on the Host PC, do this by right-clicking on the file or folder, select properties then the Sharing tab and check the 'Share As' option.

Once the connection is made you'll be able open, copy and move files as if the other PC were another disc drive. The only points to bear in mind are that it is important to make sure you have the correct cable -- there are a lot of very similar looking cables out there… -- if you're not sure consult your dealer. You should also be aware that DCC can be a bit temperamental and there are compatibility issues between Windows 95 and 98 (there can be problems if one PC is using CompuServe, for example). If you are trying to connect PCs using different versions or Windows, or other incompatible operating systems then you will be much better off using a proprietary communications package, such as LapLink or PC Anywhere.

The latest variant on the direct PC to PC connection facility is an infrared serial link. A growing number of laptop and palmtop computers now have this facility, along with peripheral devices, like printers and digital cameras. Unfortunately it has been very slow to catch on with desktop PC manufacturers, even though Windows 95 and 98 supports the industry standard irDA system. The necessary transmitting and receiving modules are available as upgrades, devices such as JetEye PC cost around £70.

Connecting two or more PCs together, to form a fully-fledged computer network requires a little more effort and is beyond the scope of this short article. However, the main points to bear in mind is that each PC has to be fitted with an interface card and -- depending on the type of network configuration -- you will probably need extra software as well.

Finally, we come to the mother of all networks, the Internet. Once your PC is connected to the Internet you can send and receive files from any other Internet PC, anywhere in the world. It's reasonably cheap and fairly quick, at least files move around the Internet fairly quickly but unless you have a high-speed digital line or fast modem it large file transfers can take ages, from a few minutes to an hour or more is not uncommon.

Next month, files and formats




Recordable CD-ROM systems; CD-R uses discs that can be written to just once whilst CD-RW (read-write) discs can be recorded on and erased many times


Infra red Data Association, the organisation responsible for setting and maintaining technical standards for IR wireless communications systems used on PCs and peripherals


Type of serial communications cable, configured for two-way data transfer between a PC and a modem, or two PCs.



Over time your PC can accumulate dozens of interesting fonts or typefaces. Viewing them manually, using your word processor, can be tedious so when you get some time to spare create a sample font book. From the Start menu select Control Panel and then double-click on the Fonts icon. Open each font icon in turn, click on the Print button and you'll get a full-page print-out of that font. Keep them together in a loose-leaf file folder for quick reference.

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