Networking two PCs together using the Windows 95/98 Direct Cable Connection (DCC) utility is actually quite simple, once you know how… DCC allows you to exchange files and share resources, like disc drives and printers. The only trouble is Microsoft has made it difficult to set up by not providing adequate instructions and to make matters worse, Help is no help whatsoever.

Rather than get bogged down in lengthy explanations and what all the multitude of acronyms mean we'll dive straight in with a simple step-by-step procedure that should get DCC up and running on two PCs in around ten to fifteen minutes.

Begin by getting hold of the right cable. There are two options:  'Serial Null Modem' and 'Parallel Interlink/Laplink', sometimes sold as a 'DCC Cable'. Nothing else will work so don't bother trying! A parallel cable connection is strongly recommended since data transfers are three or four times faster than a serial connection. The parallel cable connects to the PC's printer ports, sometimes labelled LPT1. If you want the two PCs to share a printer or parallel port scanner you will have to install a second parallel port. This is actually quite easy and by pure co-incidence, the subject of next week's Boot Camp…

Step two is to make sure DCC is installed on both PCs. On Windows 95 you'll find it by clicking on Start > Programs >Accessories. In Windows 98 it should be in the Communications sub-folder on Accessories. If not you must install it from your Windows CD-ROM using Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel, you'll find DCC listed under Communications on the Windows Set-up tab.

Step three is to configure the two computers. Both PCs must have three items of software installed. They are a Network Protocol called IPX/SPX (a common language networked PCs use to communicate, others are available but for the sake of simplicity stick with this one first), plus two networking utilities, called Client For Microsoft Networks and File & Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks. You may already have one or more of them on your systems, to find out click on to the Network icon in Control Panel and check the list on the Configuration tab. If you don't see IPX/SPX on the list click Add to display the Select Network Type box. Select Protocol and click Add > Microsoft > IPX/SPX Compatible Networks then OK and follow the instructions (you may be asked to insert your Windows CD-ROM and go through a restart). Don't forget to repeat this and the following steps on both machines.

A similar procedure is used to load Client For Microsoft Networks and File & Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks. They are both installed from Network in Control Panel; Client For Microsoft Networks can be found by clicking Add > Client > Microsoft. For File & Printer Sharing go Add > Service > Microsoft. When all three components have been loaded on both machines return to Network, highlight IPX/SPX Compatible Networks, click the Properties button then the Bindings tab. You should see Client For Microsoft Networks and File & Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks listed, and both items should be checked. To round off this stage on each machine click OK to return to Network and select the Identification tabs. You now have to give each PC a unique name; it must not be more than 15 characters long or contain any space or non-alphanumeric characters. Keep them short and simple because you will need to key names in later on.

Now it's time to make the connection, switch off both PCs and plug in the cable, re-boot and start with the PC that contains the files or resources you want to access (usually your desktop PC). This machine will be called the 'Host', it's a bit like the server in a LAN (see last week's Boot Camp). Next open Windows Explorer and decide which items you want to share with the other PC, right click on the file folder (or drive icon) and select Sharing, then the Sharing Tab and check 'Shared As'. If you want to move files in both directions you might want to enable sharing on the second PC or 'Guest' machine (your laptop or the computer you want to use to access files on the Host).

The final step is to activate the DCC Wizard, which will start when you click on the Direct Cable Connection icon in Start > Programs > Accessories. Begin with the Host machine and follow the instructions, you will be asked to select Host or Guest, which sort of cable you are using and port (parallel & LPT1 if you've taken our advice). It's a good idea to leave passwords fields blank at this stage (you can fiddle around with those the next time you start DCC), click OK and Finish; the Host PC will now go into a waiting mode. Next run the DCC Wizard on the Guest PC and make sure it is set up in exactly the same way (parallel cable, LPT1 etc.). When you click on Finish the DCC status window will change to show the two machines are talking to each other. You will be asked to enter the name of the Host PC and a moment or two later a folder window should open, showing all of the resources on the other machine that you can access, simply treat it as another disc drive connected to your PC.

Hopefully it will go smoothly but if you encounter a problem here are some things to check. Make sure you are using the right cable, ordinary parallel and serial cables are simply no good. The parallel port settings for both computers must be the same. The three common options are Normal EPP and ECP; you can change port settings in the PC's BIOS program. (Refer to the instruction manual or a PC savvy friend). The Network configuration for both machines must also be exactly the same. DCC sometimes seems to go to sleep and won't wake up so if you can't establish a link re-boot both PCs and run the DCC Wizards again. DCC may fail if the Network Neighbourhood icon has been removed from your desktop using Tweak UI. DCC doesn't get on well with other types of network, if your PC has been used on a network remove any old or unused protocols from Network in Control Panel.

Next week, installing a second parallel printer port




Local Area Network -- a computer network where all of the PCs are physically close to one another in the same room, office or building


One of the rear panel connections on your PC (or laptop) usually used by printers and scanners. Data is transferred relatively quickly 4 or 8 bits at a time


Most PCs have two serial ports. One may be used by the mouse, the other by an external modem. Data is transferred relatively slowly, one bit at a time.   



The Windows Registry is a large and powerful system file that can cause a lot of problems if it becomes corrupted. This can sometimes happen when installing or uninstalling programs so it's a good idea to back it up every so often, it might help to restore a wonky machine to working order. Create a new folder in Windows explorer and call it Regsafe or something that you can easily remember now go to Run on the Start menu and type Regedit. On the Registry menu select Export Registry File and ensure that 'All' is checked in the Export Range box. Now use the Save In box to navigate to your new folder and in the blank File Name field type regbak, then click OK. If you ever get an error message saying the Registry is corrupted you can use the Import Registry File item on the Registry menu in Regedit to restore your backup or simply click on the backup file and it will automatically re-install itself.

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