David Ramel

Networking Nightmare: Win 98, XP, Vista, Mac OS X and Linux

By David Ramel
February 25, 2009 6:00 PM EST

My home network is a bit eclectic, to say the least. Somehow I've ended up with three Windows machines running Windows 98, Windows XP and 64-bit Vista.

I've only been able to transfer files among them with workarounds -- they won't all connect to one another.

Recently I changed my main work computer to a new and improved MacBook, so I have to throw that into the networking mix.

And just for the challenge, I installed Linux on my old work laptop and will connect it, too.

My goal is to have Win 98, Win XP, Win Vista, Mac OS X (Leopard) and Linux (Ubuntu 8.10, the Intrepid Ibex) coexist on the same network and be able to connect to the Internet, share files among one another with password protection and use two printers I have connected to different machines.

Besides the obvious benefit of sharing MP3, uh, I mean work files, I want to learn some things about networking and perhaps help out some readers out there who might face similar problems (albeit probably not with Win 98 – though our Web traffic logs still show several thousand users a month using that dinosaur).

And the challenge appeals to me. Though I'm a journalist who is absolutely terrible at math, I once taught myself C++ just to see if I could do it.

After months of work to produce literally thousands and thousands of lines of code I ended up with a bona-fide Windows executable app that could draw different colored shapes on the desktop, grab them with the "rubber band" method and move them around. That's all it could do. I never want to deal with another pointer or garbage collection function again.

I thought Java might be a little easier and I did create a working Blackjack game. This was in the early days of Java and the Web was booming and a couple people actually inquired about buying my code.

So how tough can networking five different OSs be?

We’ll find out.

Here's my setup. I have a Verizon FIOS router wired to a Win 98 (Second Edition) desktop upstairs. It connects wirelessly to a Win XP (Home Edition) desktop in the basement and a 64-bit Vista (Home Premium) laptop.

The router has WPA encryption and the three Windows machines require passwords to log on. They all connected easily to the Internet, but things get weird for file transfers. It goes like this:

Win XP can transfer to and from Win98.

Win XP can transfer to and from Vista.

Vista can transfer to and from Win XP.

Win 98 can transfer to and from Win XP.

So far, everything is normal. Problems arise between Win 98 and Vista.

Win 98 can see Vista and its shared folders in its Networking Neighborhood, but when it tries to open a shared folder on the Vista it freezes up.

On the other end, Vista can see Win 98 in its network map, but is prompted for a username and password to connect to a shared folder. I know the password but I've never gone through the trouble of figuring out how the username works -- if it has to be the Win 98 username, a special new account with specific permissions, a guest or what.

I never bothered to figure it out because when I type in any username and the correct password, I get a message that says Windows can't log me on -- but if I just click ENTER at that point, it connects anyway and can transfer files to and from. Regardless of the username. Go figure.

So I need to solve those problems along with introducing the Mac and Linux machines.

I brought the Linux laptop home today to connect it to the network and that was a whole adventure in itself. I tried to take detailed notes but I’m still not sure exactly what happened. But it’s somehow on the network. Sorta. Kinda.

I’ll tell you all about it next time so you can laugh at my newbieness.