networking two or more computers should not be confused with the Dial-Up networking that is used to make a dial-up modem connect to the Internet or send faxes, etc. For this, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Me (collectively called Windows 9x in this article), and Windows XP systems use a software Dial-Up Adapter that is installed under Network adapters in the Device Manager. If you install a hardware network interface card (NIC) it will also be listed there as a device.
You can enable a setting under Networks/Network Connections in the Control Panel that places an icon for the Dial-Up Adapter (Windows 9x) or the 1394 Net Adapter/1394 Connection (Windows XP/SP2) in the System Tray/Notification Area. If you hold the mouse over the icon, the connection details appear. If you right-click on the icon, you are presented with several options, which depend on the version of Windows being used.
Permanently stored within every network interface card (NIC) or wireless network adapter is a unique 48-bit binary number called the MAC (Media Access Control) Address. And it is by this MAC address that each NIC or adapter card is identified within a local area network (LAN). Indeed, it was because each NIC's MAC address uniquely identifies it in the log files of Internet servers that the writer of the infamous "I love you" virus was traced and brought to justice.
To find out what the MAC address is for a network card or adapter in Windows 98 or Windows Me, enter winipcfg in the Start => Run box. The MAC address is listed as the Adapter Address in the window that presents itself. In Windows XP, enter cmd in the Start => Run box and then enter ipconfig /all at the command prompt. The MAC address is listed as its Physical Address. You may need to know the MAC address in order to set up a wireless network that shares an Internet connection.
See this page of the Build Your Own PC article for information on Windows Dial-Up networking, and how to install and configure a 33.6K or 56K dial-up modem.
networking two or more home computers is nowhere nearly as difficult as it used to be before the advent of Windows 95 in 1995 - even if it is a wireless network. In fact, it is now a relatively simple procedure to set up a peer-to-peer (wired or wireless) home network.
The alternative is to create a server-based network that uses one computer as the server, the resources of which are used to serve client computers. The client computers do not have to have any software other than the client network operating system installed on them. They take everything they need to use from the server over the network. But you do not need a server-based network to play network games, or use Microsoft's Internet Connection Sharing. This is just as well, because server and client networking requires the use of the expensive Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP Pro, the very much cheaper open-source Linux, and other server-client operating systems.
The Windows 9x versions of Windows (95/98/Me) provide you with all of the software required to set up a peer-to-peer (P2P) network of 2 to 10 computers that allows file, printer, and Internet access sharing between all of the computers connected to the network.
You can purchase third-party alternatives, but Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) is the free software that was introduced with Windows 98 Second Edition, so, unless your make use of third-party software, you will have to have that version of Windows (or a more recent version) running on the computer with the modem that is connected to the Internet so that it can use its ICS software to share an Internet connection with the other Windows 9x computers on the network.
All of the computers running Windows 9x must be individually configured as ICS clients. However, with Windows XP, you can use the Network Setup Wizard to enable ICS on a single computer (running Windows XP), which has an option to create a Network Setup Disk that can then be used to enable it on the other Windows XP computers on the network.
The best solution to sharing an Internet connection over a network is to use a separate hardware router, often known as a "gateway", that links the computers together and connects to a broadband ADSL or cable modem, which, in turn, is constantly connected to the Internet Service Provider... There is more information on routers later on in this article.
Here is what Microsoft says about ICS in the Windows 98 SE Help files.
"Windows 98 now provides users the ability to share one Internet connection with multiple computers on your home network. One computer, the Connection Sharing computer, communicates with the Internet. Requests from other computers on your home network are routed to the Internet through the Connection Sharing computer. You can also configure Internet Connection Sharing to allow users on the Internet to reach Web, e-mail, and game servers that are on your home network."
Instructions on how to set up and use ICS are also provided in the Help files. It is a relatively straightforward process.
I will provide the basic information about home networking here, but, since there are numerous sites that provide excellent illustrated tutorials on how to install and configure a home network or Local Area Network (LAN), I will provide the links to some of those site at the end of this article instead of attempting to provide that kind of information myself.
By the way, a Wide Area Network (WAN) is the kind of network that libraries, the Government, the banks, and other businesses use to link their computers over a wide area, such as over the whole country, or internationally. The Internet itself is a giant WAN that spans the world.To know more: