Can Win95 build a simple peer-to-peer network, using two computers? Yes it can, but not that easily! It took me an evening and a morning, but then it finally worked. Here's how:

I put the two Tornado NE2000-compatible network cards into the two computers, and connected a coaxial cable between them, with the green stubs connected to the unused end of each T-connector. Both computers run Win95, one Dutch, one English. Both legal copies of course, no piracy for me. In the Control Panel under Network, I installed the adapter (i.e. the network card), using the Win95-NDIS driver on the floppies that came with the card. The driver readme file calls it "ISA NE2000 Compatible Ethernet Driver Support, V1.05, 12/12/1995".

The cards are supposed to be Plug&Play compatible, yet when using that option the interrupt number and I/O address were set to values that Win95 (Control Panel - Network- Adapter - Properties - Advanced) marked with asterisks as being used by other devices. The set-up utility of the cards also said they were in use. (This is a DOS-utility, and in works only when the drivers are not active in Windows. Had to uninstall them and restart Windows every time I wanted to check settings, a very time-consuming procedure. Later found you can also disable the drivers temporarily by starting Win95 in "command prompt only mode" (F8, then 6, on start-up), or via Shutdown/Restart in MSDOS-mode).

So I set different, free values for interrupt and I/O-address, 10 and 240H on one computer, 11 and 220H, later 10 and 280H on the other. Using the cards' set-up utility, I disabled Plug&Play, and set the cards' EEPROM registers to the matching values too.

In the control panel, I then set TCP-IP as the protocol, Client and Service to Microsoft Networks, said I wanted to share Disks and Printers everywhere, made sure the protocol was bound to the client and services. Meanwhile I still have a Dial-up adapter associated with TCP-IP too, which I sometimes use to dial in to a remote NT-computer, and this still worked. But my peer-to-peer two-computer LAN did not:
Network Neighbourhood consistently refused to show me any computers at all, "cannot access the network".

The Network Trouble-shooter in Help suggested to check cables and cards. I went even farther, and had the cards' diagnostic utility test cards and EEPROM (external loopback worked, and failed when I deliberately misconnected the coax-cables, without the T-piece and stubs).

I finally even managed to have the cards exchange packets between them, and they correctly displayed each other's Ethernet address. So now I knew the hardware was OK.

But still no network access in Windows. Read the Network Trouble-shooter over and over, but found no clue. Then I started wondering what the "net start" command was doing in my autoexec.bat. I seems Win95 puts it in itself (I didn’t, anyway), but also sometimes REMs it out. So I ran "net help" to get to know more, and even "net logon" and "net view" from autoexec.bat. This gave me a small success: I could see the name of the computer I had assigned to the other computer, under Control Panel - Network- Identification. Another bit of proof that the hardware, and some of the software, did work.

But after this I got a message that Windows could not be started once the services had already been started in DOS. So apparently this "net" command is meant for DOS 7, not for the full Win95. I found no documentation to support that theory. Does this open the possibility to have diskless workstations working in a Win95-network, like it used to be possible with NetWare 3? I still have that old 486 lying in a corner somewhere, which has only floppies and won't run with a hard-disk anymore ...

Meanwhile, I still couldn’t network my two Pentiums with hard-disks. So I started experimenting with the protocols, also because the "net start" experiments sometimes said they needed NetBios support to operate. (How do you start NetBios in Win95? The word doesn't occur in Windows Help; DOS 6's help command still works, for DOS7 commands, but not for Win95).

I remembered I had seen Netbios somewhere in the Win95 network settings, but where? Searching isn't at all easy with all those confusing tabs.

I switched TCP-IP to NetBEUI. (Someone recommended to use that for simplicity).

(Incidentally, after changing network settings on one computer, it starts loading a long row of DLLs and stuff it already has, asks whether I want to overwrite an older version (didn’t know I had two of them) and says it gets them from the Win95 CD, which isn't in the player at that moment, and it really gets them from some disk directory where the computer vendor probably pre-installed them; My other computer didn’t show this behaviour, no idea what makes the difference; Like so much Win95 behaviour seem to have no causes).

Still no computers in Network Neighbourhood. But interestingly, one computer now asked for a network logon, and "net config" and "net view" when run in a DOS-box correctly reported them the login name. But the other computer didn’t ask for a login. The Help recommended to "Shutdown/Close all programs and log on as a different user", I did, but it made no difference. Another piece of behaviour I don't know how influence and can't find explained.

Tried to logon via the net-command again, trying to get to know more, which led to this interesting dialog (on one computer, not on the other, where it worked correctly, for unclear reasons):

net logon
You are already logged on as rharmsen. Do you want to log off?
Y <enter>
You are successfully logged off.

net logon
You are already logged on as rharmsen. Do you want to log off?

etc. ad nauseam.

So NetBEUI didn’t work either. Let's try IPX/SPX then, you never know. And there was that NETBIOS support box I was looking for too! Set this protocol on both computers, removed all the net-commands from autoexec.bat again, and restarted them both. And then the miracle happened! It worked, and still works now. So Microsoft's Win95 can only network with IPX/SPX, originally developed by Novel? Hard to believe, but I see it before my eyes.

Conclusions and summary:

Plug and Play isn't Plug and Play.

Win95 networking has too many difficult options.

The majority of options does not work, and you must find a working combination by trial and error.

Documentation and diagnostic information is insufficient.

Win95 isn't deterministic: it seems to have built-in randomisers to control its behaviour.

If a technically oriented person like me finds this difficult, how will a "normal" user ever get this to work? The type of person that finds a directory hard to understand, so we call them folders instead?

Copyright © Ruud Harmsen, May 2nd, 1998