Power Tools: Setting up a SLIP/PPP Connection

NetGuide, May 1, 1995

Domain Street, U.S.A. -- With a direct Internet connection, the P-P-Possibilities are endless

If you're ready to venture out beyond the safe haven of the commercial online services, then it's time to consider plugging yourself directly into the Internet. Direct Internet connections, such as SLIP and PPP, are popular because they allow you to use applications such as World-Wide Web browsers and sophisticated e-mail programs without having to learn any of the tricky Unix computer operating system. They also allow you to access a wealth of online content such as Internet Relay Chat and videoconferencing that the commercial services don't offer.

Setting up a direct Internet connection requires a lot of determination, a cursory understanding of the Internet's operating protocols and much tolerance for frustration. The folks who invented direct Internet connections did so long before Al Gore promoted the concept of an ''information superhighway.'' The original intended audience for dial-up Internet connections had the technical skills required to configure the software properly. Ironically, once a direct Internet connection is up and running, the Internet becomes easier to use. So there is a real incentive to clear this first hurdle and take the plunge.

SLIP and PPP

To establish a dial-up direct Internet connection, your computer must learn to speak the language of the Internet, known as TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). This universal language of data switching acts as the glue to bind the millions of computers that form the Internet. To connect into the net, your computer needs special software that links and translates between TCP/IP and your computer's operating system (whether it be DOS, OS/2, Windows or the Macintosh's System 7).

This service comes in two parts: a pipe that actually passes the bits back and forth between your PC and the Internet, and a TCP/IP translator that turns that data into intelligible information. The pipe comes in either PPP (Point- to-Point Protocol) or SLIP (Serial Line Internet Protocol) versions. Both perform the task of data transfer but differ in reliability. In most cases, both perform equally well, but in a few arcane situations PPP is less likely to crash. For this reason, opt for PPP over SLIP if you can.

Software

For Macintosh users, Apple Computer Inc. provides a control panel or translator named MacTCP that provides the TCP/IP translation. For the pipe, you'll need a Mac SLIP or PPP program. Two popular choices are MacSLIP and MacPPP. These programs, when combined with MacTCP, create a direct Internet connection.

Of the many programs available for Windows, the most popular is called Winsock. Unlike the Macintosh, Winsock combines the TCP/IP translator and data pipe in one package. Picture a hierarchy: PPP or SLIP gets data from the Internet; the TCP/IP translator turns it into PC-friendly information; your system then passes that data to the appropriate application (such as an e-mail program or Web browser). The whole process gets reversed when you decide to send data like an e-mail message back out into the Internet.

The least expensive and easiest way to acquire this software is to purchase one of two books, both written by Adam Engst, that come with disks containing everything needed to get started. Publ