About a year ago, we chided Miramar Systems for offering Apple Remote Access (ARA) dial-up connectivity from PCs to Macs as a $179 companion product to the $199 PC MacLAN (see "Mac Life Preservers," April 1998). Happily, the companion product (PC MacLAN Remote) is no more; the new PC MacLAN 7.2 for Windows 95/98 now includes ARA support. But PC MacLAN Remote's biggest flaw remains in the new PC MacLAN: you must reboot your PC every time you switch between a dial-up ARA connection and a regular AppleTalk LAN connection.
Still, PC MacLAN is a wonderful tool that makes it amazingly easy to connect PCs and Macs. Once installed on your PC, it offers nearly invisible access to a PC from a Mac and vice versa. (Nothing needs to be installed on the Mac side.) From a Mac's perspective, the PC is simply another networked system available from the Chooser or Network Browser; from a PC's perspective, a Mac is simply another system in the Network Neighborhood.
In addition to supporting ARA, version 7.2 supports a handy new connectivity route: local and Internet networks based on AppleShare IP 5.0 and later. As Apple migrates from AppleTalk to TCP/IP, such connections will become more common. If your Mac servers are running AppleShare IP 6.0, however, they already support PC clients; you don't need PC MacLAN to let your PCs connect to them.
Another welcome improvement is that network response time is noticeably faster. And PC MacLAN 7.2 adds two icons to the Windows system tray to give you double-click access to the file- and print-server software (which makes PCs and their printers visible to Macs).
There's still room for improvement in the program's manual, however. Rather than devoting a chapter to each key issue, the manual simply describes menu items and installation steps. This is a real flaw when you consider that networking software involves such complex issues as how to switch from ARA connections to networked AppleTalk, whether to enable TCP/IP for ARA connections on the client and server sides, and how to download fonts to a printer via the PC. The manual treats these topics skimpily and disjointedly.
In spite of some lingering shortcomings, PC MacLAN 7.2 for Windows 95/98 is an essential product that does its job very well. It remains the easiest way for users and system administrators to connect Macs and PCs.
RATING: PROS: Faster LAN connections; adds ARA and AppleShare IP protocols. CONS: Must restart PC to switch between ARA and LAN connections; abysmal documentation. COMPANY: Miramar Systems (800/862-2526, http://www.miramarsys.com ). LIST PRICE: $199.
June 1999 page: 41