One of the most important third-party networking companies for the Mac market is Proxim Inc. subsidiary Farallon Communications Inc. Their products have long served the Mac market — first during the old LocalTalk days, forward through Ethernet, and now into the wireless networking era. Recently MacCentral chatted with Proxim Vice President Georganne Benesch about the future of Farallon and its place on the Mac in years to come.
Farallon first got started back to the mid 1980’s, when it began to make “PhoneNet” connectors for the Mac. Farallon’s LocalTalk-compatible PhoneNet connectors enabled legions of Macintosh users to create networking topologies that made it possible for Macs to talk using lengths of RJ-11-equipped telephone cable, rather than using Apple’s bulkier and more expensive LocalTalk connectors and cabling.
Even though Apple has relegated LocalTalk compatibility to legacy Macs, Farallon still maintains a strong presence in the Mac market. The company continues to support Macs with Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet PCI-based expansion cards, wireless networking products branded under the SkyLINE brand, and HomePNA products.
Georganne Benesch is a veteran in the Mac networking peripheral market. She’s vice president of product marketing for Proxim Inc., and she’s uniquely qualified to answer questions about the company’s Mac offerings. Benesch spent eight years heading up Farallon, where she was responsible for developing new markets for the company’s Ethernet and Fast Ethernet products. She was vice president of LAN products as well, where she oversaw the company’s product marketing, research and development of Farallon’s local area networking devices.
“Simply said, our strategy is to support all of our products under Mac OS X,” said Benesch.
Some legacy products cast by the wayside
That list excludes products where it just doesn’t make sense to support Mac OS X — legacy products, for example, whose technology is not supported under the new operating system, or older products designed to work on Macs outside Mac OS X’s specified system requirements.
Farallon’s HomeLINE products are another product category that may not be carried forward with Mac OS X support. HomeLINE uses HomePNA, a networking solution that utilizes a home or buildings telephone wires to carry computer-networking signals.
“I wouldn’t rule it out, but I wouldn’t say it’s a priority,” said Benesch. “We’re finding that wireless solutions are a much more popular solution than [HomeLINE]. We don’t see the demand for [HomeLINE] that we see for HomeRF.”
Gigabit Ethernet cards are first to bat
Benesch said the first product that Farallon is actively supporting with Mac OS X is the company’s Gigabit Ethernet cards. The company has two models — one uses fiber optics and the other is copper-based.
“We’ve had Mac OS X support for a number of months,” said Benesch. She explained that while Farallon recognizes that Gigabit Ethernet is not yet a broadly adopted technology, the company wanted to make sure that their customers were able to take advantage of the products’ performance benefits under Mac OS X.
Benesch added that Farallon and Proxim are working on a number of other projects currently where Mac OS X support makes a lot of sense. Product details or timelines are not something that Benesch can talk about at this point, because Proxim and Farallon haven’t yet made specific product announcements.
SkyLINE support for Mac OS X on the way
Benesch is resolute about Farallon’s support for its SkyLINE products, however. SkyLINE products operate using the IEEE 802.11b standard — the same standard supported by Apple’s AirPort products. In fact, SkyLINE products can work on AirPort networks too, and Farallon has sold them to Mac users who have older PowerBooks and PCI-based Macs not directly supported by Apple’s AirPort products.
“You can expect that we’ll have Mac OS X support for the SkyLINE family,” said Benesch. “Our primary focus is to provide driver support for existing [SkyLINE] products.”
Benesch explained that because of the size of the market, Farallon’s strategy is to support the installed base of Mac OS 8 and 9 users, then follow up with Mac OS X support afterwards. Benesch said that because of some architectural changes the company’s software engineers have made to the drivers, the gap should be shortened between the release of future SkyLINE Mac OS 8/9 and Mac OS X drivers. “We have developed a driver architecture where we’ll be able to bring out Mac OS X drivers not so long after the 8 or 9 drivers,” said Benesch.
Benesch is staying mum for now about exactly when those drivers are going to be released, but she said that SkyLINE customers should see a Mac OS X driver release sometime this year. Why has it taken so long already? Benesch said that the company’s driver support strategy “became harder with Mac OS X,” but she reiterates that Proxim and Farallon are behind Mac OS X all the way.
Proxim to support new wireless technology
Benesch is optimistic for the future, as well — she said that Proxim plans to support the Mac platform, and by extension, Mac OS X, with other wireless technologies.
“We have higher bandwidth HomeRF products on the way, and we’ll continue and extend support for HomeRF,” said Benesch.
HomeRF is a wireless networking standard promoted by Proxim. Its current implementation has been hamstrung by slower speeds than what IEEE 802.11b offers, but Proxim is coming out with faster products that more closely match the speed offered by AirPort and SkyLINE products. Some of those new products should see Mac support, as well, according to Benesch. Proxim first introduced Mac support for HomeRF with a July release of a driver for the Symphony HomeRF PC Card.
Proxim is also interested in exploiting IEEE 802.11a — a higher speed wireless networking standard that may soon grab hold of enterprise and commercial wireless markets. “We’ll initially support Windows,” said Benesch of 802.11a, “but you can imagine that’d be something we’d support for the Mac as well.”
Farallon brings Mac focus to Proxim
If there’s one message Benesch wants Mac users to carry away, it’s that Farallon is still very, very Mac-focused. Some users may have been concerned that when Farallon became part of a larger organization last year, they might stray from the path.
“In fact, the opposite has happened — there are more opportunities to bring technology to the Mac market than before,” said Benesch.
“Proxim is totally focused on supporting the Mac market,” said Benesch. “It’s a really important market for us.”