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Twoing the Line

Trying to cram more than one user onto your Internet connection? Some software can solve that problem.
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Techniques: Microcases

Communications

Problem: Limited Internet access
Solution: Software that permits several users to share one Internet connection
Payoff: Increased efficiency -- and household harmony

For years, Neil Sandow, 52, was content with two phone lines at his home in Benicia, Calif.: one for conventional calls and a second for Internet access. But when Sandow's home-based Web business, RxList, an extensive database of every prescription drug on the U.S. market, started booming earlier this year, two lines suddenly seemed inadequate.

In April, Sandow quit his day job as a manager at a pharmaceutical company to concentrate full-time on RxList, which he expects to pull in $500,000 in sales this year. The surge in revenues, a result of advertising contracts with companies like CVS and Visa, was great news for Sandow. But it wasn't great news for Sandow's son, Michael, who was taking courses over the Internet. The only way Michael could continue his studies was to kick Dad off-line or rob the house of its telephone capabilities.

What put Sandow in an additional bind was that the wiring in his 10-year-old house could support no more than two phone lines. "To get another line, I'd have to retrench from my driveway all the way out to the street," he says.

At wit's end, Sandow turned to the Web for help, searching for products that would allow several people to use one Internet connection simultaneously. The first and only product he tried was Nshare Internet Connection Expander, from MiraLink Corp., in Salt Lake City (801-575-LINK; $29.95 to connect two computers via serial port, $39.95 for three computers, and up to $299.95 for unlimited connections). "I came up with several possibilities, and this one I could download and try without having to buy it first," he says.

The software, which Sandow obtained in a "simple and executable" single-file download, essentially converted his PC into a de facto server for the entire house. Any computer in the house, be it Sandow's laptop or the PC in his son's room, could use the main PC's Internet connection, as long as all the machines were linked, either by a LAN (Sandow used the wireless variety) or a serial port and wires.

Nshare is compatible with all types of Internet connections: a digital subscriber line (DSL), cable, or -- as in Sandow's case -- an analog modem. Sandow was particularly pleased with the fact that all three computers in his house were ready to roll right after the download, as soon as he connected them with a wireless LAN. Most other Internet-sharing software programs, known as proxy servers, require users to reconfigure many of their computers' applications so that the machines can run off the proxy rather than the original hard drive.

Since RxList's incorporation in July, Sandow has been receiving more business-related calls at home than at any other time in the company's four-year history. Which makes Nshare all the more useful to him -- and his family. "Given what we're doing right now -- I'm working on the site, my son's attending school on-line -- it would be impossible to do if we didn't share an Internet connection," he says.




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