back to article The best way to screw the competition? Do what they can't, in a fraction of the time

Friday has rolled around once more, and so we welcome you to the latest instalment of On Call, where readers share their tech support achievements. This week, we hear from "Antonio", who was working at a small software company back in the early '90s. "That was when Novell NetWare was in its heyday, and we managed to sell the …

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  1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Novell, novell, novell.

    Those were the days. Of rprinter and remote printering... and of a virus-resistant server as well (if you set permissions properly on shared DOS executables and the such).

    But coax *shudder* - so glad it died out as a networking solution. Ethernet is so much better.

    1. wolfetone Silver badge
      Coat

      But wasn't coax a Novell idea?

      I'll get my coat.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      "Ethernet is so much better"

      Wasn't it Ethernet 10base2 or whatever it was called Ethernet over coax cable? AFAIK Ethernet was born on coax. BaseT (T as in "twisted" cable) became common IIRC in the 1990s.

      1. DJV Silver badge

        Ethernet 10base2

        Yep, when I first worked in IT for the local Training & Enterprise Quango the whole place was 10base2 so each cable from the server room connected a dozen or more PCs together.

        It was always fun tracing which of the many connections in the pile of spaghetti behind the desks had fallen apart when half an office had suddenly gone off line. These events were usually accompanied by the manager of said office breathing down YOUR neck because one of HIS/HER staff had moved their desk and brought the whole thing crashing down.

        1. macjules Silver badge

          Re: Ethernet 10base2

          Ah the joys of 10B2, where one idiot had always simply plugged the last node directly into a computer and thus failed to terminate the chain.

        2. IceC0ld Bronze badge

          Re: Ethernet 10base2

          It was always fun tracing which of the many connections in the pile of spaghetti behind the desks had fallen apart when half an office had suddenly gone off line.

          ===

          ah yes, the happy days of a [packet]storm in a teacup LOL

      2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

        Wasn't it Ethernet 10base2 or whatever

        Yes indeed.

        A brief history of timeethernet for you wippersnappers who've never seen anything older than twisted pair with switches.

        Once upon a time, at the Xerox Palo Alto research centre (from where many things we take for granted came - including the mouse, the graphical desktop), they came up with this idea for networking devices. The very first version ran at (IIRC) 4Mbps, but by the time it made it out of the labs it became 10Mbps - and used a thick (1/2" dia) cable that looked a lot like hosepipe. This "thick ethernet" typically had few connections - possibly only one at each end for the terminator - with devices connected via "vampire taps" which were clamped round the cable and had prongs that pierced the insulation to make contact. This cable could be up to 500m long, and the system was known as 10base5 - 10 because it's 10Mbps, base because signalling is baseband, and 5 because it can go to 500m.

        Anyone who's worked with it will tell you that 10base5 wasn't the easiest to work with - the cable being thick and not very flexible, and a restriction on where you could put the taps (the cable was marked where they could be put - it's something to do with the wavelength of the signal), and you needed these thick and inconvenient AUI cables (15 pin D connectors) between the tranceiver clamped on the cable and the device. So the cunning engineers came up with a variant using thinner cable - smaller, cheaper, more flexible, using easier to use BNC connectors - which could be taken directly to the device. So now we got the easier to work with but more fault prone "thin ethernet" (or "thinnet", officially 10base2) which cane be up to 185m long (round that up, and you get the 2 in 10base2).

        If you needed more than what was doable with a single cable - or wanted a bit more reliability - then you could link multiple segments together with a repeater, or if really deep pockets, a multi-port bridge. Hands up who still remembers the 5-4-3 rule :D

        Then the clever bods came up with the idea of using twisted pair cabling and star wiring from a central multi-port repeater (which came to be called a hub) to each device - the 10baseT (T for twisted pair). 10baseT still had many of the issues of the coax networks - still only one collision domain, still swampable by a single faulty node, still the 5-4-3 rule.

        As an aside, there was a 10baseVG which used four pairs of Cat3 (voice grade, phone cable, hence the VG) which never caught on.

        And over time, we got faster networks (100baseT) and switches (aka multi-port bridges). The latter provided collision domain isolation - allowing A to talk to B while C was talking to D.

        And of course, things got faster again, and again, ...

        Kids of today, don't know they're born. Cue obligatory Monty Python sketch :D

        1. GlenP Silver badge

          Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

          I remember 10Base2, including making up the cables (wonder if I've still got the crimp tool anywhere?)

          One of my employers had installed, at great cost, 10Base2 networking using make-before-break plug in cables, so in theory you could connect and disconnect individual machines without killing the whole network segment. The cables alone were eye-wateringly expensive, even more so in one of the buildings where they'd gone for the shielded version due to "noise" from the workshop. The downside was that it was very difficult to keep track of total cable length so I ended up buying a full blown network tester, wish I'd managed to retain it.

          Just about as I was leaving they recabled everything with 10BaseT instead, probably at further vast expense.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

            "One of my employers had installed, at great cost, 10Base2 networking using make-before-break plug in cables, so in theory you could connect and disconnect individual machines without killing the whole network segment."

            One of our customers had that. But they were in an old Victorian building with the original heating pipes. Yes, pipes, not radiators. Cast iron pipes about 4" in diameter, running along all the office walls about 3' off the ground. Just below the trunking and wall points of this expensive make before break system. Bendy metal contacts just inches above a nice heat source that went on and off during the day. And we all know what bendy metal and varying temperatures leads to, don't we boys and girls?

        2. TimMaher

          Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

          Nobody has yet mentioned Token Ring. The Big Blue alternative.

          I’ll get my coat but... I’m Back Monday.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

            Nobody has yet mentioned Token Ring.

            One Ring Token to Rule Them All...

          2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

            There's a reason nobody has mentioned Token Ring.

            1. The First Dave

              Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

              Don't forget about AppleTalk either!

          3. jelabarre59 Silver badge

            Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

            Nobody has yet mentioned Token Ring. The Big Blue alternative.

            I remember it being also called "Broken Ring". Worked at a multi-media test lab at IBM many years back, and we had Macintosh machines (original series iMac, etc) that couldn't be networked because the building only had token ring.

            Then way back at my first IT job, we had ARCnet. WAY cheaper than Ethernet (at the time), but a floppy disk taped to the back of a turtle would have had a faster transfer rate.

            1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

              Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

              OK, if it's an obscurity contest .. how many of you remember Polynet ?

              1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

                Re: if it's an obscurity contest

                I used to supply Artisoft Lantastic. Brilliant bit of kit for those not willing to fork out for Netware + dedicated server.

                1. Fabrizio
                  Holmes

                  Re: if it's an obscurity contest

                  NetWare 2.x used to have a non-dedicated mode which went away with NetWare 3.x

                  1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

                    Re: NetWare 2.x used to have a non-dedicated mode

                    Yes, I should have been more specific about Netware. All the servers I ever setup were v3 and upwards.

                    Novell acknowledged Lantastic as a competitor by launching Netware Lite, but IIRC Lantastic was a far more sophisticated product.

                    Sage even dared to tinker in that market too, their selling point was that their network cards were incompatible with the competition, which Sage asserted was a good thing where confidentiality of accounts data was concerned.

              2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

                "OK, if it's an obscurity contest .. how many of you remember Polynet ?"

                ISTR some vague memory of Banyan Vines too. No idea why I remember it it what it was. Some sort of networking kit or protocol or something related.

            2. onefang Silver badge

              Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

              "but a floppy disk taped to the back of a turtle would have had a faster transfer rate."

              Ah, you've not seen the IP over giant African snail? A small cart is hitched to the snail, where the wheels are two optical disks. Lousy latency, but throughput was impressive over short distances, and could be increased by swapping the CDs for DVDs, BluRays, whatever the next tech is.

            3. druck

              Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

              10Mbs ARCnet is still to be found in Formula One ECUs.

          4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

            "Nobody has yet mentioned Token Ring."

            For Nick Kew: http://dilbert.com/strip/1996-05-02

          5. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

            "

            Nobody has yet mentioned Token Ring. The Big Blue alternative.

            "

            Or the differential coax pair method using BNC and TNC connectors used by Wan installations. Which used 75ohm coax so existing Wang cabling could not be re-used for Ethernet ...

          6. daflibble

            Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

            >Nobody has yet mentioned Token Ring. The Big Blue alternative.

            Another marvellous technology ruined by stupid pricing decisions and underdevelopment.

            Last place I worked you could still see all the token ring cabling if you looked in the dark places and above the false ceiling tiles.

            1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

              Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

              The reason nobody talks about Token rings is because J. R. R. Token gets mad.

              Does anyone else use an ethernet to catch an Ether bunny?

              If you laugh over Eggo(TM) jokes, does that mean you waffle-mao?

              I'll get my coat, it's the one with all the Tokens in the pockets...

          7. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

            who could forget! I had a very large cab filled with MAU's right behind my chair at my desk back in the late 90's We didn't have much running on Token ring at that stage. The IBM type 1 cable was thick as electrical flex and the hermaphroditic connectors, were massive!

          8. hplasm Silver badge

            Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

            "Nobody has yet mentioned Token Ring. "

            i will then....

            Th big fat black cables were a nightmare.*

            The twisted pair alternative was a fucking nightmare.

            *The hermaphrodite plugs were quite neat though. Would fit right in in these gender-fluid days :)

            1. sisk Silver badge

              Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

              "Nobody has yet mentioned Token Ring. "

              i will then....

              Th big fat black cables were a nightmare.*

              I dealt with Token Ring for about a year. Thankfully we were in the process of phasing it out when I started so I didn't have to deal with its quirks for long. However for about 3 years after we finally got completely moved over to Ethernet I had a few dozen defunct Type 1 cables hanging from the ceiling in my office. I wasn't allowed to pull them out myself (no, I don't know why) and getting rid of them was so far down on the list of priorities for the guys who were that it never happened. Eventually I asked for and got permission to just cut them off right above the ceiling tile so I at least didn't have to look at them.

          9. DustyP

            Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

            ...and before Token Ring was ArcNet which also worked over RG-62/U coax cables. I installed and managed a couple of networks running on Novell Netware 2.2

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

          One of the most terrifying moments of my career was tapping into a 10Base5 cable to install a new transceiver by physically punching into the cable a vampire tap , thinking I'd done a great job to return to the server room to 30 console printers churning away every 5 seconds with network errors creating a 4 inch stack of paper behind each indicating it hadn't gone quite to plan ....

        4. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

          Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

          You mention 100baseT.

          I was once monitoring ethernet links with an oscilloscope. I forget exactly why, but it might have been an attempt to monitor how quickly a particular system would respond.

          The 10Base2 was baseband signalling. The 100 megabit link was a modulated signal; all we could see was a carrier.

        5. Richard 111
          Coat

          Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

          >Kids of today, don't know they're born. Cue obligatory Monty Python sketch :D

          Back in my day we used rfc1149 for our network.

          OK, OK 10base2 has been around longer. I always kept a cable end terminator handy to stop the bits flowing out of the cable.

        6. daflibble

          Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

          >A brief history of timeethernet for you wippersnappers who've never seen anything older than twisted pair with switches.

          Thanks for the trip down memory lane

        7. Andrew Norton

          Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

          "Then the clever bods came up with the idea of using twisted pair cabling "

          I dunno about 'clever bods'. The guy that claimed to have invented that wrote this almost 10 years ago

          https://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/01/richard_bennett_utorrent_udp/

          5 days later, he was forced to publish a retraction (https://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/05/richard_bennett_bittorrent_udp/) after many people (including yours truly, who got told by Bennett that he didn't like detailed comments and would be putting a word limit on comments on his blog) pointed out to him that what he thought packets did, wasn't what actually happened, and what he claimed would happen wouldn't happen even if you doubled his worst-case scenario. (bennett still stalks me online, and likes to try and derail technical discussions by pointing out I've worked for both the Pirate Party, and as a defense expert in bittorrent lawsuits).

          But who knows, maybe it was the clever bods in the team that did it, and Bennett just claims fame where none is deserved as he was the secretary, or teaboy or whatever (but he does claim to be 'co-inventor of twisted-pair networking')

        8. swm

          Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

          The original ethernet cable was 3MBits/sec (actually 2.94 MBits/sec) over RG 11U foam coax and had a characteristic impedance of 75 ohms. The released version was 10 MBits/sec over a 50 ohm coax. The original ethernet transceiver was designed by Tat Lam. The mouse was not invented at Xerox but by Doug Engelbart at SRI on the NLS system - a precursor of hypertext.

          How quickly history is forgotten.

        9. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Thumb Up

          "A brief history of ethernet"

          Masterful.

        10. JohnG Silver badge

          Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

          When looking for something in my attic last year, I found a tool that was used to make the holes in 10base5, when installing a vampire tap.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ethernet ran over coax! are you comparing coax to twisted pair perchance ?

      1. Baldrickk Silver badge

        I'm quite happy

        to call ethernet over coaxial cable "a coax cable" and ethernet over a cable designed for it "an ethernet cable"

        I know in both cases it is ethernet packets being sent and so it is ethernet networking in both cases, but along with the fact I know this, I'm happy to let it go

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: I'm quite happy

          ethernet over a cable designed for it "an ethernet cable"

          So ethernet cable is 10Base5 then?

          1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: I'm quite happy

            Listen up, children.

            Before wired Ethernet, there was Norm Abramson and ALOHAnet - a packet radio network over "real ether". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ALOHAnet

            In the beginning there was PARC and Classic Thick Ethernet over half inch (~RG-8) 50-ohm, double-shielded coax with vampire or N-connector transceivers. (Actually, in the *very* beginning, I think Metcalfe started with 3 Megabits/s and genuine RG-8)

            Then came "thin-net" - RG-58 coax and BNC connectors, still 10 Megabits. It didn't last long, because shared media is a bear to debug.

            Then came 10BASE-T, 10, and later 100 Megabit Ethernet over twisted pair, as exemplified by the then ubiquitous "CAT3" four-pair telephone distribution cable, RJ45 connectors and "66 Blocks". The advantage here, was that the Bell System had developed, at great cost, a complete premises wiring architecture that was inexpensive, available and, as with all of Ma Bell's efforts, *extremely* reliable.

            And with CAT3, came inexpensive switches. Yay! No more shared media. Individual connections could now be isolated, unplugged and tested.

            Fast forward to CAT5, CAT6 and gigabit over twisted pair. And *really* cheap and intelligent switches.

            So many Ethernet cables

        2. Velv Silver badge

          Re: I'm quite happy

          to call ethernet over coaxial cable "a coax cable" and ethernet over a cable designed for it "an ethernet cable"

          Ethernet is a Data Link layer protocol and sits at Layer 2.

          Coaxial cable and twisted pair cable are Physical layer transmission mediums and sit at Layer 1.

          There is no such thing as “an Ethernet cable”

        3. Spazturtle Silver badge

          Re: I'm quite happy

          You can get 1Gbps Ethernet over Coax using new MoCA adapters, can even use the same cable as your TV antenna does because it works in a different frequency range.

        4. LDS Silver badge

          "ethernet over a cable designed for it"

          AFAIK, twisted pair cable was never designed for Ethenet, it's the other way round - buildings already had twisted pair cables running around for phones and other telco equipment. so using them for computer network made sense, instead of running specific coax cables.

      2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Ethernet ran over coax! are you comparing coax to twisted pair perchance ?

        Eh ?

        Yes, ethernet originally ran ONLY on coax cable (firstly the thick stuff, later the thin stuff), twisted pair only came "quite a few years" later. I realise that some youngsters might find it hard to believe that there was ever anything other than twisted pair, but it really is true !

        One of my regrets is not keeping hold of samples of various bits and pieces over the years, partly for "now grandchildren, this os what I used to work with", and partly to use in talks.

        1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
          Coffee/keyboard

          "I realise that some youngsters might find it hard "

          I was going to be insulted for calling me old, but I've just realised I'm middle aged.

          I think its time to buy a Porshe and have a midlife crisis.

        2. Trygve Henriksen

          I have several 'vampire' connectors for Thick coax, still in their blister packs...

          But luckily, we managed to throw out the effing cable years ago.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            "we managed to throw out the effing cable"

            That can't have been easy.

        3. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

          @Hobson

          For my souvenir, I have a copy of a program on paper tape.

          1. PiltdownMan

            For my Souvenier of these days

            I have a representation of SNOOPY in ASCII, on 8-bit paper-tape. Used to print on Line Printers and Teletypes.

            Maybe I'm no longer middle-aged (I already have an MR2 just for fun).

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