When is a PC not a PC? When it’s two PCs. Or even three PCs. The first version of Sharedware, a hardware/software product designed to allow several people to use a single PC simultaneously, was launched about a year ago. This latest version adds some clever and handy new features, but does basically the same thing. And that thing is a very clever one. By installing the Sharedware ISA card in your PC, plugging in the cable and connecting the external module, it is possible to have two monitors, two keyboards and two mice attached to one PC.
This means that two people can use a single PC simultaneously. In fact, if you have enough ISA slots free, three people can use the same PC. Because of the multi-tasking nature of Windows 95 and Windows 98, running two or more applications at the same time is dependent only on the processor speed and memory available. Sharedware makes good use of this, allowing one user to write a letter or edit an image while the other inputs numbers into a spreadsheet. Since today’s PCs can perform millions of operations in the time it takes the user to sneeze, most users won’t even notice any performance loss when running multiple workstations from the same PC. It is even possible for both users to access the Internet simultaneously using a single modem, while all drives, printers and other peripherals are available too.
We installed this new version of Sharedware on a 300MHz Pentium II PC with 32MB of RAM. Installation took just five minutes, with the necessary software supplied on a single floppy disk. Once installed, we were able to launch the second workstation and run multiple applications, accessing the PC’s hard drive simultaneously. It all worked painlessly. The only time we noticed a significant performance drop was when we tried to launch two games of Quake II at the same time (don’t try this at home, kids). The amount of video data was far too much for the Sharedware ISA card, so the remote workstation played painfully slowly. But then it’s not designed for that sort of punishment. We were, however, able to work on documents using the remote workstation while the main user played on, which is quite impressive.
There are some limitations to what you can do with Sharedware. The remote terminal is limited to a resolution of 800 x 600 with 256 colours and can’t be used to access a DOS prompt (these restrictions should be eliminated soon). For the sake of stability, you have to disable the PC’s power management options, and the software doesn’t let you shut down Windows without making very sure that the other person has finished working first. But there are plenty of benefits, too. Most software sales work on the basis of ‘one licence per PC’, so it is possible (don’t quote us on this) that you could legally run the same software on three workstations based on the same PC. In addition, having two or more users per PC can reduce networking costs, since only one network node is required. And, of course, maintenance costs are reduced.
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