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November 5th, 1999


Vicomsoft Internet Gateway
Contact and Other Information
Manufacturer: Vicomsoft
Product Info: Internet Gateway v6.5
Description: Integrated software suite providing Internet access for multiple computers, firewalling, site filtering and more.
Address: Vicomsoft
465 Fairchild Drive
Suite 201
Mountain View, CA 94043
Telephone: (800) 818 4266
(650) 691 9520


Pricing: US$215 - 5 user
US$395 - 10 user
US$695 - Unlimited
Requirements PowerPC or 68040, Mac OS 7.5.3 or higher, Open Transport v1.1.1 or higher, minimum 6M bytes free RAM, Up to 15M Bytes available disk space.

System Used For Testing Power Computing PowerCenter Pro with 400MHz G3 upgrade, 160MB RAM

Power Computing Power 100 with 40MB RAM

Apple Blue & White G3 with 128MB RAM

[Review]
Internet Gateway Allows Easy Routing And Network Management

Vicomsoft Internet Gateway
by Dave Hamilton

The increase in popularity (and availability) of both high-speed, dedicated Internet connections and small home and office networks has created a real need for people to be able to connect one with the other. There are an increasing number of options available to users, and Vicomsoft's veteran Internet Gateway product certainly keeps pace with the world, adding new features and tweaking the software regularly.

What Does It Do?

Vicomsoft Internet Gateway is a multifunction product. First and foremost it allows you to connect a network of computers to the Internet via a connection that would typically be reserved for one computer - dial-up modem, cable modem, DSL or ISDN. In addition, Internet Gateway also contains a web caching server, a DHCP server, a caching DNS server, and firewall security to aid in this process. Also available is CyberNOT, their website filtering software which allows network administrators (and parents!) to easily ensure that access to undesirable web sites is restricted.

Installation

Internet routing of this type is necessarily a complex process, at least to the computer. It requires that the computer assume multiple identities -- at least two. One to the outside world, and one to the internal network. It then, of course, must intelligently route data properly between these two different networks. Because of that, software routing has notoriously been very difficult to configure, even with time proven packages.

Herein lies the first of many differences with Internet Gateway. Once the Installer has been launched, a wizard-type interface is presented to the user, and a series of questions are asked. None of them are hard questions, and it will guide you through the process step-by-step. Once installation is complete, you are overcome with that familiar desire to restart your computer (prompted, of course, by a very friendly dialog box!). When your computer comes back up, you're done. Yes, folks, that's right. The computer reboots and that's it -- you're set up for routing data. Of course, there's lots of tweaking that still remains for those who want to monitor and control their access more closely, but the hard part is done, and it's easy to get here. There may be some minor configuration to be done on the client computers, but typically all it requires is telling them to obtain their Internet settings automatically through the industry-standard DHCP protocol, and the computers are smart enough to figure out the rest!

NAT Routing

No, folks, we're not talking about the little bugs that pal around with noseeums in the summertime. NAT in this case refers to Network Address Translation. Look at it this way: Every computer that's connected to the Internet gets a unique IP address. This is necessary so that people know how to get information back to you. When you came to read this article, your computer requested a specific document from www.macobserver.com, and when it did so, it told www.macobserver.com what it's unique address was. The server prepared the document and then dutifully sent it back to the address it was given. Because of this, no two computers can share the same Internet address, or can they? In a home situation, your Internet connection typically only gives you one address and it's assigned to the computer that's connected. What Internet Gateway does is to "masquerade" all your computers as ONE Internet address. It does this via complex and intelligent algorithms that send data back to the correct computer, even if two computers on your network are accessing the same web site. This process is known as Network Address Translation, or NAT for short.

Firewall

The logical extension of NAT routing is firewalling, which Internet Gateway also supports. A firewall, by definition, is a computer that sits and protects all computers "behind" it from the outside network. Unless you specify otherwise, Internet Gateway will protect all "unsolicited" traffic from penetrating your internal network. By default, only computers that you contact FIRST (for example, a web site from which you request a document) will be able to talk to your internal network. Everyone else will be denied access. However, lets say you wanted to run a web server from a computer other than the one running Internet Gateway. Well, with an easy-to-use interface, you merely specify the port (usually port 80 for web servers) and the computer you want that traffic directed to. Once you've done that, all incoming requests for websites will be directed to the specified computer.

DHCP

Don't you love all the acronyms we nerds use? DHCP, short for Dynamic Host Control Protocol, is essentially a way for one computer to configure Internet settings on another, with little or no user intervention required. Each computer on your Internal Network will require a "dummy" Internet address -- they don't need real ones because the only computer they'll be talking to directly is the machine running Internet Gateway. Internet Gateway assigns these "dummy" addresses to your internal network by way of DHCP. You configure your computers and you're good to go!

Set up DHCP on Internet Gateway
...and Set it up on your Mac!

Restrictions and Control

Internet gateway lets you configure almost every aspect of the connection between your network and the Internet. You can set which computers can access what types of data (web, ftp, newsgroups, e-mail), you can set time limits (both in terms of total time used and hours of the day), and you can decide which TYPES of web sites each computer can access. This last feature is controlled by a service called CyberNOT. With CyberNOT you can restrict access from certain categories of web sites. Categories include violence / profanity (graphics or text), partial/full nudity, sexual acts, gross depictions, intolerance, satanic or cult, drugs/drug culture, militant/extremist, sex education, questionable/illegal & gambling, and alcohol & tobacco. Each of these categories can be controlled individually for each computer, so your 16 year-old daughter can have different access rights than your 7 year-old son (and your 34-year old husband too, for that matter!). The CyberNOT filters relies on a list of web sites that is maintained by Microsystems, Inc. Each copy of Internet Gateway comes with a 1 year subscription to CyberNOT, and it can be renewed for a nominal fee each year thereafter.

Who's Got Cache?

Since most people tend to frequent the same web sites often, Internet Gateway features a cache wherein it stores the most commonly and recently accessed data from web sites for much quicker access to the computers in your network. This can make surfing on even a slower, modem-based connection much faster. With commonly accessed data stored locally, some web pages will just pop right up on your screen. In our testing, Internet Gateway was smart enough to notice when the data it had was not correct anymore, and it went out and fetched a fresh copy from the web server before passing it along to the internal computer.

Monitoring and Status

As detailed above, Internet Gateway allows you to configure multiple aspects of the connection between your internal network and the outside world. Following true to form, it also allows you to monitor what's happening with your connection. You can see which computers are accessing which web sites, and you can see a status screen that shows throughput and traffic activity. Quite nice, especially now that you've spent all this time configuring things. Sit back and enjoy the show!

So Should You Get It?

As you can see, Internet Gateway is a very full-featured product. It gets the job done, lets you do it with ease, and in our experience it worked like a charm from beginning to end. But this certainly comes at a price. The initial 5-user package is US$215 for the web download, and even more if you want it in a box with a pretty book and installation CD. For people who are looking for a software routing solution without all the additional filters, bells, and whistles, Vicomsoft offers their entry-level package, SurfDoubler, with pricing starting at US$54. Vicomsoft also offers SoftRouter Plus, which includes almost everything that Internet Gateway includes except CyberNOT for US$155 for 5 users. However, for someone who wants full control over their network's Internet access, Internet Gateway is the way to go. It offers most everything a network administrator (or parent or teacher) could want!


Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Gadgies)
4.0 Gadgies
Pros Internet Gateway is easy to use,
fast, and very configurable. In a nutshell,
it works like it's supposed to!
Cons The high cost puts this software package
in the same ballpark as other, full-featured
hardware-based routing solutions.



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