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The main reason for networking computers is to share expensive resources and common data, including applications. When Acorn launched Econet, it was a 100K floppy disc drive or a printer that was being shared. Then it became hard discs, dot matrix or daisy wheel printers and CDROMs which were shared. Now it is Broadband internet commections and laser printers.
Acorn's involvment with networks goes back to 1980, before the BBC micro. One of my oldest Acorn brochures is "The Cambridge Ring " a 4 page description of the Cambridge Ring architecture and how an Acorn Econet can be connected to it, providing access to mainframes and other computers. Form the same period I have another brochure "The Acorn Econet " which has a very early Econet on the front which has an Acorn System 3 as the fileserver and Atoms as the network stations. Econet became very widely used in British schools and colleges because it provided a simple, relatively easy to use network. Acorn further developed Econet with the BBC micro, BBC Master and then the Archimedes range of computers. In fact with the exception of the Electron and A3010, which were designed for home users, I think every Acorn computer included Econet support up to the RiscPC and A7000. Only the various network computer designs did not include support for Econet.
In the early 1990s (not sure when) Acorn handed over manufacturing, sales and support of Econet to SJ Research. I have an Acorn Econet starter kit which is an entirely SJ Research product, but it has an Acorn product code (AEH51).
When Acorn lauched the R140, their first Unix workstation, Ethernet & TCP/IP networking was essential to join the established networks of the Unix world. Unlike Econet, which was a proprietory Acorn design, Ethernet and TCP/IP are open standards and so Acorn only produced Ethernet interfaces for its computers, other companies supplied the rest of the products required for an Ethernet network. 3rd parties also produced Ethernet interfaces for Acorn Computers (including ANT, Atomwide, Beebug and i-cubed). The Ethernet page is a list of the different Ethernet interfaces that I own, with links to the descriptions and pictures.
The introduction of Ethernet led Acorn to develop AUN (Acorn Universal Networking) which brought together Econet and Ethernet. These are outside the current scope of Chris's Acorns, although I may revisit this when I have cataloged all my hardware.
The other Acorn networking technology is Acorn's peer to peer networking product Access/Access+. Access enables any Ethernet connected, RISC OS computer to share resources without servers. Each computer requires at least 2MB memory and RISC OS 3.1 or later. It is easy to install:
You can share discs, CD-ROMs and printers. Access+ introduces a level of security. Access is primarily also a software product which was included in the Ethernet interface ROM/EPROM, and thus it is out of scope for this site although it was sold as a package with a network card so various Access enabled podules are listed.
However I have scanned the Access+ Release Note and Access+ User Guide.
How to connect to and use an Access network is described in Connecting up to an Acorn Access network
Here is the Access Application disc and the Access+ Support disc.
The introduction of the Archimedes and A3000 computers into schools made Econet a bottleneck when loading much larger 32bit applications. SJ Research's solution was Nexus which provided a fast disc sharing service running along side Econet. This enabled 32bit computers to load their applications from Nexus while using Econet for communications, printing and saving files.
In 1993 SJ Research launched Nexus Networking (sometimes called Nexus ATM Networking). I have very little detail about Nexus Networking although the Nexus BEN and the RISPC Nexus interface come from that period.
Finally there were a number of 3rd party hardware and software networking products including: