MBONE: Multicasting Tomorrow's Internet

Can Your Computer Handle the MBONE?

Although anyone who has the right equipment can use the MBONE, the hardware and connectivity requirements for using the MBONE are much greater than what's available on the equipment that most Internet users have in their homes. A PC or Macintosh system coupled with a standard modem doesn't have enough computing power or bandwidth to send or receive MBONE transmissions.

You need a good deal of power to handle multicast IP. Today, multicasting software -- the behind-the-scenes tools for moving, encoding, decompressing, and manipulating multicast packets -- is available only for high-end UNIX workstations, such as those from Sun, DEC, HP, IBM, and Silicon Graphics.

UNIX is a powerful, multitasking, multiuser operating system. UNIX was developed in 1969 by AT&T's Bell Laboratories, and today UNIX-based computers comprise a large portion of Internet-connected computers.

This situation is changing, however. Multicasting tools are becoming available for Linux -- a free UNIX-like operating system that runs on relatively cheap IBM PC-compatible computers. Since MBONE tools can work on a Linux-based PC, it's not too much to imagine that MBONE tools will soon be available for home computers -- PCs that are running Microsoft Windows and Macintosh computers. It will probably take the most powerful home computers (with Pentium and PowerPC chips), but it seems to be a likely eventuality. The software tools are being built: PC/TCP Version 2.3 from FTP Software Inc. supports multicasting for PCs, as does Windows 95, and it is rumored that the next version of MacTCP will support multicasting.

The ability to process multicast IP packets is one thing, but multicasting software is not much use without some multicast packets. Since the MBONE and Internet are not (yet) one and the same, before you can receive multicast packets, your network provider needs to get you hooked to the nearest MBONE node and to configure a "tunnel." This project should keep even expert network administrators busy for at least a week or two.

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