Sharity for Mac OS X

A couple of weeks ago in another article, I obliquely referenced a product called Sharity for Mac OS X, remarking on its remarkable license agreement. I since decided to take it for a test-drive myself, and found myself pleasantly surprised.

Sharity adds Microsoft Windows' Network Neighborhood functionality to OS X. While OS X 10.1 supports the mounting of Windows shared drives in Finder, Sharity adds the missing component: network browsing. Network browsing is something like taking roll call in class and recording the names of all present. Those present must be able to shout out their names in order to be heard. Just so do Windows shares announce themselves on a Windows network. The browser lists them for you conveniently in one place.

Once Sharity is installed, a shared disk icon called CIFS appears on your desktop. It contains basically the same contents as the Network Neighborhood of a Windows machine on the same local area network. Shared disks appear as Mac folders, as if they were part of your Mac, which, by the magic of networking, they are. The first time you open a shared object, you will be prompted for the share's login info. You can optionally remember it, and connect to that share automatically next time. Since the CIFS share is mounted at boot time, you cannot unmount it after login merely by dragging it to Trash. Later, if you don't want Sharity, you uninstall it; and to do that, you pull it from the list of OS X stuff started automatically, then reboot.

Speaking of installing it, perhaps we should. It's a tad tricky. First, of course, you need the download. Before I do anything more, I like to save this stuff to an Archives folder in my root folder. That way, besides having it for future reinstalls, I can log in as anybody, and still access this folder. Double-click the DMG archive to mount it on your desktop. It should open automatically. There are four items in it. The most important is the Readme file. Open it now. It contains installation and removal instructions.

I found that I had to be user root (which exists on all unix operating systems) to do the critical steps. If this turns out to be your experience also, then here is what I did. Tweak to taste.

Check the Login system preference to Show "Other User"
Save the Sharity DMG download to /Archives, as mentioned earlier
Double-click to mount and open the Sharity DMG archive
Open the Readme file and read it
Drag the Sharity application into your Applications folder
Optionally add Sharity to your list of system preference Login Items
Log out, then log back in as user root
Mount the Sharity DMG archive again and open it
Open the Readme file and keep it visible
Open the StartupItems folder
Open /Library/StartupItems on your hard drive
Drag the Sharity folder from the former into the latter StartupItems folder
Reboot and log back in as yourself.

Now a CIFS share will appear on your desktop automatically. Open it to see the Windows shares on your network. Voila!

To uninstall Sharity, you follow something of a reverse procedure. You'll be keeping your Sharity DMG archive, so you will always be able to reinstall it again anytime. Here is an uninstall procedure.

Remove Sharity from your list of system preference Login Items, if present
Log out, then log back in as user root
Open /Library/StartupItems on your hard drive
Drag the Sharity folder into Trash
Open /Applications and drag the Sharity application into Trash
Reboot and log back in as yourself.

From what I read and understand of Mac OS X's next incarnation as "Jaguar", the basic functionality of Sharity will be built in. It will be accessible from Finder's Go, Connect to Server menu. You can already connect to a Windows share from this menu, but you type in the address manually. Better than nothing, it means you need to know the exact names of the Windows server and share, as well as the correct syntax. Weaving in the network browse functionality will be a big improvement. Meanwhile, have it all now with Sharity.

By the way, if you have a Linux machine kicking around, Sharity is available for it also. In fact, Sharity has been compiled for several versions of unix. Quite a feat, it seems to me. An amazing feat indeed.

Courtesy of VersionTracker, I found a similar product out there called SMB Browser. It's freeware and has received some rave reviews. Can't tell ya' much about it; haven't tried it; but it looks more than promising. Take it for a spin.

So much for Windows shared disks and folders. Using Windows shared printers is another story. It's less than clear to me that Jaguar will support such a concept, and it isn't part of Sharity. We'll know in a few weeks' time, but I suspect that Thursby's DAVE for Mac or TSStalk for Windows might still be the only games in town if you need to hook your Mac to a Windows shared printer. Both of these excellent products are available for free evaluation.

I have long had my concerns about Windows security. Macs have had something of a security advantage over Windows machines over the years. I would be reticent to add Windows networking to my Mac without a little consideration of the security consequences. Serving up a share, of course, is more risky than being a client that uses one. If you are on a local area network containing machines you trust, with a decent hardware firewall between your LAN and the internet, then things should be pretty okay. Otherwise use it at your own risk. In any case, be sure to run properly-configured software firewalls on all of your hosts. You'd be looking for BrickHouse for Mac OS X and ZoneAlarm for Windows here.

Sharity is a big breakthrough in Mac-to-Windows connectivity. While it can be done in other ways, Sharity is by far the most convenient method I have used lately. Enjoy.

A couple of weeks ago RealNetworks announced its RealOne Player for Mac OS X, available as a free download. It's betaware at this point, with all of the commensurate caveats. Nevertheless, let's take it for a test drive together next week. I can say this much: It works! See you then. Ciao.