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If you can connect to other machines, you're probably OK. If you'd like to detect it programmatically you could try to ping other hosts and see if it succeeds (assuming other hosts don't filter ICMP traffic). If you've got a DHCP server on your LAN and you use it, you can also check if you've obtained an IP address.
do you have a hub ? (it's a good idea to have one) if you do, then you can set them up in star topology.
Star topology is easy to set up and maintain. Take a look at the diagram before going any further.
OK. now you know what you need to set up. You'll need the right hardware. Ask me if you need help with the hardware.
Now, that you have wired up all the computers, you need to set up a few things.
The first is IP address. Are ALL your computers Linux? if they are not let me know and I'll help you.
the head honchos of TCP/IP (sorry, computer class lesson memory dim) set aside the 192.168 addresses for private (ie home) use. Ok, so you should give your computers the IP addresses of 192.168.0.1 192.168.0.2 192.168.0.3 192.168.0.4 192.168.0.5. Write this down. I assume you have named your computers unique memorable names (like Dad's, Mum's, etc.) on a sheet of paper write down the name and then the IP address.
Now, you know what to name them, now you need to know how to do it. find the networking bit under the system configuration. sorry, somebody running redhat will have to help you with that You should have set up a unique address during the install, but there should be someway to change it.
(can you be a bit more specific? I could write a book on this stuff.)
If all the computers are linux than as mentioned above, ssh is trhe way to do it with the scp (secure copy) command. If you have computers running Redmond's attempt at an OS, then you'll need to get samba server running. Samba server allows windows machines to see the samba server. SAmba also allows linux clients to see it, so one samba server can hold all the files you want to share between all of the computers.
I see two questions here. How to send messages and how to share files.
The write command would only work if you telnet'd to another PC and then used the command, so that might be an option, beyond that, my suggestions is to use AIM or MSN messengers and send each other IM's.
Since you all have linux, setup an NFS share. There should be guides on LQ, or search google