The Book of Wireless, 2nd Edition
When Arthur C. Clarke spoke about sufficiently advanced technology appearing to the layman as magic, there are many days that I’m certain he’s talking about about wireless networking. Click a button on a menu bar, type in a password, and wham, there you are, on the Internet. A button. Not a cable, not a router, no modem, no dial-tone, just a software button and there you are. Have you ever wondered, though, what’s happening when you click that button?
I’ve spent the better part of the last decade accepting the miracle of wireless networking and connectivity. I understand the basic concepts at play, but it’s nice to see a book assume very little and provide an immense amount of detail, so the reader gets a better picture of how networking works. Many books that provide information about networks and the Internet are laced with jargon and impenetrable language, and in this regard, Ross delivers us from the twin evils of obscurity and obfuscation. The terms are clear, the text well supported with good graphics, and the concepts well-explained.
Don’t expect to skip around, though, and be sure to dive in at the beginning and continue to the middle, instead of vice versa. The concepts in the book are cumulative, and if you pick up and read chapter 3 on “How Wi-Fi Works” without getting the base concepts in order, you might wind up feeling a bit confused. Unlike the other No Starch book that every sysadmin should own, Cisco Routers for the Desperate, The Book of Wireless isn’t about emergency knowledge or handy reference. Instead, it’s about teaching you more than just mastering the magic, and about learning how it’s performed.
But how does this relate to Macs, you ask? Aside from being compelling good knowledge for the general computer user, there’s an excellent section dealing with Apple’s AirPort technology, both hardware and software, that makes an excellent companion for anyone using an AirPort Base Station. It covers in detail the various applications of wireless networking for the Mac: setting up your home network, setting up good security, and basic operation. It does fall short in failing to address the additional features that the AirPort Express and Extreme make use of, including AirPort Disk and Printer Sharing, which I think could have used more explanation.
In addition, the section on Virtual Private Networking (VPN) does not cover either the Tiger or Leopard methodologies for connecting to a VPN network as part of proper security on a public wireless connection. Given the emphasis in the rest of the book on proper security at the machine level, it’s disappointing that even Unix gets a better shake than Mac OS X for VPN use. The depth of understanding of the whys and hows of wireless networking, though, are certainly nothing to scoff at, and why this book has a permanent place on my shelf, and why it belongs on yours.