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ATPM 9.02
February 2003


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Review: The Wireless Networking Starter Kit (book)

by Kirk McElhearn,

Author: Adam Engst and Glenn Fleishman, Peachpit Press, 2003

Price: $29.99

Trial: 60-page excerpt.

Wireless networking is cool. It has changed the way I work. I live in a village in the French Alps, and there is nothing I like more than working outside on a fine summer day, with the mountains in the background. I could do this without Internet access, but since much of my work requires using the Internet, it is certainly easier to be able to surf from my terrace.

I discovered the pleasures of wireless networking when I moved to where I now live three years ago. Before that, our home/office network had been a sneaker-net: put files on a Zip cartridge and walk to another computer. We didn’t have a shared Internet connection, and only one computer was linked to the outside world via an ISDN line. Our Macs didn’t all have Ethernet cards, and we didn’t want to drill holes in the walls of our apartment.

Two issues arose in our new home: the first was the desire to set up a network to transfer files more easily, and the second was the desire to share the Internet connection. Since our offices are separated by three walls (including a bathroom), running Ethernet cables was out of the question. The natural solution was to get AirPort cards for all our Macs.

Installing and setting up the network was a breeze, and, at first, we used one of the Macs (an iMac) as a software base station to share the Internet connection. This turned out to be a headache: the iMac had to be on whenever the other Macs wanted to use the Internet, and the base station software itself was flaky. So, we bought an AirPort Base Station to provide always-on networking. It bridges to an Ethernet switch, which in turn runs to our ADSL modem. My PC has wired access to the network through the switch, with the AirPort Base Station working as a router for the network.

Today, I couldn’t imagine working otherwise. Wireless networking, as I said at the beginning of this article, is cool. I can move my iBook anywhere in the house—except to the basement, as the floor is thick concrete—and use the Internet and access files on my home server. I can also work outdoors and take full advantage of my beautiful surroundings. I am no longer tied to my desk.

While wireless networking is similar to magic, once it works, it can be complex to set up (though it seems much easier on a Mac than on Windows). My situation is probably similar to that of most home users, but anyone working in an enterprise or educational context has many other issues to deal with. This book, The Wireless Networking Starter Kit, is a “practical guide to Wi-Fi networks for Windows and Macintosh” and covers all the issues and questions that may arise when setting up and maintaining a wireless network. Adam Engst and Glenn Fleishman have a great deal of experience in the matter, as they point out from the beginning, and cover all aspects of wireless networking.

Beginning with an overview of basic network concepts and protocols, the book goes on to explain how wireless networking functions. The heart of the book is about connecting computers (both Macs and Windows-based PCs), building a wireless network, and adding antennas to wireless networks. This is the most useful section for network administrators who want to set up larger, more complex networks, which include wired and wireless devices. Chapters on wireless security and troubleshooting help to understand how to make sure things work, and an interesting chapter talks about using Wi-Fi on the road. (Gee, if only the cafés here had wireless access points…)

The authors’ comfortable, reassuring tone helps the reader feel at ease with this technology. Their detailed coverage of all the issues affecting this form of networking ensures that network administrators, who may be discovering wireless networking, fully understand how to design and optimize their networks.

Home users might not find a need for this book unless they have several computers and want to link them all. Anyone with a home office or small business, on the other hand, will save lots of time with this book, since they will be able to grasp the technology easily and quickly see how practical and useful it is. If you just want to find out more about wireless networking—which is certainly one of the technologies of the future—you’ll like this book, since it covers all the current issues. Unfortunately for the authors, the book was written before Apple announced the release of AirPort Extreme, and no mention of it is made. An update is available on the book’s Web site, however.

So, to discover the advantages of wireless networking, plan and implement your own network, or just keep up on this new technology, this is the book you need.

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