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Home Networking: The Missing Manual by Scott Lowe

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Introduction

A decade ago, the Internet took off, thanks to a number of happy coincidences: PCs were cheaper and easier to use than ever; computer scientists developed an easy way to share information over the Internet (the Web); and some guy figured out how the Web could be used to help trade his girlfriend’s Pez dispensers (eBay). The rest, as they say, is history.

Home networking today is undergoing similar growth, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. Thanks to computer prices dropping even further (many homes now have multiple PCs), operating systems that have built-in networking capabilities (true for both Windows and the Mac OS), and a growing number of devices such as printers, stereos, and game consoles that are ready to network, more and more people are coming to the tantalizing, yet potentially hair-pulling conclusion: “Hey, maybe it’s time for me to set up a home network.”

The next step usually involves a quick peek at the Sunday paper’s networking gear ads or a visit to the local electronics store. Exit enthusiasm, enter fear. Not only are the gadgets confusingly and intimidatingly named (802.11g Wireless Cable/DSL Router with Built-in 4-port Switch, anyone?), there are precious few people in the world who understand how this stuff works and who are capable of explaining what mainstream civilians need in their homes.

That’s where Home Networking: The Missing Manual comes in. Using clear, jargon-free language, this book helps you understand what kind of gear you need for your home network, how to set things up, and how to use that network once it’s up and running.

What Can You Do with a Home Network?

Most people first think about setting up a network so that everyone at home can get online at the same time. And given the rapidly falling prices of networking gear today—an inexpensive basic network can be put together for less than 50 dollars—that’s a worthwhile reason to get connected. But Internet connection sharing is only the first among many things you’ll learn how to do once you’ve laid down your links:

  • Go wireless. Networking’s been possible for years, but only recently has it gone wireless (or WiFi, as you’ve probably heard it called). Chapter 3 shows you how easy it is to get unplugged.

  • Extend your network to the far corners of your house. You don’t need to live in a mansion to run into one of the most basic challenges known to networking-kind: how to extend your network into those hard-to-reach corners of your home. Learn how WiFi (Chapter 3) and the powerlines (Chapter 4) currently running through your walls can help solve the problem.

  • Share your files. Gone are the days when moving a file from one computer to another meant carting it around on a disk. With a home network, you can zap anything—Word documents, MP3 files, digital photos, and so on—across your network (Chapters 5, 6, and7 show you how). And you can do it all in a way that’s quite a bit easier than that ol’ “Honey, can you email to my computer the 84 photos we took last weekend?”

  • Print across the network. Having multiple computers doesn’t mean you also need to have multiple printers. Home networks make it easy to set up your printers so that everyone—Mac and PC fans alike—can use any printer attached to any computer (Chapters 5, 6, and 7).

  • Share storage space. Once you’ve gotten the hang of digital photography, MP3collecting, or PowerPoint production, it doesn’t take long to to run out of room on your computer. Networks are a great way to take advantage of unused space on all the computers in your home (Chapter 8).

  • Protecting your files. Sharing’s great, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone in the house should have access to all of each other’s files. Fortunately, both Windows machines and Macs give you the tools to limit who gets to see what (Chapters 5 and 6).

  • Communicate between PCs and Macs. Thanks to some major strides on the part of both Microsoft and Apple, mixed operating system networking has never been easier (Chapter 7).

    Note

    Got an older version of Windows or the Mac OS? No problem. In addition to Windows XP and Mac OS X, this book covers Windows 95, 98, Me, and 2000, as well as Mac OS 9.

  • Hook up your game consoles to the network. Sure, video games are fun, but you can get bored playing against your system. Plug your Xbox or PlayStation2 into your home network, and soon you’ll be fighting the good fight with millions of people around the world (Chapter 8).

  • Display digital pictures on your TV. Your digital photo collection doesn’t have to suffer the fate of its ancestors: confined to shoeboxes and rarely opened albums. With not much effort, you can use your network to premier all your photos on your television (Chapter 8).

  • Play your PC’s music on your stereo. Bored by your computer’s creaky little built-in speakers? Ready to use your stereo to listen to all those Aretha Franklin tunes you’ve got stored on your PC? Your home network is ready and willing (Chapter 8).

  • Tap into your network when you’re on the road. Or tap into your office network while you’re at home. Either way, once you’ve got a network, these kinds of remote access chores are possible (Chapter 9).

About This Book

This book is broken down into two main parts: Part One covers planning, buying, and setting up your network. The four chapters in this part help you decide what kind of network makes sense for your home; how to pick out the right gear; and how to get everything plugged in and running. By the end of Part One, all the computers in your home can tap into and share a nice, juicy Internet connection.

Part Two covers the things you can actually do on your network once it’s working, including exchanging files between computers, connecting your PCs to your stereo, and tapping into your network when you’re on the road. Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll find in each chapter.

Note

Throughout this book you’ll see that the setup instructions mention high-speed Internet connections (like cable modem service or DSL), rather than plain old dial-up links. Does that mean that if you’ve got a dial-up Internet connection you can’t use this book? No, but frankly many of the scenarios described in this book will be painfully slow if you try to carry them out with a dial-up connection. So home networking works for everybody, but it’s a lot more fun if you’ve got a fast Internet connection.

Part One

Chapter 1 introduces you to the major types of home networks in use today: wired, wireless, and wired through your electrical system. You’ll learn the pros and cons of each network type so you can pick the one that’s right for you and your home.

After reading Chapter 1, if you decide you’re ready for a traditional wired Ethernet network (the kind with those thick plastic cables that you probably have in your office), you can go right to Chapter 2, which tells you everything you need to know about setting up an Ethernet network.

Want to minimize the cables in your life and have the freedom to roam the house surfing the Web as you follow your toddler around? You may have heard of WiFi (short for “Wireless Fidelity”), the networking technology that beams your data around the house over radio waves instead of through plastic-coated cables. There are several types of WiFi to choose from, and Chapter 3 explains what they are so you can decide which version makes sense for you. The chapter also includes a section on wireless-network security so you can learn how to protect your network airspace from those who may try to horn in.

Like the notion of wireless but have trouble connecting the network down to the basement office? As explained in Chapter 4, Powerline devices can convert your home’s electrical system into a data network. Powerline is an up-and-coming technology that you may not have heard much about. You’ll learn how Powerline works and what you’ll need to get plugged in.

Part Two

Once you’ve installed your home network, Part Two helps you put the network to work. In Chapter 5, you’ll learn how to share files, folders, and printers among computers running all modern versions of the Windows operating system.

If you have a house full of Macintosh machines, Chapter 6 is for you. It shows you how to configure your Mac OS X computers, as well as those running the older version of Apple’s operating system: good ol’ Mac OS 9.

It’s a cross-platform world out there, though, and if you happen to have a mix of Windows PCs and Macs in your house, Chapter 7 shows you how to get the two systems talking to each other.

Chapter 8 is where the real fun begins—if you consider streaming music around the house, playing network video games, and putting your digital photos on the big screen fun. And because we all have to leave the house sometimes, Chapter 9 tells you how to connect to your home network when you’re on the road.

About These Arrows

Throughout this book, and throughout the Missing Manual series, you’ll find sentences like this: “Open the Start My Computer Local Disk (C:) Windows folder.” That’s shorthand for a much longer instruction that directs you to open three nested icons in sequence, like this: “Click the Start menu to open it. Click My Computer in the Start menu. Inside the My Computer window is a disk icon labeled Local Disk (C:); double-click it to open it. Inside that window is yet another icon called Windows. Double-click to open it, too.”

Similarly, this kind of arrow shorthand helps to simplify the business of choosing commands in menus, as shown in Figure P-1.

About MissingManuals.com

At the www.missingmanuals.com Web site, you’ll find articles, tips, and updates to the book. In fact, you’re invited and encouraged to submit such corrections and updates yourself. In an effort to keep the book as up-to-date and accurate as possible, each time we print more copies of this book, we’ll make any confirmed corrections you’ve suggested. We’ll also note such changes on the Web site, so that you can mark important corrections into your own copy of the book, if you like. (Click the book’s name and then click the Errata link to see the changes.)

In the meantime, we’d love to hear your own suggestions for new books in the Missing Manual line. There’s a place for that on the Web site, too, as well as a place to sign up for free email notification of new titles in the series.

In this book, arrow notations help to simplify folder and menu instructions. For example, “Choose Start → All Programs → Accessories → Windows Explorer” is a more compact way of saying: “Click the Start button. When the Start menu opens, click All Programs; without clicking, slide to the right onto the Accessories submenu; in that submenu, click Windows Explorer, as shown here.”
Figure I-1. In this book, arrow notations help to simplify folder and menu instructions. For example, “Choose Start All Programs Accessories Windows Explorer” is a more compact way of saying: “Click the Start button. When the Start menu opens, click All Programs; without clicking, slide to the right onto the Accessories submenu; in that submenu, click Windows Explorer, as shown here.”

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