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Home network takes off with AirPort

iMacs

By JULES ALLEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 26, 2000


Rough and tumble venture into AnyPoint
As networking becomes a buzzword for the home of the future, companies such as chipmaker Intel Corp. are coming out with products that promise to make it easier and more affordable to connect your computers and printers.
Those poor PC folks. After hearing about some of their wireless networking woes, it's hard for me not to be smug as a Mac user.

In 30 minutes, I extended my wire-based home-office network to include a wireless section using Apple's AirPort technology (www.apple.com/airport/). After the simple installation, my network consists of two portable Macs and three Unix and Windows PCs.

Apple doesn't go out of its way to explain that AirPort will work with any PC and suitable wireless hardware. Apple doesn't make wireless cards for non-Apple computers, but companies such as Lucent and Farallon do. So even that Windows 98 PC sitting in your den can take part in a totally wireless network. However, the initial setup of the network requires an AirPort-capable Mac.

Setting up the hardware and the software portions of this solution couldn't have been easier. You start with an AirPort base station, which looks like a small flying saucer and costs $299. Additionally, you'll need a $99 AirPort card for each Mac you want to add to the network.

The installation of the station is elementary. If you've got your Mac hooked into an Ethernet network or cable modem, unplug the cable from the back of your computer and plug it into the AirPort base station. The same goes for your modem if that's how you connect to the Internet. But America Online users beware: Because of the proprietary nature of that service, AirPort works only with its built-in 56k modem.

Installing the AirPort card requires lifting the keyboard out of the PowerBook or iBook, allowing access to the slot for the card. It's perhaps the trickiest part of the installation (especially if you don't read manuals until something goes wrong) because it isn't immediately obvious which way is up on the card. The iMacs and G4s require more effort, opening the computer case to install the AirPort card.

Older Macs don't have the all-important wireless antenna, but they can join the AirPort party with adapters from Lucent and Farallon. The antenna is built into newer PowerBooks, iBooks, iMacs and G4s, which is why they work with the AirPort card.

The next step was to configure the software and, as I always do, be sure to click the encryption check box as a security precaution.

And that was it. The whole installation required one small Philips screwdriver and about half an hour. It's impressive, to say the least.

The AirPort specifications claim it has a range of 150 feet, so you've got room to roam your house, and speeds faster than a corporate Internet connection. More AirPort base stations and the Macs themselves can be used to extend the range should you have a big house or office.

Pure technology aside, I've enjoyed beverages on my patio while watching streaming video and worked while sitting in my garden. If your income revolves around sitting in front of a computer, this is a life-changing technology.

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