The theme of this issue of PC Alamode [February
2003] is Home Networking. Home networking is about sharing sharing computer resources among several computers. That means sharing an Internet connection, a printer, and files. Networking is also about communicating like sending e-mails or playing games online. And to be useful in a home environment, networking has to be easy and cheap. As we shall see in this issue, it is at least cheap, and is getting easier.
Networking originally required all computers be connected together with special wires, through an expensive box called a hub. Networking was expensive, and it was fiendishly difficult to set up and run a network. Some networks required special network operating systems that required many hours of special training to master. In other words, networking was too hard for the average home user.
Apple was the first company to try to make networking easy enough for
the home user. Microsoft took a different approach, and began by making
Windows a networking system first for the office environment, and later
for the home. I suppose thatís logical; offices depend on networked computers
for their existence, and can afford to hire trained network administrators
to establish and maintain networks. At home, the user is the network administrator.
But the home user canít afford expensive training, and probably couldnít
spare the time even if the training was affordable. So home networking
has to be easy.
Another barrier to home networking is stringing all those ugly wires
around the house. Although itís not hard to install network cable in new
homes, doing so in existing homes can be difficult or expensive. Isnít
there an easier way? There is. And what if you have a notebook computer
and need to move around the house as you compute ó do you have to have
a wire trailing you, where your spouse will trip over it and your cat will
chew on it? Not any more, you donít.
In this issue we try to assess just where the industry stands with home
networking. We look at several attempts to solve some of the problems addressed
above. We had hoped to have more networking hardware to review, but were
unable to get it donated in time for this issue. However, we do have some
interesting hardware reviews, as well as some useful how-to articles. Many
of our hardware reviewers had to overcome minor problems installing new
networking hardware, even with the automated help provided by the latest
Wizards in Windows. So even though weíve come a long way, installation
and set-up of home networking equipment isnít foolproof. But itís probably
easy enough that you should be able to install and run a home network on
your own now.