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.
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).
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).