Mac Metamorphosis

AirPort Beats Wires

- 2000.11.03

When wireless networking first starting coming on the scene, I was very against it. All sorts of bizarre ways were coming out to make my PC access my network wirelessly. I remember the idea of using your power outlets as some sort of conductor to carry the signals and achieving about one megabit per second (1 Mbps).

I remember a lot of these products being marketed as "user friendly," but one look at the documentation would make my head swim. It would have been easier to show a consumer how to cut, strip, and crimp a piece of category five network cable.

That is the way I have preferred my network for a long time, even in the age of the booming wireless market. In my apartment back in New York City, I had network cable all over the place. Being that I had a studio apartment, I could get away with such things. My sofa was right next to my server farm and network hubs, so I could reach over and hook my PowerBook to my network as easily as if I were reaching for a soda on my coffee table.

I never had anyone over to my apartment, so someone tripping over network cables was not an issue. Many nights I came home and just walked over them.

Then I moved to California and into a nice spacious two bedroom apartment. I really don't need a two bedroom, but it was only $100 a month more than one bedroom. The setup was very simple. Computers and servers in the master bedroom, bed in the guest bedroom, and a twenty-foot network cable to the living room for my PowerBook.

This worked for a little while, but the network cable going to my PowerBook started to get on my nerves. Since I haven't gotten used to my new surroundings yet, I would find myself tripping over the cable every night when I came home. Fortunately, the PowerBook never fell of my couch, but it came close a few times. I also like to lean back on my couch and prop my laptop on my hips. This worked back in New York because the distance from the hub to the laptop was less than one foot. Now I have this big twenty-foot cable dangling in the air.

AirPort

I saw Steve Job's demo of AirPort and was quite impressed. Its speed of 11 megabits per second (11 Mbps) was okay with me. Although it would be really cool if it could do 100 Mbps, you can't have it all. Still, it's better than that cable dangling in the air.

Installation of the AirPort cards was easy on both my PowerBook and G4. What confused me at first was which way the card was supposed to be inserted. Apparently I got it right, but reading the manual would have been a good idea.

For software base stations, configuration is quite easy. Load the AirPort utility from the Apple menu, click "Software Base Station," and hit start. Then go over to your client, click AirPort there, and click on "Choose network" from the Airport Network section.

Security was a real big concern of mine. I didn't want this thing advertising itself to all my neighbors and have "Mac Metamorphosis: The lost files" all over the place. Needless to say Apple and Lucent did a real good job on security.

Currently I am using a very strong password, have turned on closed networks so my base station doesn't advertise itself, and am restricted access to my AirPort network by hardware address so only my AirPort cards can connect to my base station.

It is very important to set up security and use it - at least turn on the closed networks feature. Some companies I know started to give AirPort-enabled laptops to clients who come to visit their company, and didn't turn on security to make things easier. I could connect to their network from my car in the parking lot and do whatever I wanted. Turning on security is like locking your door; you might live in a safe neighborhood, but someone might just try to walk in.

Performance is very good and seems to live up to all the hype. From my friends T3 connection to my 1.5 megabit DSL connection through my base station ending at my PowerBook I was downloading 600 megabytes of data at 152k/sec. I sustained that speed throughout the entire download.

Once I had everything up and running, I started thinking about getting AirPort to work on LinuxPPC. After asking my friend Alex, a hardcore Linux guru, he helped point me in the right direction for the driver. If you would like LinuxPPC drivers head on over to Ben's Linux Page.

Should you not have an AirPort compatible computer the Lucent Wave runner will work under Apple's drivers, and drivers do also exist for Linux. I have not tried it personally, but have heard many good things about using them on Power Macintosh computers.

Going wireless is a great thing, and I am glad that Apple has put out such a great product. I have heard that even ZDTV was recommending that PC users purchase AirPort base stations for their wireless base stations. Now let's see Apple introduce the first 100 megabit wireless network adapters.

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