Home Networking

by Bob Rankin

Setting up Your Home Network
As society and technology change, it’s becoming common for homes to have more than one computer. When an existing computer is a few years old, parents will often take advantage of today’s lower prices, purchase a new computer, and pass the old one down to the kids.

Suddenly, there’s a need for a home network, so all computers in the house can share an files, printers and an Internet connection.

Fortunately, setting up a basic home network is not rocket science. To start, you’ll need a router which becomes the central point of your network. Most office and electronics stores offer home networking kits with a router, ethernet (network) adapters and CAT-5 networking cable.

If your computer was assembled in the past five years, it probably already has an ethernet adapter. Check the back of the system unit for a port that looks like a telephone jack, but slightly bigger.
If you don’t have an ethernet adapter, you can purchase one (about $20) and install it yourself. You can also use a special ethernet adapter that plugs into a USB port, if you can’t stand the thought of opening your system unit to install an ethernet adapter.

Wired or Wireless Networking?
You’ll need to connect each of your computers to the router with a cable, or go wireless. If you want to use wireless connections, you’ll need a wireless router and a wireless adapter for each computer. Most laptops have a wireless adapter built in, most desktop models do not. If you need a wireless adapter, you can purchase one that installs inside the system unit, or get a USB-style adapter.
Having a wireless network eliminates the need to string unsightly cables all around the house, but it can also create a security risk. Wireless networks are often configured by default to allow access to any computer that attempts to connect. So an Evil Hacker driving by with a laptop (or even your neighbor) might be able to tap into your Internet connection or poke around your hard disk.
Fortunately, wireless security encryption is easy to set up. See my article Wireless Security for step-by-step instructions.

Network Configuration
Whether the network signals travel through wires or through the air, network resources must still be shared so that other computers can access them. If you are running Windows XP or MacOS X, all you have to do is connect your computers and high-speed modem to the router, and Internet connection sharing should just work like magic. If not, restart the cable modem, router, and the computers (in that order) and see if that does the trick. If you can’t access the Internet from one or more computers on the network, consult the manual that came with your router.

One nice side benefit of having a router is that they have firewalls built in to the hardware. Firewalls protect you by hiding your computers from network attacks, but still allow you to surf the web and handle email. So after installing a router, you can turn OFF the Windows firewall and any other software-based firewalls you may have running.

Sharing Files and Printers
Sharing files and printers on a Windows network is also pretty painless. To share a printer, go into the Printers section of the Control Panel, right-click the icon for the printer that needs to be shared, and choose Sharing from the resulting menu. By assigning a name to the shared printer, the owner allows other computers on the network to access the printer by browsing using their Network Neighborhood (or My Network Places) icons. Access can be restricted to only some computers or users through the use of the Security or Permissions options on the Sharing screen.

The same concept applies for shared file and folders on a network. For example, if you want to share a collection of MP3 files on a home network, just browse to the folder using the My Computer icon, right-click the folder name and choose Sharing. After assigning a name to the shared resource and setting Permissions other computers on the network can access that resource via Network Neighborhood or My Network Places.

BOB RANKIN… is a tech writer and computer programmer who enjoys exploring the Internet and sharing the fruit of his experience with others. His work has appeared in ComputerWorld, NetGuide, and NY Newsday. Bob is publisher of the Internet TOURBUS newsletter, author of several computer books, and creator of the http://LowfatLinux.com website. Visit Bob Rankin’s website for more helpful articles and free tech support.

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