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Posted on: Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Get the right parts and a little advice

Four different methods for users to choose

Advertiser Staff and News Services

David Talisman of Monster Software checks on some of the connections behind his Apple G3 Macintosh computer at his residence.

Advertiser Library photo • June 1999

Installing computer networks was once comparable to surgery - it was something best left to the professionals, and you would never try it at home.

No longer. If you live in one of the 15 million American homes with more than one computer, you can enjoy the enhanced performance and cost-savings of a home computer network without spending a fortune or getting in over your head technologically. Honolulu computer instructor Gary Renzi is enthusiastic about the developments in wireless networking, which is a little more costly and complicated than the wired variety, not to a frightening level.

"Wireless technology is what I like to call see-through," said Renzi, who teaches at the Computer Training Academy. "All you need is the hardware."

Honolulu consultant Ken Goldstein thinks the layman will feel less flummoxed by the hard-wired approach.

"Most people aren’t going to do (wireless networking) because they don’t understand it," Goldstein said. "The trick is having the drivers all right and getting it to work together seamlessly."

However the computer user puts it together, home networks (also called LANs, or local area networks) enable multiple computers to share essential files, peripherals such as printers and a single Internet connection.

"If you can follow instructions, you can set up a computer network," said Erik Sherman, author of "Home Networking! I Didn’t Know You Could Do That." "You don’t have to be a computer genius."

Game enthusiasts love home networks because they can compete against each on multiplayer computer games from anywhere in the house.

"What you end up with is a system that’s greater then the sum of its parts," said Ryan Ashton, vice president with networking equipment maker Inari.

Networking equipment can now be purchased in kits with illustrated, step-by-step instructions written in plain English and plug-and-play components so in many cases you will never have to open the computer.

Costs generally run as low as $50 per computer and as high as $500, depending on the technology.

The basic steps in any home network installation entail connecting the hardware and configuring software settings for each connected computer.

In many cases, it’s not much more difficult than setting up a PC and printer, which together comprise a simple network.

Still, if that’s beyond what you’re comfortable with and you want the convenience of home networking, consult your local computer dealer for information on professional installation, which can run $350-$600 plus equipment depending on location.

Network setup instructions vary according to the type of network you’re installing and the particular computers you’re connecting.

While many companies sell home networking kits online, experts say it’s often best to buy them face-to-face from a knowledgeable dealer who will know what your computers need and, equally important, what the kits contain.

Some kits, for example, don’t include special Internet connection sharing software, while others might not have cables that are long enough.

There are differences between networking PCs and linking Macintosh computers and, not surprisingly, Honolulu Mac user Doug Frick likes the Apple approach.

"The feature I like best is that I'm able to switch networking interfaces, IP addresses, and connection protocols without rebooting," he said. "I find the Windows network control panel overly complicated."

Bryan Villados, who with Frick belongs to the Hawaii Macintosh Users Group, appreciates Windows’ built-in tool for troubleshooting difficulties connecting networked PCs to the Internet. Otherwise, however, he also prefers the Mac.

The primary advantage he cited: security. New Macs are delivered with all file-sharing utilities switched off (you have to switch them off in Windows machines), which leaves fewer networked Macs vulnerable to hackers.

"Having a computer connected to the Internet without any level of protection in place may not be an issue with many people," Villados said via e-mail. "However, current operating systems (OS) are rolling out with dozens of security holes that are being discovered on a daily basis. The Mac OS Classic platform holds a major advantage over Windows in this regard."

Renzi is certain that future editions of Windows will continue improvements in making networking simpler for the user. The industry has delayed delivery on promises of home appliances that can be networked with the computer, enabling remote-control and automation. Cisco Systems and 3Com, for example, recently postponed plans to ship a high-end home appliance that connects consumer electronic devices to the Internet.

"I don't think it’s long before Microsoft comes out with the operating system that makes home networking more viable and more useable," Renzi said. "And when it’s more useable, that's when the appliances will come out that take advantage of it."

John Yaukey of Gannett News Service and Advertiser staff writer Vicki Viotti contributed to this report.

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