Making networking work

Why would you want to set up a network in your home or small business? Well, maybe you wouldn’t. Do you have more than one computer? Do you connect to the Internet? If so, here are some reasons for you.

Why would you want to set up a network in your home or small business? Well, maybe you wouldn’t. Do you have more than one computer? Do you connect to the Internet? If so, I have reasons for you.

If you connect to the Internet and you’re concerned that Web traffic can flow both ways, you need a firewall to help you control what kind of content comes back onto your machines from the Web. There are software-based firewalls including one that is built into Windows XP Pro. You might want to look into those, but in my experience, nothing beats a hardware firewall. That is, if you have a router between your Internet connection and your computers, all the bad guys on the Internet can see is that router. Bingo, instant firewall.

And there is another reason to be glad that you set up a network. You’ll be able to share files, printers and Internet connections among your computers. That means you can back up each computer’s important files to another machine where you have a CD burner, letting you create a disk with everyone’s data that can be stored in a safe place away from your home. You will be surprised how useful it is to be able to access other computers from wherever you happen to be logged in. You can share one central printer rather than buying several. You can look up phone numbers from a common address book, or use one computer’s hard drive to store music files that you can play from any location in the building.

My wife and I work from home and both update the same report files for our clients numerous times throughout the day. I can’t imagine having to go to her office and asking to use her computer to update the files that reside on her hard drive. By working over the network, she doesn’t even realize that I’ve updated her files until she sees new information.

So, how do you create a network in your home? First, if you have a high-speed Internet connection like cable, DSL, or a T1 line, you’ll want to run the connection out of your modem into a router that will serve as the connection point for all of your computers. That way you can use the fast connection anywhere you work. If you use dial-up and want to continue to use a phone jack near each workstation, you can do that. You’ll still need the router to connect the computers.

The router will need some information about your system in order to activate your network. Some of this is the same information that your ISP gave you to help you get online. Some simple but highly powerful routers, such as Emergecore’s IT in a Box, use auto-detect addressing and keep you from having to gather and decipher so much information. Once you connect your first computer to one of these modern routers with a network cable, it allows you to set up security and wireless connections on what looks like a Web page in your familiar Internet browser.

Wireless is an important component of most home and small business networks these days because people don’t want to go through the hassle and expense of running network cables all over the place. You’ve probably seen these cables that attach to computers with what look like overweight phone jacks running out of ceilings and walls and across floors everywhere you go in the last few years.

Wireless connections get rid of those wires and send your data through the air using radio signals. The reason that security is such a big issue for wireless connections is that anyone else with a wireless card in their computer, like your neighbor or a passerby with a laptop, can access your network unless you take steps to limit outside use. Your router will let you use encryption that generates a string of numbers and letters that you copy to each of your computers. After that, your data will only be seen by your computers.

If you don’t want to use wireless but don’t want wires cluttering your space, there is another solution. It’s easy to run the network over your power lines. I like a product by Phonex Broadband called NeverWire 14. You need at least two of the small units. One plugs into the router and then into any wall power outlet. The other (and any more units you want to add) plug into the wall and then into your computer. This worked great and took only three minutes to set up, including adding a security layer to the installation. I used it for an old laptop that is slow but still fine for Web surfing and streaming music from other network computers. Now I can plug the laptop and the NeverWire into any wall socket in the house or out on the back deck and I’m connected to the Internet and to my network.

Networking is imperative for businesses but it is a wonderful addition to your home computing experience. Even if you decide to get a little help setting it up, you’ll find the network will aid your productivity make computing more fun. Soon, you won’t know how you lived without it.

Alan Thornton owns Decatur Computer Help, an on site technical support business in the Atlanta, GA area. Write him at [email protected]

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