Now let's consider another peripheral option to supplement your existing system ”one that doesn't use USB or Firewire: Apple's Airport.
In the past, when you wanted to network a computer, you had to run a wire from one to the other or to a hub (a central connecting point). If you've ever tried to do this in a home or office environment, though, you have the problem of wrapping messy wires around walls, furniture, under carpets, and so on. No doubt you have almost tripped over a stray networking cable.
Apple's AirPort wireless-network system is designed to get around that limitation. You don't have to fiddle with cables or complex setups. And you can (depending on your surroundings) be up to 150 feet from another AirPort-equipped computer or the AirPort Base Station and still get undiminished performance.
Here's an overview of AirPort products and features:
AirPort Interface ” If you have a Mac that includes AirPort capability, you just need to install a little credit card “ sized module, an AirPort card, and then set up the software to make it run. AirPort software is already installed with your operating system.
Just launch the AirPort Setup Assistant and choose your wireless networking options. You can even set up the Network panel of Mac OS X's System Preferences application to put a little status icon in the menu bar, so you can turn AirPort on and off and log into a network. After you're hooked up, you can connect to any other Mac OS computer that has AirPort installed (up to 10 computers without degrading performance). Or you can connect directly to the next product I'll tell you about, the AirPort Base Station.
AirPort Base Station ” This product, which looks like something out of a science fiction movie (see Figure 7.4) forms the hub or central point of an AirPort wireless network. It has a built-in 56K modem and two 10BASE-T Ethernet ports. You can use it to share an Internet connection across an AirPort network, a regular Ethernet network (using cables), cable modems, or DSL modems.
Figure 7.4. This is version 2.0 of the AirPort Base Station, used as the central connection point of your wireless network.
When hooked up, your AirPort wireless network can be used to connect computers within your home or office or in a classroom. Because it's wireless, you don't even have to be inside a building to connect. As long as you're in range of another AirPort-equipped computer or the AirPort Base Station, you can connect as efficiently as if you were connected with old-fashioned cables.
Cross-Platform Standard ” The AirPort wireless networking system uses an international standard, 802.11b, also known as Wi-Fi, which is supported by Mac and Windows computers. What that means is that you can connect to a wireless network powered by products from other companies, such as Asante, Proxim, and even the PC maker, Compaq, and those other computers with 802.11b capability can connect to an AirPort Base Station.
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You aren't even limited to an Apple AirPort Base Station as the central connection point. The makers of network equipment all have variations on the Wi-Fi theme, some with four or eight plugs, so you can use them for a larger wired network. Just check out the possibilities with your favorite Mac dealer .