Setting up a home network used to be about as much fun as going to the dentist. Thanks to the complex patchwork of cables and arcane settings that had to be fiddled with, you really did need to be something like a rocket scientistor at least a seasoned network administratorto link up all your PCs. Nowadays, thankfully, Windows XP has made things a whole lot easier, especially when it comes to the main reason most people need a network: sharing an Internet connection and one printer among multiple PCs. As an added bonus, a network lets you access files from any computer connected to it, quickly shuttling information back and forth without leaving your chair .
This chapter explains how to connect your PCs on a network that's wired, wireless, or a mix. You'll learn how to choose the right network for your needs, buy the right equipment, hook everything up, set up Windows to play nicely with your new toys, and keep it all securely password-protected.
You'll also get a quick course in how to operate your network, including copying files between different PCs, sharing printers and folders, and creating shortcuts for accessing your data more quickly. (If you're not looking for anything fancy, you might want to head straight to the "Networking Two PCs" section on Section 14.10, which gives you a quick course in creating a cheap, on-the-fly network between two PCs, using whatever you happen to have in your laptop bag. MacGyver would be proud.)
Note: This chapter gives you everything you need to get started setting up a home network, but if you're determined to get the most out of all the PCs on your network, and you want to do things like play music on your stereo, mix in a Mac or two, and add backup storage, check out Home Networking: The Missing Manual .