Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Complete guide to home networking

Complete guide to home networking

Macs have always been the easiest computers to network, so isn't it time you got down with the digital hub and got your devices talking to each other? Rob Buckley shows you how to do it with and without cables

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As John Donne almost wrote, “No Mac is an island”. Even if life without the Internet weren’t next to unimaginable, we all need to exchange information and files, share peripherals and Internet connections without constantly switching plugs or moving devices, and roam about the house without cables trailing all over the place.

Well, we do, anyway.

Being able to set up networks of computers makes all of this possible. Whether it’s with wires or without, networking is the key to an interconnected and easier lifestyle. It can be completely cost-free, accomplished in just a few seconds and save you time, stress and money.

You’d be entitled to think that networking is hard and the realm of geeks. To a certain extent you’d be right. But home networks are a whole simpler. Apple and other vendors have gone out of their way to make it as easy as possible for you, and once you’ve started, you’ll soon find everything becomes a breeze.

Macs in particular are easy to network together and we’re going to show you how. We’re going to look at the equipment you’ll need (maybe none at all), the ways you can do it, what software you might need that can enhance your life, and what devices can be networked – either with help or without. If that’s not enough, we’ll show you how to get yourself networked when you’re away from home, whether that’s at a hotspot, in a hotel, a friend’s house or using a mobile phone.

GETTING STARTED
First off with any network is planning. It’s very easy to make things very complicated and very expensive if you don’t put in at least a little preparation time. So first ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve: are you simply trying to get all your Macs to communicate with each other and share files; do you want to share peripherals over the network as well; do you want to share a broadband connection?

That’s a few things to think about. What’s the main consideration? Money. The more you network and the more advanced your networking needs, the more it’s going to cost. So try not to be too ambitious initially. But if you try to spend too little right now, you could end up spending a lot more in the long run, so keep one eye on the future while you’re planning.

First off, take stock of your Macs. What networking capabilities do they have? Virtually every Mac made in the last eight years has Ethernet (wired) networking capabilities built in so you might well be blessed with instant networkability for all your Macs. Most Macs have also had FireWire built-in and a little known fact about FireWire is that it can be used by OS X 10.3 and later for networking just like Ethernet.

Wireless networking, on the other hand, has only been included as standard in Macs in the last year or so and only in certain Macs. If you have older machines, you’ll probably have to look at buying AirPort Extreme wireless networking cards for £50 or so. A further thorny problem is that Apple no longer sells the older AirPort cards: if you have an AirPort-only Mac and never bought the card, you’ll have to start scouting around the back of iCreate and eBay to get into wireless networking, although PowerMac users may be able to buy third-party PCI cards.

Very old Macs might well have neither Ethernet or AirPort built in and certainly won’t have FireWire: instead, they used something called LocalTalk for networking. This is now obsolete. As are those Macs. You know what we’re saying: it’s Mac mini time.

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