The Book of Wireless, 2nd Edition

On February 29, 2008, in Book Review, by David Weeks

The Book of Wireless, 2nd Edition
A Painless Guide to Wi-Fi and Broadband Wireless
by John Ross

Nostarch Press
http://nostarch.com
January 2008, 336 pp.
ISBN-10: 1-59327-169-7
US $29.95

According to the back cover, John Ross’ The Book of Wireless, 2nd Edition is targeted at readers who want a broad overview of the whys, wherefores, and hows of wireless networking. That’s a big order to fill in 336 pages, including table of contents and index.

Here’s a brief list of topics Ross covers in The Book of Wireless (BoW2 from hereon):

* Select and configure hardware and software for your Wi-Fi network and configure access points to minimize interference
* Secure your network using WPA encryption or a virtual private network (VPN)
* Discover open networks and maintain your privacy while surfing in public
* Use VoIP over a wireless connection to talk on the phone for next to nothing
* Evaluate wireless data services based on cost, speed, and coverage
* Extend your network to give your neighbors free wireless Internet access

Worthy topics all, especially the last (unless you’re an ISP)!

There’s plenty of good stuff in BoW2. Unfortunately, many of the best nuggets are lost among dry technical detail that is of little concern to those readers who want to actually -do- one of the things listed. Ross commits one of my instructional book pet peeves: spending way too much time on networking theory that helps the readers not one bit.

If I had a nickel for each time I’ve had to skip past an explanation of the ISO OSI model; (I’ll spare you the expanded version of the acronym) that details the various networking protocol layers, I’d be able to buy a new iPod Shuffle. This information, while perhaps valuable for a budding network engineer, just doesn’t make any difference for non-technical readers who just want to DO something they don’t know how to do.

So, skip past much of Chapter One, “Introduction to Networking.” What about Chapter 2, “How Wi-Fi Works?” Chapter 2 is more of the same. Ross fills the chapter with charts: one chart lists the frequencies of wireless channel assignments in the US, Israel, China, Japan, and EMEA. EMEA…? I thought my Rand McNally was up to date, but I couldn’t find EMEA on any map. If you read the fine print, you’ll learn that EMEA means “Europe, Middle East, and Africa.”

If you can stay with it, the later chapters have some useful information, especially on antenna configuration. Ross’s Chapter 12 discussion of Wi Fi security and packet sniffing was quite good; it was useful information. But much of BoW2′s nuts and bolts setup information is screenshots of Windows, Macintosh, or Linux setup applications. As a Macintosh reader and reviewer, I was disappointed. Chapter 8, “Wi-Fi for Mac,” did not teach me much that a thirty-minute perusal of Apple help files wouldn’t provide.

The treatment of VPNs (Virtual Private Networking) was a good overview, but it barely scratched the surface, especially for Macintosh users.

Conclusion. Author Ross has a fine command of Wi-Fi’s theoretical networking details. His writing style is clear, if a bit humorless. But Ross lost me early on when the practical, problem solving information showed up late to the party. Macintosh users looking for practical Wi-Fi help should look elsewhere.

MyMac rating 2.5 out of 5

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