The Wireless Networking Starter Kit
Book Review

The Wireless Networking Starter Kit
Adam Engst and Glenn Fleishman

Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-321-17408-9
US $29.95
CA $46.95
302 pages not including index

The Wireless Networking Starter Kit is subtitled the practical guide to W-Fi networks for Windows and Macintosh, and this book by veteran writers Adam Engst and Glenn Fleishman is a complete success. It is full of real world “how to” information on how to understand, design, configure, troubleshoot, and use, a wireless network.

Engst penned the enormously successful Internet Starter Kit, and publishes the very popular TidBITS newsletter. Glenn Fleishman has co-written Real World Adobe GoLive, and has written for the New York Times. Their respective resumes set high expectations, and The Wireless Networking Starter Kit meets them all.

While hard-core Macintosh users may feel slighted that the book’s subtitle leads off with Windows, Engst and Fleishmann gives Macintoshes their full attention in each chapter. This book, like all good Wi-Fi/802.11b networking books, is fully platform-agnostic.

One thing that distinguishes the Wireless Networking Starter Kit (WNSK) from some other Wi-Fi books is that the authors spend a fair number of pages early on discussing the basics of networking, both wired and wireless. This is a good tactic, as many readers are using the ease of Wi-Fi/Airport to make their first forays into what can be an esoteric and confusing networking world. Having a grounding in the basics will ease the potential frustration that comes from not really understanding how networking works when you first plunge into the deep end of the 802.11b swimming pool.

Chapter 3, How Wireless Works, is less detailed than other books but enough detail is provided for the reader to understand the essential concepts. I found the best tidbit to be that airborne water particles can absorb or deflect radio waves in the 802.11b frequency band, something I had not read in more technical discussions.

Chapter 4, Connecting Your Computer, leads the reader through the “how do I set up my network settings” morass. Plenty of screenshots are used to show how OS 9 and OS X Macs, and Win 98/XP machines are configured. I’ve found that the help provided by this type of graphic hand-holding is the key for most people, as some understand the hardware concepts of networking, but cannot wade through the computer jargon to know what number goes in what dialog box! When you get through the relevant part of this chapter, your computer should be ready to go.

I found it refreshing that the authors heavily emphasize planning before doing when a wireless network is first installed. For me, a long-time advocate of the “just start plugging stuff in” approach to network design, this is a novel concept. If I had taken the time to follow Engst’s and Fleishmann’s advice, my own early forays into networking would have been much easier. Included in this chapter on network building is a good overview of various hardware devices such as print spoolers, switches vs. routers, and bridges.

For me, the best two chapters in WNSK are the discussions of wireless security, and how to actually use wireless networking in the big, wide real world of airports, coffee houses, and offices. The security chapter pulls no punches about the pros and (mostly) cons of the wireless WEP security protocol, but the authors don’t foment panic by discussing what level of security is appropriate for what kind of user. Various techniques such as SSL, VPN, SSH, are covered in enough detail to show the user that reasonable wireless security can be obtained with a modicum of effort.

Taking It on the Road was a great read. I found the chapter to be a great resource listing both for-fee commercial networks, as well free networks. Hints on how to connect to many different providers are included, as well as how to resolve possible connection problems.

The section on long-distance wireless was interesting, but I do wonder how many novice to intermediate uses will use WNSK to build their own special antennas and establish long-distance wireless networks. More generally useful was the section on troubleshooting wireless networking problems.

The Wireless Networking Starter Kit is the best book so far for the average reader on Wi-Fi/AirPort/802.11b networking. If you want to cut the (Ethernet) cord, start by reading this book!

MacMice Rating: 5 out of 5

David Weeks

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