The Wireless Networking Starter Kit Second Edition
Book Review

The Wireless Networking Starter Kit Second Edition
Adam Engst and Glenn Fleishman

Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-321-22468-X
US $29.95 CA $49.95 533 pages including index

My short review of the Wireless Networking Starter Kit Second Edition is “it’s incredibly good; buy it.

If you want to read the long review, read on!

Whether you’re a Macintosh or Windows user, this is the best book for the average reader on how to use -and- understand wireless networking. Other books are equally good for telling you how to set up your computers for wireless, and some books provide good discussions of how wireless networking works, but the Wireless Networking Starter Kit Second Edition (WNSK 2 for short) provides a fine mixture of comprehensible technical explanations as well as  “plug this cable into this socket” setup help.

Just over a year ago, the authoring duo wrote the original WNSK, and it garnered good press, both on and other sites. But new standards, including 802.11g, and BlueTooth (not new, but finally available), new wireless security protocols, and the increased number of public WiFi hotspots, provided grist for the update mill. WNSK 2 is substantially larger and more comprehensive than WNSK 1.

What does WNSK 2 tell you that WNSK 1 didn’t? The Second Edition has sections on recent improvements in wireless security, including WAP. How to use BlueTooth peripherals, especially PDA’s and cell phones. Understanding and using external antennas for base stations. How to set up long-range wireless networks. Detailed explanations of wireless file sharing between Mac and PC’s. Information for using commercial WiFi hotspots and aggregators.

Being an owner of an older Titanium PowerBook (these models have poorer WiFi reception than iBooks and newer aluminum PowerBooks) I found the discussion about external base station antennas fascinating. The discussion about using 802.11b PC Cards to replace the poorly-performing internal Airport card will also be useful to PBook owners.

Many wireless newbies are befuddled by networking terminology, and end up purchasing the wrong hardware, or improperly set up existing gear. WNSK 2 has an outstanding section on networking basics, and a fine discussion of the ins and outs of bridges, hubs, switches, and routers. After reading Chapters 16 and 34, you’ll know when to buy a switch instead of a hub, and when to use a bridge when configuring your network. I’m no networking expert, and I usually get results by relentlessly pointing and clicking until the system works. The education in network basics I got from WNSK 2 will save me hours of troubleshooting, now that I know the difference between a bridge and a router.

Most WiFi users know about problems with WEP, the common (but flawed) security protocol for 802.11b/g networks. WNSK 2 covers the new WPA WiFi Protected Access) standard, so you’ll be ready to take advantage of WPA as soon as your hardware and software supports it. Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther) supports WPA out of the box, and a patch to provide WPA is available for Windows XP. Most newer 802.11g wireless access points are getting firmware updates to support WPA.

Thinking about subscribing to a commercial WiFi service? A great reason to buy WNSK 2 are the coupons for free trial usage of WayPort, Boingo, and FatPort, three major commercial WiFi access providers. As I write I’m in the middle of a free month of WayPort WiFi/wired broadband service, which saves me the usual dialup hassles at many of the hotels I frequent. Even if I don’t sign up after the trial expires, I’ll have saved over $50 in access fees.

Engst and Fleishman again hit the bulls-eye. The Wireless Networking Starter Kit Second Edition is the best all-around book for understanding and using 802. 11b/g wireless networks. It’s got the right mix of theory and practical advice, and some great free coupons, too! The only reason not to buy this book is that you’ll probably become the local WiFi geek, and all your frustrated friends will be calling you for help!

MyMac rating 5 out of 5

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