Connecting PCs to Apple's Wireless Airport
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Establishing a connection with the ThinkPad
Here's where I crossed my fingers and held my breath. The green activity light on the WaveLAN card was blinking steadily, so I figured that I was at least in the game. I opened a browser window and logged on to the O'Reilly Network. Bingo! The page appeared. Just to make sure I wasn't displaying a cached page, I went to a distant corner of O'Reilly that I rarely visit. Within seconds the page loaded. I had established a wireless connection to the Internet with my ThinkPad.
Figure 3. WaveMANAGER provides many different views of your network activity.
Just to see what was actually going on, I opened the WaveMANAGER IEEE Client application that came with the WaveLAN card (Start: Programs: WaveLAN: WaveMANAGER). Unlike the Airport application that shows you only the very basic connection information, the WaveMANAGER provides you with a variety of displays to help you examine every aspect of your connection. It's fun at first, but then I found myself relying only on the basic "good connection/bad connection" display to monitor the strength of the WaveLAN signal.
Figure 4. Ultimately, I stuck with the simple view.
Bumps and bruises
The joy of Apple's Airport for Mac users is that the hardware and software are beautifully integrated, and it's easy to switch back and forth from hardwire Ethernet to wireless Airport. You don't need to restart or fiddle with numerous dialog boxes -- especially if you use Location Manager to change your settings.
I had more difficulty switching the PC to the WaveLAN connection, and it always seemed to require a restart. The good news is, once I got a few reboots under my belt, I became proficient at making the reconfigurations quickly. Worst-case scenarios involved the PC hanging during the boot, then restarting in Safe mode, then restarting again for wireless browsing. Fortunately, this was the rarer experience.
PC-practical or just play?
If I were configuring a serious wireless network for PCs only, I most likely wouldn't go the Airport/WaveLAN route. WaveLAN markets an excellent transmitter that certainly will get the job done -- albeit at a higher price than the Airport solution.
On the other hand, I'm pleased to learn that the IEEE 802.11 standard is really a standard that can transcend platform xenophobia. And I'm further encouraged to know that I can roam into an Airport network with my ThinkPad and log on to the Internet (much to the chagrin of iBook-toting Mac fanatics).
The ThinkPad/PowerBook tandem gives me a tremendous amount of power and portability -- and for a reasonable price (notebooks not included!). Airport cards are $99, and I found the WaveLAN card for $169: a total of $268 for the set-up.
Basically, I can go anywhere that has an open phone jack and establish a wireless network within minutes. This capability transcends "just playing" and brings me one step closer to the better world I've dreamed of for years ... where I can choose the best client machine for the job, regardless of platform.
If you've played with Airport or a PC equivalent, drop by the Wireless Forum and share your experiences.
Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.
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