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Flying High with AirPort

by Derrick Story

Editor's Note -- Back in November 2001 Jim Dearien, an airline pilot by trade, began his quest to set up an 802.11b home network that would support his existing PCs, plus a new Mac he had his eye on. Jim had never used Macs before, and by his own admission, wasn't that proficient on PCs either.

As he worked through his project, Jim sent me email with a few comments and a couple of questions pertaining to an article I had written. We continued to stay in touch. Once he achieved connectivity, I asked him to write up his story because I believed it would be helpful to others trying to configure mixed-platform wireless networks at home. Plus, Jim cites some excellent customer service by Apple store employees and AppleCare service reps.

If you're considering setting up a wireless network with both Macs and PCs, make sure you read AirPort Admin Utility for Windows. Don't forget to check out the discussion forum for mixed networks. I also recommend Using AirPort With Mac OS X.

So, without further ado, in his own words, here's Jim telling you his story.

The Convergence of Seemingly Unrelated Events

Once upon a time I had a great setup for connecting to the Internet ... well, sort of. I had AT&T's wireless telephone/Internet. The wireless component was the signal from/to the house and was sent/received by a rectangular box on my roof. The Internet part of this equation worked great; the phone connectivity, however, left a lot to be desired. Others must have had problems too, because in the fall of 2001 we were notified that AT&T was shutting down this business, and we had to find another Internet provider.

I wasn't really brokenhearted, but one really nice part of the AT&T system was that I could connect up to five computers at the same time with no degradation in signal. This was a feature I definitely wanted in my new configuration ... whatever that was going to be.

As a backdrop to this whole networking situation, I had begun noticing Apple's ads about creating DVDs with iMovie. For years I'd been taping my daughter's sporting events, and the thought of putting some of this content on DVD was very appealing.

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Only problem was, I didn't have a Mac. At home I was using a Gateway desktop, a Dell laptop, and an HP laptop. My youngest daughter had always wanted a Mac; in large part this was because her school had Apples in their computer lab. I had always heard pretty good things about Apples, but I didn't know enough about computers to judge if Macs were as viable as their PC counterparts or not. I hate to admit it, but it was less than two years ago that I finally discovered the ease of using the right-click button on a mouse.

Well, all of these seemingly unrelated factors came together in the fall of 2001. And to make matters more interesting, Apple opened up one of its retail stores at a new mall less than two miles from my house.

Testing the Water

I finally decided that I'd give Apple a try if I could do it slowly. I knew about the AirPort hub, and hoped it would enable me to connect more than one computer to my network. Plus going 802.11 would save me the effort of getting the house wired with CAT5 wire. I liked that.

In October 2001 I approached the Apple store with this challenge: Can I attach a DSL line to the AirPort hub and hard wire it to a PC (my Gateway), then wirelessly connect it to my laptops (HP and Dell), and have all computers online at the same time?

If so, I was willing to purchase an iBook and an AirPort hub. Furthermore, once we got used to the Mac, I would be back in the spring of 2002 to get the DVD-producing machine: the G4 dual processor (at least this is what I thought at the time, before the new iMac was released).

Well, I was amazed at the patience of the Apple store guys, especially one Doug Matzke. Were it not for the tireless efforts of Doug, I don't know if I could have made it through the entire process.

While I was contemplating all of this, I flew a few trips with a co-pilot who was an avid Mac fan. Mike Northrip and I had a layover in downtown Chicago. Mike had recently visited the CompUSA store there, and he introduced me to Tony Marengo, the Apple rep at the store. Tony felt like my problem was very solvable. In fact, it was Tony that gave me the link to the articles by Derrick Story concerning mixing Macs and PCs on a wireless network.

Trial and Error Pays Off ... Eventually

Between flying trips, sending emails, spending hours at the Apple store, and generally beating my head against the wall, we finally succeeded in getting my HP PC to connect to the Apple store server. I had originally tried to use a Linksys PCMCIA card -- it was cheaper and available -- but it didn't do the trick. I ordered an ORiNOCO Gold card from an Internet site, and it provided the proper protocol to make the magic work.

As a result, I had enough confidence to try the switch to Apple's system. Since Christmas was near (this was happening in November 2001), I decided I could complete my family gift shopping in the Apple store. I bought an iBook, AirPort, and 2 iPods -- one for each of my daughters. I was a very happy guy, and the Apple store guys were equally happy that I would not be spending more time than money in their new store.

Well, then the long wait till Christmas. Finally the day arrived and we unwrapped the computer and other goodies. At the time, the only ISP we had was AOL (via dialup). Since Mac OS X was advertised as working with AOL, I figured we could get things up and running right away.

With the help of AppleCare, we were able to configure the AirPort Base Station for dialup, and just like that we wirelessly connected the iBook. Unfortunately at this time, we weren't able to get any of the other computers on the network.

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I'm not sure if it was an Apple, AOL, or AirPort thing, but I wasn't that bothered because our new DSL line was scheduled to be installed in a few weeks. We'd have to reconfigure our AirPort network then anyway.

(The final installation of the DSL is a whole other story in itself, as it wasn't until late February before we were able to get things going again.)

I got the AirPort set up for DSL, again with the help of the AppleCare folks, and began using the iBook. I tried using my HP, but for some reason it didn't work. I began my regular treks to the Apple store for help. It seemed as if the problem had to do with the WEP settings, and once that was taken care of, I was able to connect at home with the iBook and the HP laptop (via the ORiNOCO Gold PCMCIA card).

Then another setback. I took my iBook on the road and was using the dialup services at the hotel. When I returned from my trip, I was unable to connect to the AirPort. Again, off to the Apple store. For some reason, we were not able to connect to their server either. Everyone was a little saddened because things had gone so well.

Well, Mr. Matzke came to the rescue. Doug was interested in making the thing work because he was going to do the same thing at his house. His wife had a PC, and he was partial to Macs. No need to have to completely change to new hardware if you don't have to. Besides, it's very expensive. I really think that once the word gets out, people will be more willing to "try" the Mac, and once they do, voila!

Doug came over to the house, imagine that, a house call by the Apple expert. I had just purchased one of the new iMacs, as I had promised initially. I was very excited that after the first of the year (2002), Apple made a less expensive machine that would produce the DVDs. What a great advertising program, too. (By the way: I had the new iMac setup from in the box and onto the network in less than 15 minutes. For a novice like me, that is OUTSTANDING!)

Well, Doug used the iMac to search the Apple knowledge base for the proper software to get things going. For anyone interested, it's the AirPort Admin Utility for PCs. Doug made a CD with the new software. We installed it on my laptop, the HP, and instantly connected to the network. We were both thrilled!

I got the Dell laptop and instantly it worked. Then we got the desktop to work through the AirPort WAN port. (Actually, it's the middle plug on the AirPort, so I don't remember if it was the WAN or the LAN, but it doesn't matter to me, cause it works.)

Flying High

We pilots have a forum where we talk about all kinds of things. I have alerted 10,000 pilots about my setup, and each week it seems there are more and more who are having problems with the Linksys wireless or some other (non AirPort) setup. I've persuaded a few of them to change to AirPort, and as a result they've been very grateful!

I am waiting for Apple (Mr. Jobs, actually) to start an advertising program to let the people know that you can operate Macs and PCs together. And that if you use AirPort hardware, it makes the process SO much easier.

Now I need to spend some time learning iMovie to get that first DVD cut. After all, volleyball begins in the fall, and I want to start making movies!

Derrick, thanks for your help as well. It was your article that first got us up and running on the Apple store server. Your instructions were great. However, this AirPort Admin Utility was a snap. So much so, even I was able to install it and make it work.

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