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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.

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