Connecting PCs to Apple's Wireless Airport

by Derrick Story

In recent years, Apple Computer has moved away from its strange fixation on proprietary hardware/software into the world of standardized components. The once funky monitor jack on legacy Macs has been replaced by the common VGA plug, and even the finicky ADB outlet for mice and keyboards is now a hot-swappable USB port.

While I was researching Apple's Airport wireless protocol for my home network, I was delighted to read that the Lucent-developed system was IEEE 802.11 compliant. Yes, yet another standard. In the first article of this series, Affordable Wireless LAN Using Airport, I outlined how to set up an Airport network for Macs. In this article, I'll explore the possibility of adding a Windows PC to the clan.

Choosing the right PC card

I figured that if I wanted half a chance to make this thing work, I'd have to choose the right network card for my Windows 98 ThinkPad. The Apple cards are the "silver" variety of the Lucent offerings, so I settled on the "WaveLAN" Turbo 11 MB Silver card for my PC. It's a clever little gizmo that slides into your PC slot with the rectangular antenna protruding outside the computer. The antenna has a green activity indicator that flashes when the card is in communication with another source.

I simply inserted the card in the PC slot, put the bundled CD in the drive, and proceeded to install the drivers. After donating the required pound of flesh for having the audacity to actually try to add another hardware device to my PC, I successfully rebooted and was ready to move on to the next step.

Network configuration

Most likely you're better versed than I in configuring the network settings for a PC, so I'll touch only on the highlights and won't bore you with the common details. My first stop was the Network Control Panel where I scrolled down to the "WaveLAN/IEEE PC Card (5 volt)" option and selected it. I clicked the "Properties" button and was presented with a screen for the "Basic" tab.

Figure 1. Type ANY in the Network Name field to connect to any compatible wireless network.

Figure 1. Type "ANY" in the Network Name field to connect to any compatible wireless network.

Here I simply entered "ANY" (uppercase is important) in the "WaveLAN Network Name" field, and the name of my Airport base station in the "Station Name" field. This is an important step, because by entering "ANY," the WaveLAN card will look for any compatible transmissions and try to connect. It's a great feature.

I didn't have to worry about any of the other settings because the defaults were the best choices anyway. I closed the "Properties" dialog box, double-checked that all my personal information was correct in the "Identification" field (such as computer name, etc), then closed the Control Panel and restarted.

The Airport base station

I chose my Apple PowerBook to serve as the software base station for this test. Since I can only use one notebook at a time, I figured this would be a handy configuration for work or on the road too -- letting the PowerBook beam a wireless transmission while I roam the office with the ThinkPad.

If you haven't read my previous article, I'll mention again that you have an option under Airport 1.2 or later to configure any Mac with an Airport card to serve as a "Software Base Station." This saves you the $299 investment for the cute little Hardware Base Station and is a particularly handy option for setting up a wireless network on the fly. This is how I configured the PowerBook to serve as a software base station.

  • Establish an Internet connection. In this case I dialed-up with the internal 56k modem.
  • Open the Airport application and hit the "Turn Airport On" button.
  • Hit the "Software Base Station" button in the lower left corner of the window. That opens a new dialog box.
  • Give the base station a name. I chose "PowerBook Station." Then click the Start button.
Figure 2. Apple's Software Base Station dialogue box.

Figure 2. Apple's Software Base Station dialogue box.

I'm now broadcasting my Internet connection to anyone within 150 feet of the PowerBook. I can also browse with the PowerBook while serving the connection to others, as well as check my e-mail and use Instant Messaging.

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