The tools

So what are the good network tools?

Since this is a fairly new section for this web site, we will begin by highlighting a few useful network tools below. Later, we will expand to include a gamut of quality and useful tools for you to consider.

But remember one thing. A network is only as good as you intend to pay for it and you must still implement techniques to keep yourself protected from the disadvantages of network access.

  1. For intranets, go for the Ethernet network. It is fast, reliable, available as a standard network option on nearly all computers and peripherals, and is so easy to connect with virtually any other digital device. All you need to make the network happen before your very eyes is to purchase an Ethernet cable from a computer store or have one custom-made from a local electronics store. Prices vary at different places depending on the length of the cable and the quality of the conducting wire and insulation to help stop unwanted electromagnetic noise disrupting the digital information from being transferred through the cable. One metre of cable usually starts at under A$10.
  2. Because not all digital devices have a large number of connection ports to allow communication with many different devices, you will need tools to share your communication cable. Consider a compact little network tool like Asante DSL/Cable Router for business and home use. It can connect up to five computers and a printer, and still have a connection for the Internet. It has 4 x 10/100 Ethernet Switch ports (i.e. will automatically switch or share a single communication cable depending on the needs of the digital device doing the communicating) and is Telstra ADSL Broadband and Optus Cable Ready for Internet use. It has won a swag of Awards for its simplicity, solid construction, and connection features for what is essentially a highly compact product with a reasonably attractive design.
  3. Sometimes networking PCs with Macs and vice versa can be a tricky situation. Fortunately Miramar Systems PC MACLAN makes it look easy. This software tool is able to communicate with Mac and PC systems on a LAN irrespective of the type of language protocols each system may use. Compatible with Windows 98/NT/2000/ME/XP and MacOS9/X.
  4. To minimise problems with network protocols, your choice of a computer could make a massive difference. Purchasing the latest Apple Macintosh computer with MacOSX version 10.2.4 gives you the flexibility to automatically connect to all types of networks and with different digital devices. A PC, however, will tend to work on specific Microsoft-friendly networks and may not have the ability to access a Macintosh network unless you buy extra software.
  5. Wireless network systems are now becoming the "in thing" for people with laptops who don't want the headache of connecting cables to their laptops and peripherals or to be restricted to one spot in order to access the information they want from a network.

    As we speak, there is a new network technology called Bluetooth which has the ability to connect peripherals to your computer without a cable. It works by transmitting and receiving electromagnetic energy in the radio wave region over short distances as a means of communicating instead of the usual standard cable. There is also another wireless technology called Extreme AirPort to help communicate with computers over much greater distances.

    But remember, if you want a secure network, avoid the wireless network technologies. People located within a certain range could pick up your transmissions and learn a lot about what you do. However, if security is not a major issue and you want something simple and quick to connect various types of digital devices, wireless networks are the perfect way to go. And if you have devices spread out over a large building, you may need a combination of wireless and cable networks to make everything work properly.

    If wireless networks are what you want, try to go for the latest computers with Bluetooth technology and Extreme AirPort built-in (e.g. the latest Apple PowerBooks).

    For older computers, consider NetComm Wireless LAN Access Point and Wireless LAN card. The LAN card is a credit-card sized device for plugging into your PCMCIA port of your laptop. It does nothing more than transmit and receive radio waves at a specific frequency. The guts of the system is really the LAN Access Point device. This is what processes the radio signals from various LAN cards connected to your digital devices in the room and allows all the devices to communicate with each other. The LAN Access Point is placed somewhere in a room so as to make it easy for all digital devices to communicate with it. If a digital device with one of these LAN cards is within range of the LAN Access Point and can make a wireless connection to it, you are automatically connected to the network. The LAN Access Point is the most expensive component at A$448. The LAN cards are priced at A$195 each. The only disadvantage in this product is the software setup: apparently the installation is easy but you need to be a bit of an expert in setting up the software and in moving the directional antennas on the LAN Access Point to make it work. But once it is setup, the wireless network is extremely simple to use and has good speed.

    The protocol used by this wireless network product is 802.11b (also called Wi-Fi). The speed is about 11Mbps within a 35 metre range. The further away the digital devices are from the LAN Access Point, the slower the speed, bottoming out to around 1Mbps at 100 metres. The product does not work with Macintosh and you will need a PC with Windows 98 or higher to operate. (1)

  6. A slightly cheaper wireless network product for A$299 is Billion's new 743GE Wireless Network. It has a range of 25 metres and comes with WAP, a four port Ethernet switch, router and ADSL modem. Built in firewall and the ability for parents to filter unwanted URLs are also standard features. And if you are prepared to pay a little extra (i.e. A$369), you will also get two wireless networking cards thrown in for good measure (well, hold on? doesn't the price tag of A$299 already include at least one wireless network card?). Apart from a slightly complicated interface for the average home user, this unit is relatively easy to install, low in price, and very reliable when in operation.
  7. Do you want a more secure, low-cost and simple cable network for the home or small business?

    There is available on the market an extremely powerful "full-blown" network in a box called NetGear DG834 DSL Modem Internet Gateway. For A$215, this is a powerful device. Some critics believe it could be an overkill for some households. But if you want something that does the job well with room to expand, you would be wise to check out this product for the price.

    The DG834 is for anyone who has a DSL Internet connection and want to share the connection with multiple PCs. What makes this product special is the ability to split the Net connection with up to 253 PCs while at the same time enable file sharing between those computers. And it can do it in the most user-friendly manner possible. There is also a built-in firewall protection plus filtering controls for administrators wanting to restrict PC users from accessing URLs. You will also get email reports of network usage if you are into that aspect.

    The box itself comes in a sleek design and certainly not the kind of thing you would normally see stacked up on the tech racks at the office. Instructions provided are extremely simple with animated wizards guiding you through the process of setting up your network.

    This product is suitable for all computers, including Macintosh and PCs running Windows 95 right up to XP and MacOS7 to X. If you have never tried networking computers before, this is the perfect product to start learning and you will get instant and powerful results. (2)

Can I share my Internet connection with my neighbours?

In the US, the ISP Speakeasy has launched a software program allowing people with Wi-Fi to share your broadband Internet connection (if you are so kind as to allow strangers to access it, naturally enough!). All billings are handled by Speakeasy.

All you have to do is set up an Internet account with Speakeasy; you handle all setup support and customer recruitment; you charge your neighbours anywhere between $20 and $50 for the service; and Speakeasy will credit their own account with half of that amount.

This system is particularly useful to people who know each other well within a certain distance of the wireless network hub. Otherwise any illegal activity among any of your recruited customers could result in your connection being suddenly suspended, or worse still, you may get visited by the police, ASIO or someone else.

However, for really low cost broadband Internet access for your neighbours within a range of say 400 metres, why not consider organising a wireless network in your own home and attach the antenna of the wireless network hub to your roof. Then let your neighbours within range know you can supply broadband connections at a fraction of the full cost (i.e. they pay you). All they have to do is purchase the transmitter and receiver card for their computers and they should have automatic access to the Internet 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Generally the more neighbours who can join your network, the lower the cost of the Internet connection for everyone concerned. And if you are really smart, you could make a small profit on the side too.