How are networks useful?
You may have multiple computers in your home, but not know much about the benefits of making them communicate with each other. When you hook two or more computers together and make them able to communicate with each other, you've created a network. Networks enable computers to exchange files, share access to the same printer, and do many other time-saving tasks.
I'm not really sure what this whole networking thing is and why I might need it.
When it comes to communication, computers don't have it as easy as people do. Computers communicate through data transfer, not voice, so there must be something for the data to travel on or else the computers are clueless. The term networking refers to physically connecting two or more computers together with a specific kind of cable, then setting those computers up so they can exchange information. The users at each computer will be able to move files back and forth from one computer to the other, open programs on the other computer, and other tasks that one computer cannot do by itself.
To make an analogy, networked computers are like you and a friend talking on the phone; you can communicate information to each other much faster and more easily than sending letters back and forth. Compare this to floppy disks, which are like letters; letters (floppy disks) have a limited size and transmit information relatively slowly, while the phone (network) sends information much faster, the information can be of an indeterminate size, and the recipient of thephone call can respond immediately to the information appropriately. This additional speed and convenience is the key benefit of networking.
Okay, if it's like computers talking to each other, what do computers talk about? What does it mean to me?
Although there are many reasons to set up a network, the most compelling have to do with exchanging information. Most people who've used computers for a while are familiar with copying a file onto a floppy disk, then taking it to another computer for viewing (a.k.a. sneakernet). If the file won't fit on a floppy disk, however, you're up a creek. Network connections can transfer files of any size, let you use the same printer with more than one computer, run programs directly off another computer, and so forth. The things networks can do are as varied as the people who use them.
Yeah, I'd like to do one of those things, but am I better off leaving well enough alone?
While there may be things in this world that exist in the "upper reaches" of intellectual pursuit, networking is not one of them. I think that anyone with a Macintosh can understand how to set up and maintain a network without a whole lot of fuss. While there certainly is some new stuff to learn, you're unlikely to forget it once you've done it with your own hands. Remember, the key word here is "fun!" Or, at least, the key word is not "pain."
How much time and money am I looking at investing into this?
Buying network equipment is like buying almost any other technology; you can spend as much as you want to. If you've got $10,000 just lying around, a networking company will try to come up with a convincing way to liberate you of it. Luckily, I don't cover materials anywhere near that expensive; my first network cost about $50 and connected three computers together. How much the final bill will be for you depends on how much you need to do, but it's unlikely that an average person will need to spend more than $200 for a small-scale (four or five computer) network. As far as time goes, you'll need to set aside an hour or so to do some reading, whatever time it takes to mail order or purchase the parts, and maybe another hour for setup (probably not that much, actually, but it always helps to give yourself some extra time, just in case).
That's a lot of information to swallow. What do I do first?
If you're not sure about networking yet, watch your computing habits for a few days. Do you transfer a lot of files from one computer to another? Do you have to move your printer from one Mac to another on a regular basis? If you want to take care of those problems (or if one of other aforementioned reasons appeals to you), you should probably give networking a try. If you decide to, I suggest checking out more of the conceptual pages and maybe one of the setup instruction pages.
Have more questions?
Problem still not solved? Questions linger? If so, please send mail and I'll do my best to help out. I try to answer all mail with 24 hours, although it can take longer if the answer requires some research.
Contents of Three Macs & a Printer are ©1996-1999 Matthew Glidden (except for the bits that aren't).
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[This page was last updated on 3/6/99; 5:43:55 PM.]