Why Set Up a Network?

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The information covered in this article is provided by: Microsoft Press.

This article explains the benefits of setting up a home network.

This information is an excerpt from the This Wired Home: The Microsoft Guide to Home Networking Second Edition book, Chapter 1: "Why Set Up a Network?".

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Families used to fight over which TV program to watch or who would get the car on Saturday night. Now they struggle over who gets to use the phone lines. Your kids want to chat with their friends online, you want to do some research, and your spouse wants to sell some concert tickets on an online auction site. Your family might also argue over the color printer or who gets to use the Iomega Zip drive to store a large file.

With television, the kids can watch one set in one room while you enjoy your favorite program on another set in a different room. But when you have more than one computer in the house, the solution isn't quite as simple because only one person at a time can get on the Internet or play that great new game on CD-ROM.

You'll also learn how you can avoid these problems by networking--that is, connecting two or more computers to the same system. You'll also learn about other advantages of networking. For example, your family can play computer games together, you can help your children with their homework, and you can foster communication and a sense of family, even when family members are away from home.

Sharing an Internet Connection

If you have only one phone line and one Internet account, you know what it's like when several people in the house are competing for the same dial tone. Try to access the Internet while someone else is on the phone, and you won't be able to connect. Even if you have two phone lines, you still have a problem. Most Internet service providers (ISPs)--the companies through which you connect to the World Wide Web--let only one person per account log on at a time, regardless of the number of screen names or e-mail accounts you have. To add another user, you'd need to set up a second ISP account as well, and that would start to get expensive: two phone bills each month and two ISP charges.

NOTE: Sharing an Internet account is subject to the terms of the ISP agreement. You should check your member agreement before sharing an account.

When you connect your home computers to a network, everyone in the house can share a single phone line and a single ISP account. You can have everyone chatting online, browsing the Web, and even downloading software, all at the same time. Unfortunately, such sharing also has some drawbacks:
  • Browsing and downloading might be a little slower when someone else is connected. However, at least you're online, and you don't have to wait all night for the phone to be free.
The Buzz on ISPs

To connect to the Web, you need an ISP, whose phone number your modem dials to go online. Countless providers exist; some of the largest are America Online (AOL), AT&T Worldnet, CompuServe, and MSN.

Although many types of ISPs exist, they generally fall into two categories: those that require special software and those that don't. Some ISPs don't require special software because they use a Microsoft Windows feature called Dial-Up Networking. This feature allows you to dial up to connect to a network--in this case, the Internet. Other ISPs make you use their own special software and their own dial-up services. Once you're connected through these ISPs, however, you have full access to the Internet through their menus. A few other services let you choose whether to connect by using Windows Dial-Up Networking or by using their software.
  • Sharing an Internet connection might not work with some Internet providers. Some require their own special software and won't let you connect using the Windows Dial-Up Networking feature.
  • You might need to buy special software or hardware to let you share a phone line and an Internet account. The good news, however, is that the software is inexpensive and might even be free if you have the latest version of Windows.
NOTE: Microsoft Windows 98, Second Edition, Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition (Me), and Microsoft Windows 2000 all have modem-sharing features built in. With these programs, you don't have to buy any additional software or hardware to share a phone line and an Internet account.

Don't Worry if the Line Is Busy

Nearly all new computers come with built-in modems, so you'll probably have a separate modem for each computer in your home. But to avoid dueling over a dial tone, you can connect your home computers in a network and designate a modem on one of them to be shared--that is, used by family members on other computers connected to the network. If one modem is faster than the others, such as an ultra-fast cable modem, it makes sense to share the fastest connection.

Suppose your computer has the modem that's being shared. Here's what can happen. Another family member working on a computer connected to the network opens a Web browser or uses an e-mail program. The browser or e-mail program goes online using your modem. If your modem isn't connected to the Internet, it dials in and becomes connected. It's as though the other family member reached into your room and dialed the phone with your modem.

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Picture of two computers sharing a modem


If you're already using the shared modem, other family members on the network just share the ride. They don't have to dial in because the connection to the phone company is already made. When they go online, they won't hear a phone dialing; they just connect.

What if your computer isn't turned on? No problem. Other family members can still go online using their own modems, as long as the line is free.

Getting Your Money's Worth from Your ISP

Because of the way sharing works, a second or third person connecting to the Internet doesn't even have to log on to the ISP. The person wouldn't have to enter a user name or password and wouldn't have to wait until a connection is made. The browser or e-mail program just slips in line with others that are already connected.

As far as the ISP is concerned, you're using only one account, so you pay for only one account. If your ISP offers unlimited use, you don't have to worry. But if your ISP gives you only so many hours for free and charges for additional time, sharing is an even better idea. If two people are on at the same time for one hour, their use counts only as one hour, not two.

Getting the Most from Broadband

If you connect to the Internet through a DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable modem, sharing the connection with your entire family is a tremendous money-saver.

Typically, DSL and cable Internet service cost more than dialup accounts--sometimes twice as much. The modems used to connect to a DSL or cable ISP don't come cheap. Most computers come with an analog modem already installed, and you can purchase 56-KB analog modems for less than $50 these days; DSL and cable modems, on the other hand, can cost several hundred dollars. In fact, you usually have to lease or purchase the DSL or cable modem from your ISP to make certain it's compatible with their system.

Even if you could buy a compatible DSL or cable modem at your local store, you couldn't just plug it into a phone line or cable jack to connect it. Your system has to be set up to communicate with your DSL or cable ISP, often through a home visit by an ISP technician. So even if you have high-speed Internet access, chances are that not every computer in the house will have a DSL or cable modem attached to it and will be able to use the high-speed connection. That's a pity, because both DSL and cable Internet accounts are so fast--from 5 to 40 times faster than a traditional modem--they are perfect for sharing among more than one user.

With a network, you can share that expensive DSL or cable modem and that costly DSL or cable Internet account. Everyone on the network can access the high-speed account at the same time, with little or no decrease in performance. You don't need to lease or purchase a separate modem for each computer, and you won't need to pay your ISP to set up each computer in the house.

DSL and cable modems connect to a computer through a network Ethernet port, so they are already network-savvy. The ISP technician has to configure the computer attached to the modem to communicate over something called an IP (Internet Protocol) address. If you have the ISP connect their modem directly to the network, you'll have to pay a monthly charge for each IP address that they set up. By connecting the modem to a network yourself, as you'll learn how to do in this book, you can save these extra charges and make the high-speed account available to everyone.

The Bottom Line

The easiest way to share a phone line and modem is to get a free or inexpensive program and install it on your computer. With Windows 98, Second Edition, Windows Me, and Windows 2000, the software is built in.

Sharing Printers

Suppose you have a laser printer connected to your PC, but the kids have a color printer on theirs. If you weren't on a network and wanted to print in color, you'd have to take the following steps:
  1. Put the file on a disk.
  2. Take the disk to the kids' computer.
  3. Print the document on their machine--assuming, that is, that their computer has the program needed to print.
The other option would be to do this:
  1. Unplug the color printer from the kids' machine.
  2. Carry the printer over to your computer.
  3. Unplug your printer and plug in the kids' printer.
  4. Install the necessary printer driver on your computer if it's the first time you've used the kids' printer.
  5. Print the document.
  6. Reverse the procedure to return the printer.
There must be a better way!

When you've set up a network, anyone on the network can connect to any printer, even if the printer is attached to another computer. You don't need to transfer files or printers from computer to computer. These are some of the advantages of using printers on a network:
  • If you have only one printer, everyone on the network can use it.

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    Picture of two computers sharing a printer
  • If you have more than one printer, you can just pick the one you want to use.

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    Picture of multiple computers sharing multiple printers
When your computers are on a network, your kids can print their documents on your color printer just by following these simple steps:
  1. Select Print from the File menu.
  2. Choose the printer they want to use.
  3. Click OK.
If your printer is in use, the document just waits in line until the printer is free.

Putting the Printer Online

Normally, a printer is connected to a computer through its printer port. By connecting the printer to the network, however, everyone can access the printer through the network.

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Picture of two computers connected to one printer


What's the benefit of connecting a printer directly to the network? As long as the printer is turned on, anyone on the network can use it. When a printer is attached to a computer, that computer must be on as well.

Connecting a printer to the network also saves you from the potential problems that can occur when you use your computer's printer port for more than one device. In addition to a printer, you might have an Iomega Zip drive, scanner, and other hardware connected to the printer port, which is also called the parallel port. Usually, everything works fine. But if you try to use two devices at the same time, you're asking for trouble. If you were to print a document while accessing your Zip drive, for example, your system might freeze. By connecting the printer directly to the network, you avoid this problem by not having to attach it to the parallel port.

The Bottom Line

Networking can save you the expense of buying another printer and the trouble of shuffling disks and printers between computers. You can use any printer that is attached to a computer on the network, getting the most from your investment.

Sharing Files and Folders

If you have more than one computer in the house, sooner or later, you'll need to share files between them. Your spouse might be using your computer to write a letter, for instance, when you'd like to work on a document that you've saved on your hard disk.

If you're not on a network, here's what you have to do before you can begin working:
  1. Ask your spouse to stop working for a moment.
  2. Copy the file to a floppy disk--assuming it fits on one.
  3. Go to another computer in the house, and copy the file from the floppy disk.

Avoiding the Floppy Shuffle

When your computers are on a network, though, you can grant other network users permission to access files and folders located on your machine. If others have granted you access, you can get to files on their hard disks, too. You just access the files as though they were on your own system. You can copy or move a file from one system to another, and you can even delete a file. Not only do you avoid shuffling floppies, but you can also easily move files around that are too large to fit on a floppy.

Does this mean that all your personal files are available for everyone to read? Not at all. You can control who has access to your files and whether others can just read them or also change and delete them.

Making Files Easy to Find

Because files don't have to be moved from one machine to another, you can designate set locations for certain documents. For example, you can store all the household budget information on the computer in the family room, save investment information on the computer in the spare bedroom, and put miscellaneous files on the kids' machine.

When you need a certain type of document, you'll know exactly where to find it. And if you can't remember which computer the file is stored on, you can search for it on the network by using the handy Find command on the Start menu. (In Windows 2000, you use the Search command on the Start menu.)

Keeping Documents Current

"But it's no big deal to copy a file to a floppy," you might be thinking. Maybe not. But even if the inconvenience of copying the file doesn't bother you, you might end up with "version nightmare." Here's a scenario that might sound familiar.

You have your budget on the computer in the den and you want to work on it in the spare bedroom, so you copy it to a floppy and move it to the hard disk on the bedroom computer. You make some additions, a few changes, one or two deletions, and then save the budget on the bedroom computer's hard disk. As you're working, your spouse decides to make a few changes to the version of the file in the den. So now you have three versions of the budget: the one on the bedroom computer, the one on the floppy, and the one on the den computer. And of course none of them match.

When your computers are on a network, you can just access the computer in the den from any other computer in the house, making changes to the budget in its original location. If someone else tries to access the file while you're working on it, that person gets a message saying that the file is in use. Once you're done with the file, you can be sure that anyone who uses it after you will be working with the most recent version.

Working Together

Because networking allows you to share files, you can collaborate with other family members. After you make changes to the budget, for example, your spouse can review what you've done. You can take a look at your child's homework, suggest some improvements, and then let your child make the corrections before printing it out.

Most word processing programs help you collaborate by tracking revisions. Revision marks in the document show the text you think should be deleted, rather than actually deleting it. They can also indicate-with a color and formatting-text you've added. Figure 1-1 shows a document that's been edited with revision marks: changes are easy to see, and they can quickly be incorporated into the final document. You can also add a comment, a short note that doesn't appear on the screen but is indicated by a color or an abbreviation. To display the comment, you simply point to the color or the abbreviation, and the text appears in a small pop-up box.

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Picture of a document that has been edited with revision marks

Figure 1-1. Collaborating on a document on the network.

Safeguarding Important Documents

While you want only one working copy of a file, you can make backup copies on other machines. That way, if a hard disk goes berserk and the original file is corrupted or lost, you'll always have a safety net.

You should always back up important files. You can copy them to a Zip disk or, if they're small enough, to a floppy disk. If the original file gets damaged, all you have to do is retrieve the backup. When you're on a network, you can also back up files to another hard disk on the system, taking advantage of the larger disk drives found on newer computers. Moving a file from one networked computer to another is faster than making backups on a tape or a series of floppy disks. In addition, the backup version is available to everyone on the network.

The Bottom Line

When you set up a network, you save time and trouble by sharing files, while maintaining privacy and security. You can avoid multiple versions of the same file, locate files easily, and back up files for safekeeping. As your disk becomes full, you can avoid upgrading to a larger disk by storing your files on a computer that has extra room, a feature that saves you money and time.

Sharing CD-ROMs and Removable Drives

CD-ROMs and removable drives, such as Zip drives and Superdisks, are a real boon to computer users. They store vast amounts of information, and they're fast, safe, and convenient. These days, most computers come with CD-ROM drives and many also come with removable disk drives.

Escaping the CD Shuffle

Many folks keep an encyclopedia or some other reference CD in their CD-ROM drive at all times. When they need to look up a word, find a map, or do some research, the information is quick and easy to access.

Most computer programs, such as the Windows program itself, are supplied on CDs to save space. (Windows, for example, would fill hundreds of floppy disks.) When you're working with a program or doing some magic on the computer, you might need to access the CD. Take Microsoft Office 2000, for example. When you install Office, just the main parts of the program are usually copied to your hard disk. When you want to use a feature that hasn't been installed, Office automatically looks for the CD so that it can access the necessary information. If the CD isn't in the drive, you then have to insert it. This would mean removing the encyclopedia or other CD from the drive and inserting the Office CD. When you finished installing the Office feature, you'd once again have to swap CDs.

With a network, you can access any CD on any computer on the network. So that means you can leave the CD for your encyclopedia or other program in the drive of one machine and access it from any other.

Adding Zip to Your Life

A Zip drive is one of the greatest add-ons you can get for your computer. The newest Zip disks, the storage media used in Zip drives, can store up to 250 MB of information--all on a cartridge small enough to fit in a shirt pocket!

Of course, Zip disks aren't the only high-capacity disks available.

Superdisks, for example, are popular with iMac computer users. Because the iMac computer doesn't include a built-in floppy disk, many users purchase a Superdisk drive that plugs into the iMac's universal serial bus (USB) port and that can store 120 MB of data on one easy-to-carry disk. In addition, Iomega Clik! drives can store 40 MB per disk, and Jaz drives can store up to 2 GB of data on a removable cartridge.

You can also consider a rewriteable CD drive, called a CD-RW. A CD-RW lets you record information on a CD that can be used in almost any computer. You might not be able to directly record information on a CD-RW that's attached to another computer on the network, but you can easily transfer your files over the network so that they can be recorded on the CD. You can then use the CD on any computer that has a CD drive, which is far more common than Zip, Jaz, and Clik! drives, Superdisks, and other forms of removable media.

Removable disks are great for backups and for transferring files that are too large to fit on a floppy. They're also terrific for storing those files you don't need often but still want to have around. Anyone on the network can access a removable drive that's attached to one of the computers. They can access files from the drive and save files to it.

Some removable drives are built into the computer. When the drive is attached to the computer's parallel port, though, you have to be careful. No one can access the drive while that machine is printing.

You can also use removable drives that plug into your computer's USB port. These drives are the easiest to connect. They don't interfere with printers and other devices connected to the parallel port, and they can be plugged in without restarting the computer. You can also use USB devices on both PCs and iMac computers, so you can share the drive with computers even if they aren't connected to a network.

The Bottom Line

You can save money by buying one removable drive and sharing it with other members of the family, and you can access files on a CD without swapping CDs in your own machine.

Communicating with Others

With everyone on a separate computer and, perhaps, connected to the Internet, you might think that there would be less personal communication in the family. Although that is a possibility, people have complained about that sort of problem since the invention of record players (now CD players, of course), television, and video games.

Networking might not bring the family closer together physically, but it does foster its own brand of communication.

Using an Electronic Intercom

By using a system known as instant messaging (IM), you can find out whether a friend across town--or around the world--is online and send a message that pops up on that person's screen. You can also send pop-up messages within the family network, as a sort of electronic intercom. The software for this comes with Consumer Windows (Microsoft Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Me), but not Windows 2000. You can download pop-up messaging software from the Internet that can be used with Windows 2000.

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Picture  of Instant Messaging window


If your computer is equipped with microphones and speakers, you can also speak to each other through the network, and if your computers are equipped with cameras, you can even see each other.

Sending Mail, Messages, and Reminders

But what if the people you want to send messages to aren't online? In the old days, you'd send them letters or leave messages on their answering machines. With networks, you can send or receive e-mail between networked computers by simply creating a Microsoft Post Office. (The software comes with Windows 95 and Windows 98, but not Windows Me or Windows 2000.) Just as you can send e-mail to someone over the Internet, you can send e-mail to another computer in your home so that your message appears in that computer's inbox.

Using software that you can download from the Internet, you can also leave electronic "sticky notes" on other peoples' computers, as long as their computers are turned on. The notes appear on their desktop.

NOTE: Some sources for sticky-note software include Netnote from Alshare (http://www.alshare.com/) and Stickynote from Phord Software (http://www.phord.com/stickynote.html).

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Picture of a Sticky-Note

Staying in Touch

It's never been easier for traveling family members to stay in touch. By using a laptop computer to dial in to the network at home, they can send and receive e-mail, transfer files, and even update their calendars. And once again, the software used to make the connection comes with Consumer Windows and Windows 2000.

The Bottom Line

Networking opens all sorts of communication channels that might otherwise be closed. You can send quick notes that appear directly on the screen of other computers, and you can create a more sophisticated post office for sending and receiving home e-mail--just like Internet e-mail. The family can share a calendar to keep track of important events, birthdays, and other family happenings. And when someone is on the road or away at school, the family connection can be maintained.

Playing Family Games

As the old saying goes, "The family that plays together stays together." And that's another strong case for networking. Play is a form of communication, and families can use computer games to enhance their quality time together. Kids love to play action games on their computers, while parents might enjoy more cerebral pastimes such as bridge, hearts, or chess.

Setting Up for Multiplayer Gaming

On a network, family members can go head-to-head in games of all sorts, many of them inexpensive or even free. Each member of your family can be sitting at a different computer but interacting in a virtual environment in which you can see each other, compete against each other, or even cooperate with each other against a common foe. You can all be racing on the same track or moving around some science fiction landscape trying to mutually solve a puzzle.

Games on the network can also keep score for you automatically, so there's no arguing over who's right or wrong, who shot first, or who's cheating. Many games will even remember the score, enabling you to pause and pick up later where you left off, or keep a running record for everyone to see.

The Bottom Line

Through interactive game playing, the entire family can share adventures without leaving the house. You'll draw the family closer together even when you're all playing in different rooms. You can compete individually or in teams, and you can have more than one game going if not everyone wants to play the same one.

Bridging Macs and PCs

Why can't we all just learn to live together and share? Because there are PCs and there are Macintoshes. Like the legendary Hatfields and McCoys, these two types of computers just don't naturally get along. They use different operating systems and store information on disk in different ways. A Mac doesn't use Windows unless you add special hardware and software, and the programs you get with or purchase for your PC or Mac can't be run on the other machine.

Popping a floppy out of your Mac and into your PC, for example, doesn't mean you'll be able to use it in the PC. In fact, an entire new breed of Mac, the colorful iMac computer, doesn't even come with a floppy drive.

NOTE: Macintosh computers with floppy disks do have the capability to read and write to PC-formatted disks. But you can't read a Mac disk in a PC unless you get special software.

That doesn't mean that PCs and Macs can't live together in harmony. When your computers are connected on a network, your PCs and Macs can indeed talk to each other. You can share files and printers; you can even share an Internet account.

Although you can't use the same program with each type of computer, many programs come in two versions. You can get Office, for example, in both Windows and Mac versions. So if you write a document with Microsoft Word or a spreadsheet with Microsoft Excel on your PC, someone else in the house can read and edit the document or spreadsheet on his or her Mac.

Making It Educational

By connecting your computers on a network, you'll also learn more about computers and software. You'll become familiar with the role networks play in society because all networks, large and small, enjoy the same benefits, but just on different levels. If you have children who are old enough, let them share in the process of setting up the network. They can help make decisions, run wires, even help install software. The experience will give them an edge in school and maybe even point them toward a career.

References

The information in this article is an excerpt from the This Wired Home: The Microsoft Guide to Home Networking Second Edition book, published by Microsoft Press.

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Picture of This Wired Home: The Microsoft Guide to Home Networking Second Edition


Learn More About This Wired Home: The Microsoft Guide to Home Networking Second Edition

For more information about this publication and other Microsoft Press titles, see http://mspress.microsoft.com.

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Article ID: 314579 - Last Review: January 18, 2013 - Revision: 4.0
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This article was written about products for which Microsoft no longer offers support. Therefore, this article is offered "as is" and will no longer be updated.

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