Wireless Hands-On CBT

By Joseph Moran

September 30, 2004

For the price we expect a more polished product, but overall this computer-based training course is a good start to learning the idiosyncrasies in setting up a wireless LAN.

Price: $129.95
Pros: Provides hands-on tutoring of D-Link WLAN device configuration
Cons: Poor interface, incomplete context for information

Anyone who has undergone any kind of extensive IT training will tell you that when trying to learn about any new product or technology, there's no substitute for hands-on experience. Previous CBT (Computer-Based Training) WLAN training courses from consulting firm Wireless-Nets focus more on detailed explorations of various WLAN concepts and technologies, but the company's newest effort aims to assist users in their efforts to obtain some hands-on familiarity with actual WLAN hardware. [Disclosure: Wireless-Net's principal consultant Jim Geier is a frequent contributor to Wi-Fi Planet.]

Rather than delving into the vagaries of the various 802.11 standards or the finer points of radio wave propagation, this new $129.95 Wireless Hands-On course takes a student through the actual configuration of several D-Link WLAN products. The D-Link hardware used in the course consists of a AirPlusG High-Speed 802.11g Wireless Router (model DI-524), a DWL-G510 PCI adapter, and DWL-G630 CardBus PC Card. These devices are not included with the course, and purchasing all three of them will set you back about another $130.

The course is divided several sections, beginning with some introductory material and info about the various configuration options of the D-Link router and client devices. The core of the course consists of a series of static slides accompanied by an instructor narration. Many of the slides are accompanied by videos that display the D-Link configuration screens as the instructor discusses the various settings.

Most of the slides also include links to supplemental materials, either in the form of related text articles (in HTML format) included with the course, or live Web pages from various sources. While the various facets of the course do provide copious amounts of useful information, many will find it difficult to navigate and traverse them, in part because of the sheer volume of text (illustrative graphics are very sparse) and for several interface issues (see below).

For the most part, the slides and narration do a good job of taking a user through the various configuration settings of the specific D-Link hardware chosen for the course. It does give short-shrift to certain router features that are WAN-related (like port forwarding), but then again, this is a wireless-specific training program.

Of course, there are countless WLAN products available, and no one specific product can accurately and completely represent every device on the market. For this reason it would have been helpful if the instructor explained the numerous instances where the name or implementation of a feature on the D-Link product differs from what someone might encounter on products from other vendors. One particular example among many is where the instructor discusses a D-Link feature called "static DHCP" but doesn't include that it's more commonly known as DHCP reservations, or the fact that many products don't include this feature at all. While these sorts of omissions may not negatively affect those with IT backgrounds, less technically-savvy users (who would be more likely to consider this course, though despite the cost) may find themselves confused when they invariably encounter a product that differs significantly from the DI-524.

Another pitfall is that the actual course application, which is written in SumTotal (formally Click2Learn) ToolBook, displays some vexing interface idiosyncrasies. For example, whenever a slide includes an accompanying video, said video appears offset to the right and partially off-screen, requiring the video window to be repositioned in order to be viewed. Unfortunately, once this window is moved, subsequent videos do not retain the new location, forcing the user to reposition the video over and over again. The only way to keep the video entirely on screen is to run Windows at 1280x1024, which is higher than many people will be able to (or care to) display.

Another troublesome interface quirk is that if you click any of the supplemental materials (which spawn browser windows), the video promptly disappears (although the audio continues uninterrupted). The video window continues to remain invisible unless the supplemental material window is minimized or closed, so you can't view both the video and any of the supplemental materials at the same time.

Wireless-Nets says it's aware of the interface problems and working on fixes for them, and those looking to get some hand-holding as they familiarize themselves with WLAN hardware for the first time may find the Hands-On Wireless CBT course useful. However, someone laying out $130 may understandably expect a more polished and complete product than this course delivers, and that fact prevents it from being an automatic recommendation.

Comment and Contribute
(Maximum characters: 1200). You have
characters left.