Book Review: Wireless Networking Visual Quick Tips

By Joseph Moran

January 11, 2007

Pictures are worth many thousands of words in this tiny tome for wireless newbies who need a speedy education.

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
Author: Rob Tidrow
ISBN: 0-470-07808-1
Price: $12.99

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The aim of Wiley Publishing's Wireless Networking Visual Quick Tips is to give readers the skinny (and at 199 pages, the book is quite thin) on everything wireless -- from access points to the Wireless Zero Configuration feature of Windows -- while striking an optimal balance between pictures and prose. It thankfully eschews endless pages of narcoleptic text, nor does it go to the other and equally problematic extreme of emphasizing graphics over explanatory information (think furniture assembly instructions). The most verbose part of the book is the first two chapters (there are nine in all), which use brief one-paragraph descriptions accompanied by some artwork to introduce the reader to the various concepts and components that make up a wireless network.

Toward the end of chapter two, the content switches from primarily concept-oriented to task-oriented, beginning with how to set up a wireless broadband gateway or access point and a wireless network adapter. Strangely, the book uses screenshots from Microsoft's MN-700 Wireless Base Station to illustrate these procedures, a peculiar choice given that the MN-700's interface was fairly unusual, and Microsoft stopped making Wi-Fi hardware more than two years ago. Although the MN-700 screens aren't without illustrative value, using a more representative piece of hardware like a popular Linksys, D-Link or Netgear product would have been more useful.

A related shortcoming is that the book fails to outline how to make the physical connections between a wireless router or access point and an ISP-provided DSL or cable modem gateway. Strictly speaking, that's not a wireless task, but it's a major omission nevertheless, since it's something that tends to trip up novices.

For most, the book's most useful information will come into play starting with chapter four, where it outlines dozens of common wireless network-related tasks in Windows XP. Each task description is well organized on two facing pages, with numbered steps and a generous helping of screenshots. Each task also provides a highlighted tip that includes added information, such as an alternate way to perform the given task (or other relevant facts).

Major tasks covered include how to find and join networks, how to specify and prioritize preferred networks, and how to monitor signal strength. Also outlined is how to check whether Windows' Wireless Zero Config feature is active, and how to manually turn it off and on, which can be useful when working (fighting?) with certain third-party utilities. The book also describes how to perform less common wireless tasks like configuring an ad-hoc network, bridging network connections or enabling Internet Connection Sharing within Windows XP.

Of course, the whole point of setting up or connecting to a wireless network is to gain access to the resources it offers, so the book takes the opportunity to address tasks that are not wireless-specific but are still network-related. Such tasks include how to share a folder, how to map a network folder as a drive letter, how to browse My Network Places, how to configure and share a network printer, and how to use Microsoft's Windows Firewall.

The title of chapter seven, “Administering Wireless Networks,” is something of a misnomer since it deals with Windows XP account creation and management and not with administering a wireless router. The focus returns to wireless in chapter eight, which deals with WLAN security topics like configuring an SSID, enabling encryption, and setting up MAC filtering (again using the outdated MN-700 for screenshots). When it comes to encryption, the book inexplicably only discusses how to turn on WEP -- it contains nary a mention of the widely-supported and more robust (and arguably easier to configure) WPA. The book was published in the summer of 2006, so there isn't much reason to have left WPA out.

It concludes with some tips on how to locate and connect to Wi-Fi hotspots (at least the ones that don't require you to sign up and pay for access) and how to set up a VPN to connect to a workplace network using Windows XP. How useful the VPN info is will depend on the reader's place of work, since corporations tend to use specialized VPN hardware and software that may or may not work with XP's VPN feature. There's no mention of third-party VPN services at all.

The tag line of Wiley's Visual Quick Tips line is "Read Less - Learn More," and by and large, Wireless Networking Visual Quick Tips delivers on that promise. Though it has several significant omissions, for the most part it manages to provide useful information on understanding, configuring and using wireless networks.



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