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• Microsoft Vista Home Networking Setup and Options
The most daunting part of upgrading to Windows Vista may be trying to figure out where in the layers of menus the networking and file-sharing options are hidden.

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It may not be something you do everyday, but having the supplies and know-how to whip up a network cable on the spot can be very handy.

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Seemingly minor and easily overlooked settings can still have profound security implications. Here are some steps you can take to make sure your wired or wireless home router and by extension, your network is as secure as possible.

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• Microsoft Windows Home Server
If you have a home network, you'll welcome the easy file sharing, remote access and the image-based backup features of Windows Home Server.

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Iomega's fourth generation StorCenter Network Hard Drive brings many of the features found in higher-end storage devices down to an attractive price.

• MikroTik's The Dude
This free tool delivers many of the same capabilities that you'd find in pricey network monitoring tools. As long as you don't mind tinkering, The Dude is a decent network utility that should be worth the download.

Networking Notes: OpenDNS Dangles a Carrot

You may not talk about Domain Name Systems at parties, but deep down you know you want OpenDNS, you need OpenDNS.

Networking Notes

You know what will kill a conversation with people who aren't into networking? DNS.

If social occasions truly are "only warfare concealed," any conversation in mixed company that involves anything having to do with DNS is pretty much party nerve gas. People who don't know anything about it intuitively know it's not something they want to learn about. People who overcome their aversion in the name of polite curiosity regret any explanation they get.

It's not that DNS is a tough concept. It's just a concept that threatens one of the few handles nontechnical users have on their Web experience: You type in a friendly name, you get back a Web page. Even the "http://" part was too much for some people to handle once upon a time, so that burden has been lifted. Some browsers even take the extra step of helpfully adding ".com" to any random word the user types in, and everyone gave up rejecting the absence of "www" in an address a long time ago. Something about all those hated slobs who can't bring themselves to type three little letters infuriates purists, but losing those slobs' eyeballs infuriates them worse, so they make sure Apache dutifully forgives the slobs and earns a chance to push a few more banners or affiliate links.

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So when I wrote about OpenDNS in January, I was glad I was writing it for people into practical networking and not for people reading their local newspaper's computer section ("Sometimes your mouse doesn't work because its ball is dirty! Here's how to open it up and clean off all the gunk!") because they thought Windows ate their homework.

A refresher:

  1. OpenDNS caches DNS requests across the 'net, speeding up the responsiveness of a lot of sites.

  2. It provides a bit of "spelling correction" for mistyped domains. For instance, with OpenDNS, you can try to visit "practicallynetworked.cmo" and still end up on these pages. And if you really bungle the spelling, you get a directory page from OpenDNS that offers some likely alternatives.

  3. OpenDNS works in conjunction with its parent company's PhishTank service, so if you try to go to a known phishing site, it will block your attempt.

Because I usually don't worry much about business models, I didn't even bother to mention OpenDNS' particular approach to turning a buck: When you hopelessly mangle an address, the friendly page OpenDNS, in lieu of an error page, comes populated with "clearly labeled advertisements alongside organic search results." Much as Google revolutionized search and ad delivery with its unobtrusive ads, so has OpenDNS attempted to revolutionize DNS.

So when I noticed last week that OpenDNS had announced a new "shortcuts" service, a lightbulb clicked on over my head: How do you make money off of a service most people don't want to even think about? Sure, OpenDNS' marketing campaign has been pretty successful, especially considering the subject, but "faster MySpace" isn't necessarily the carrot a lot of Internet donkeys will care to strain for.

The new shortcut service, on the other hand, makes more sense. In addition to an abstraction ("Your browsing will be faster because of something involving dotted quads and the incompetence of quite a few DNS administrators at downscale ISPs"), it offers a more concrete convenience:

When you set up an account at OpenDNS, you can also set up a list of shortcuts for your favorite sites. When you type one of those shortcuts into your browser's location bar, OpenDNS interprets the shortcut and directs your browser to the site you're after.

For instance, if you set up a shortcut for PracticallyNetworked called "pracnet," instead of having to type "" into your browser's location bar, you can type "pracnet" and get the exact same result. Or if you're interested in making a shortcut for a search engine, you can add a special wildcard operator to your shortcut, meaning that setting up a shortcut like this:

then typing "g aardvarks" in your location bar would open a Google search on the word "aardvarks."

This feature puts people who write about computers much in a bit of a quandary when reporting on it: Some browsers already do this with no OpenDNS involved. You can give your bookmarks in Firefox "keywords," for instance, which do the same thing.

Most computer writers have gotten around this quandary by pointing out that the OpenDNS approach works from any browser the user may happen to be in front of, provided its requests are being routed through OpenDNS. That's probably good enough for people with more than one computer of their own, or folks operating in a lax corporate environment.

OpenDNS has also used the new feature launch to boost its marketing presence by introducing bits of viral marketing bling designed to help get the word out, in the form of Web badges that'll look good in a blog's sidebar.

And for the people who look forward to DNS conversations at parties ...

OpenDNS offers a few goodies for people who like to talk about DNS, too. For instance, there's the cache check service, which allows curious users to check the status of a given site in OpenDNS' expansive lookup cache.

OpenDNS also now provides lookup stats for its users, provided they get an account and declare a home network (which isn't anything more complex than the IP address one receives from one's ISP, or an IP range for people who really do manage a whole network of directly Internet connected systems).

Will it all be enough to get OpenDNS the converts its business model will need to survive? We won't have the answer to that for a while. In the meantime, the shortcuts service is a nice convenience feature if you don't already know how to do it in your own browser, and the lookup traffic statistics might be fun to fiddle with for people who've never bothered to set up their own logging system. And you still get enhanced DNS service and phishing protection.

While I think I'm going to stick with Firefox and my own killer address bar app: a yubnub search, getting the browsing boost from OpenDNS is fine ... they had me at "better DNS." No need for further carrots.

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