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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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Networking Notes: Who's on the 802.11n-Certified List First?

Hardware vendors are quick to claim their products "802.11n Draft 2.0-certified." There may be something to this who was first tilt, because if a company can get something certified quickly, think how fast its wireless gear must be.

Networking Notes

Pity the poor wireless hardware industry. It rolls out a bunch of beta hardware and get jumped on for it. Then they line up like responsible corporate citizens to seek certification for gear they've built against the latest 802.11n spec ("Draft 2.0"), and they're going to get jumped on again.

The week of July 4th, one of those holidays that's inconveniently pegged to an actual date on the calendar, not on a convenient abstraction like "third Monday of February," is notorious for its slow news week. So when the Wi-Fi Alliance started announcing which vendors had successfully passed 802.11n Draft 2.0 certification, D-Link got excited and yelled "First!" late last week, hoping, perhaps, to leave everyone with an impression before the bifurcated holiday week began. Because there was a chance the increasingly important "Saturday before the week of July 4th" shopping season might be lost in the waning hours of the news week, Netgear announced, too.

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But D-Link got a rap on the nose from the Wi-Fi Alliance for "self-proclaiming first," which says it certified kits from Netgear, Linksys, Metalink and D-Link simultaneously. So D-Link changed its announcement to something more like "Firstesque!" allowing our free enterprise system to work as it does best, selling goods consumers desire for a fair market value electronics retailers won't let online shoppers see unless they add the item to their shopping cart while feverishly praying they won't end up being charged for two.

As Wi-Fi Planet points out, Linksys didn't even bother to announce. Some might claim that's criminal neglect of its fiduciary responsibilities to its shareholders (or Cisco's shareholders, anyhow), but Wi-Fi Planet suggests it's probably reflective of "the comfort of being number one in sales in the Wi-Fi industry."

Either way, maybe you're better off waiting for the reviews to come in for a representative sample of 802.11n Draft 2.0-certified gear. I know I plan to. Though I'll be carefully weighting all the reviews with an added "Yes, but who was first?" tilt, because if a company can get something certified quickly, think how fast its wireless gear must be.

Since it's a holiday week, we've got a bit of fun, too. Keep an eye out for 802.11n Draft 2.0 compliance announcements. Take a drink every time the Wi-Fi Alliance issues a statement reading "We commend Company Foo for achieving Wi-Fi certification for Company Foo's Product. Having met the rigorous requirements for Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 802.11n draft 2.0 is quite an accomplishment, and reflects Company Foo's commitment to interoperable, protected next-generation Wi-Fi technology."

Make it a small drink. They've said that for everyone so far, and it looks like they'll be certifying equipment well into the fall.

So what did get certified in the first crop?

  • NETGEAR's RangeMax NEXT Wireless-N Router Gigabit Edition (WNR854T) and RangeMax NEXT Wireless-N Router (WNR834B) were on the list. The company noted in its announcement that its Draft 1.0 products are firmware upgradeable to the Draft 2.0 spec, as well, addressing an objection we had earlier this year to companies that wouldn't commit to a guaranteed upgrade path for their hardware as the 802.11n spec makes its way through the process.

  • The D-Link Xtreme N Router (DIR-655) and Xtreme N Notebook Adapter (DWA-652) also received certification. D-Link also announced that it's "offering 2.0 product upgrades for its draft 802.11n Xtreme N product line." It's worth noting that older RangeBooster N products and other MIMO-based products from D-Link will not be getting draft 2.0 updates.

  • Edimax announced Draft 2.0-compliant versions of its nMax broadband router, USB adapter and PCI card.

  • Metalink said its WLANPlus chipset was certified. Metalink, unlike outfits like Broadcom and Atheros, doesn't turn up in the home/office networking space. The company sells to LG, Daewoo, Haier, Phillips, and other companies in Europe and Asia.

In the midst of all the announcements, a report in Digitimes says Taiwanese chip-makers are noting that prices on existing 802.11n gear are taking a big plunge. The report specifically notes D-Link as an aggressive price-cutter. Considering the company's decision to withhold upgrades to the new draft for some of its products, you might want to be careful before impulse-buying a cheap 802.11n router. That will hold true through fall, as the Wi-Fi Alliance churns out the certifications.

Reading Material

If you're looking to tackle a summer science project, Enterprise Networking Planet has a few ideas for you:

  • Shared network drives are fine for your LAN. But what if you want to be able to share files outside the armored confines of your SOHO network? WebDAV was built for just such a purpose, allowing you to edit files served from a Web browser as if they were on your own desktop. There's plenty to WebDAV, but it's not hard to get started with Windows Server 2003 soon to start turning up at fire sale prices. Equal time for Unix people, who don't have to wait around for their server software to turn up as a cheap OEM CD on eBay: Apache does WebDAV, as well.

  • On the 802.11n tip, you can read about how 802.11n will change the way you build wireless LANs; and how Wi-Fi has changed in Vista.

  • If you want to take a little time making your network a bit more secure, it pays to know there's a security arms race going on out there. The Metasploit framework is one of the very best for penetration testing your own network, but even if security analysts use its powers for good, malicious hackers know about it, too. It's worth learning about, because if you run a network with services exposed to the 'Net, there's a good chance it'll be used against you.

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