If you are running a small business or if you have more than one computer at home, you’ll get more out of your investment with your computers connected into a Local Area Network (LAN).
LANs are a computer network that span a relatively small area. Most LANs are confined to a single building or group of buildings. However, one LAN can be connected to other LANs over any distance via telephone lines and radio waves. There are many different types of LANs, with Ethernets being the most common for PCs. Most Apple Macintosh networks are based on Apple’s AppleTalk network system, which is built into Macintosh computers. The hardware and software required has gotten less expensive, easier to use, and faster in speed, making LANs a much more attractive option.
Up until early 1999 or so, Ethernet was pretty much the way to go to connect your computers into a LAN. This meant running special “CAT5” (Category 5 — which refers to the grade of the cable) cables between your computers. If your computers were located in different rooms, you faced the not-so-exciting prospect of snaking cables through your walls, or paying someone to do it.
Since then, alternatives have appeared that use existing phone jacks, electrical wiring, or RF (wireless) methods to connect your computers into a LAN. As of early 2000, you can connect your computers at 10Mbps speeds (same as 10BaseT Ethernet), using your existing phone wiring! Wireless networking speeds are still generally below 1Mbps, but 11Mbps solutions are starting to come to market. Go to this page for more information on these methods.
The software you need for setting up a basic peer-to-peer network is included with most Windows operating systems, MacOs and Linux and the other unix variants. I recommend that you use a peer-to-peer (vs. a client/server) network, mainly because it’s less expensive and easier to administer. In the Windows world, this means that you don’t need to use Windows NT Server and can use the plain old Microsoft File and Printer Sharing that comes with Win95/98 and NT Workstation.
In our opinion, the only reason that small network users should consider using a client/server Network Operating system like Windows NT or Novell Netware is if you need to administer file and folder access permissions on a user basis (vs. a resource basis). If you can get along with a common password that you give to whoever needs to access a particular folder, hard drive, computer or printer, then stick with simple peer-to-peer networking.
If you’re new to networking, there are many tutorials available on the Web to get you started. Information on how to set up a LAN can also be found over in the Sharing your Internet Connection section.
If you already have your LAN set up but are having trouble getting it to work, visit the Troubleshooting section.