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Computer networks have existed for more than thirty years, but only in the last several years have they become popular in homes. As recently as 1999, only a few hundred thousands in the United States possessed a home network, although many more households "expressed interest" in having one.

Today, many millions of households in the U.S. and worldwide have adopted home networking. Millions more have yet to build their home network. Even those who've previously taken the plunge are now beginning to revamp their networks for wireless, a new wave of technology for home networking.

Home Networking Help - Step by Step

This page serves as your starting point for learning about the world of home networking. We assume no prior knowledge of network technology here, and we will teach all of the basics of home network planning, installation, and troubleshooting.

1. Benefits of Home Networking

Some of you likely share files between computers using floppy disks or the newer USB keys. A home network allows you to share files much faster and more conveniently simply by utilizing the available network connections between computers. Home networks allow sharing of other things, too, like a printer or an Internet connection. Finally, home networks create the possibility to use new applications like online games.

2. Wired vs Wireless Networking

The home networker can choose from either wireless or wired designs. Wireless networks provide more mobility to a person in and around their home, and they make especially good sense for laptop networking. Networks with wires or cables, on the other hand, usually cost less than wireless, may perform faster and more reliably, and make good sense for desktop networking. Choosing between wired and wireless options can be difficult, but making an informed decision here can save money and increase one's overall satisfaction with their home network.

3. Home Network Design

Choosing a proper design for the home network up front can save big money later. How many computers will your network have in the next year or two? A network with just two computers can involve a very different design than a network with five, for example. Other important factors in network design include reach and speed.

4. Common Home Networking Problems to Avoid

Computer networks bring many good things into the home: more convenient Internet access, sharing of files and printers, additional home entertainment options, and so on. Yet home network technology also poses challenges. Many folks don't know where to start. Things often don't work right the first time. Sometimes, people settle for an inferior setup and never realize the full potential of their home network. The advice below helps you steer clear of these common problems.

5. Operating Systems and Home Networking

The network operating system (NOS) plays a key role on the home network. The operating system is the glue between your network gear and your applications.

6. Home Internet Service

Although you do not need Internet (Net) access to benefit from a home network, a majority of home networkers want to share an Internet connection. Depending on where you live, several different form of Internet service might be available, including
  • traditional modem dial-up
  • ISDN
  • DSL or cable modem broadband, and
  • satellite Internet service
The choice of Internet service has ramifications for your home network planning.

7. Home Network Security

Hooking a home network to the Internet can be dangerous! If you can access information on the public Net, its very possible that people on the Net can access your information too. Fortunately, several different technologies are available to help you keep your home network relatively safe from attackers (often called "hackers"). Bottom line: security features should be installed and tested on everyone's home network.

8. Troubleshooting a Home Network

Installing a home network for the first time can be frustrating, but the frustration passes quickly once the basics have been understood and your system is running. A few months may pass without problems, but inevitably, nasty trouble with the network will appear at some point. Maybe the kids can't get to the Internet or their network game keeps crashing. Maybe file sharing suddenly stops working. Maybe everything stops working. A small amount of knowledge can go a long way in finding and fixing these problems quickly while keeping the family peace.

9. Advanced Home Networking

Have you always wanted to learn how to program computers, or build Web pages and a Web site? With a home network, these and other more advanced skills might be within your reach. There was a time in computer networking where much of the important technical information was kept in the heads of engineers and passed along through a kind of "oral tradition." Thankfully, we've matured in this field and now nearly anything about networking is accessible to people with patience and a willingness to learn. Your home network can function as a development environment for you to experiment and practice with technology.

10. The Future of Home Networking

The home networks we use today will look nothing like the networks of twenty years from now. From the computers we use to the applications we run, the future of home networking should be very exciting. Some people believe, thanks to an area of computer networking called home automation, our refrigerators and toasters will even become intelligent! Most importantly, perhaps someday every family that wants to own a home network will be able to do so. No doubt we will be proud to tell our grandchildren of our experiences in these "pioneer days" of home networking, and they will laugh at us accordingly.

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