What's 'Wi-Fi' and why do I absolutely have to have it?
When it comes to Wi-Fi, there are two kinds of people: those who can't live without it, and those who haven't experienced it yet. This post is for the latter group.
Wi-Fi is mostly about connecting to the Internet without physically attaching your computer to anything. Mostly it's about using laptop computers. Let's say you have a laptop computer in your house and you have a high speed Internet connection (Cable or DSL). Well, if you want to use it to surf the Internet you would have to physically attach it to your broadband modem to do that. But not if you have Wi-Fi. With Wi-Fi you can move around anywhere inside your house (and maybe even outside too) and still be able to browse the Internet. Okay, so how does one do that?
You'll need two things: (1) a Wi-Fi access point (a/k/a "wireless access point" or "WAP") and (2) a wireless card for the laptop. The first one will cost you between $75 and $100 (but the prices are dropping all the time), and the second one will cost between $50 and $75. So for well under $200 dollars you can set this up and then you can move around your house with the laptop, gleefully surfing the Internet. So what? Why would you want to spend money to do that?
Well, because when you do you will find that your computer becomes a more powerful, and more convenient, information gathering tool. Net result? You'll use it more often.
Remember when people couldn't walk around the house and talk on the phone because there weren't cordless phones? No one thought that cordless phones were a necessity. But now that they've experienced it, most people think it's an absolute necessity. It's the same way with Wi-Fi and surfing the internet. When you can use your laptop to quickly check the movie listings, or look up phone numbers,or read your E-mail, or about a million other things that you can do with a computer to get or send information, then you'll use it more often. And then access to the Internet becomes indispensible.
So let's say you now have a laptop with a Wi-Fi card, and you know how to use it to connect to the access point in your house. Maybe now you'd like to use it outside of the house maybe because the kids are driving you crazy. You'd like to do some work and catch up on emails, or maybe just do some online shopping. Well, take your laptop and go to a local coffeeshop that offers free Wi-Fi. Can you do that? Sure you can. These places are starting to pop up like mushrooms after a soft steady rain.
It's sometimes hard to find the local places that offer free Wi-Fi (I'm starting a list of places in New Orleans). If you live in Boston, New York, San Francisco, L.A, or any other major urban center you can be sure that there are a many free Wi-Fi spots (which are called "hot spots"). And zillions more will pop up in the next few years. So, if you wanted to you could probably just buy a laptop card and go to those places and surf the web from there, even if you didn't have broadband access in your house (i.e. the "WAP" that I mentioned earlier).
If you want to set up a Wi-Fi system in your house I recommend that you read Glenn Fleishman's book. He's a journalist who knows a boatload about Wi-Fi and is now recognized as a leading expert in this technology. He writes well and explains it all very simply. If you have an Apple computer it is ridiculously easy to set up Wi-Fi. But it is still easy for Windows computer too, especially if you have Windows XP.
I said that Wi-Fi was mostly about laptops, but now that I've explained it in general terms I can tell you that Wi-Fi is also the easiest way to share an Internet connection in your house if you have more than one computer. Just think about it: you don't need to physically connect the computers to the central broadband connection. It makes it a lot easier.
Frankly, Wi-Fi makes everything a lot easier. And I'm not overstating things when I say that Wi-Fi is going to revolutionize the way people use computers to access the Internet. And that will have a forceful effect on society as a whole.
Glenn Fleishmann article in Seattle Times - great overview on setting up Wi-Fi in a home.
© Copyright 2003 Ernest Svenson.
Last update: 7/7/2003; 12:48:08 PM.