You know you’ve been working at a magazine for a long time when you see the same story come around for a third time. And if you’ve been a Macworld reader for at least six years, you, too, may find that the topic of this month’s cover story — home networking — is somewhat familiar (“Get Connected”).
In the past six years, we’ve done two feature stories on setting up networking equipment in your home. But each time we visit this topic, the networking landscape is dramatically different from the time before. People once set up networks in their homes only if they had two Macs and wanted to share a printer or move files between their systems. But always-on broadband Internet access is reaching more people — certainly more than half of Macworld’s readers have it, and that number is growing at a remarkable rate. Apple’s introduction of AirPort has revolutionized — and complicated — home networking even more.
If These Devices Could Talk
The latest factor pushing people to consider wiring their homes is a proliferation of network- and Internet-enabled devices. For years, futurists flogged the fanciful concept of an Internet-connected refrigerator that could order your groceries when you ran low. Right idea, wrong appliance. The newest networked devices aren’t refrigerators; they’re digital-video recorders, networked music players, and devices that let you bring videos and photos from your Mac and display them on your TV set. These devices don’t rely on wacky home-built networking protocols; they use standard Internet networking. And they don’t use weird wireless technologies — they involve nothing more complicated than AirPort or Bluetooth.
But taking advantage of these devices — and the even cooler ones that will inevitably follow them — still requires an active computer network. Businesses have experts who set up networks properly and make sure they run efficiently. But at home, there’s no network administrator or IT manager — except for you. Suddenly, innocent civilians are being confronted with terms — such as router, switch, and NAT — that they could once ignore without consequence. If you don’t know these terms nowadays, though, you’ll never be able to telecommute from your backyard, pipe your iTunes library into your home stereo, or program your TiVo from a thousand miles away (all things I’ve done myself).
This month’s cover story can make you more comfortable with home networking. We’ve defined the different types of networks and demystified some of the terminology that was once locked behind heavy metal doors in the world’s server closets but has now been unleashed on users like you and me.
A Network of Networks
Of course, the growth of network technologies isn’t something that affects us only when we’re at home. I now tote an iSight camera with me whenever I go on a business trip. The hotels I stay in tend to offer broadband Internet access, and with the iSight, I can see and talk to my wife and daughter back home. At Macworld, we’re using iChat and iSights all the time, to connect far-flung editors and writers with the mother ship. Text chats help us share information when a phone call is too much trouble and e-mail isn’t immediate enough.
Where will it end? There’s no way to tell, at least not until our next cover story on the subject, when the networking landscape shifts again. But I’m not anxiously awaiting the day when I can exchange instant messages with my Internet-enabled refrigerator.
About This Macworld
We write a lot of stories about hardware and software. But never before has the hardware been a green Pyrex casserole dish and the software been three kinds of cheese, a bunch of pasta, and a pile of Fuji apples. As part of our continuing celebration, in the pages of Mac Beat, of the Mac’s 20th anniversary, we asked Food Network host Alton Brown to whip us up a recipe. He’s a big Mac fan, so he graciously provided one — and then the hard part began. Editor in Chief Jason Snell was volunteered to test Brown’s ”
Apple Macaroni and Cheese.” And although he failed on his first try, he got it right on the second. Then came the real trick: making and baking it a third time, this one for photographer Peter Belanger’s camera. It’s safe to say that Belanger probably has a lot more experience preparing photographs than side dishes, but unlike our intrepid editor in “chef,” he got Brown’s tasty recipe right the first time.