Although we've written about the AirPort system in the past, we haven't yet looked at it from a Mac Gadget angle. Setting it up to allow other AirPort equipped Macs to share a modem or high-speed network connection is pretty straightforward, but there is so much more you can do with this unit, especially if you are in a mixed Mac, UNIX and PC environment.
Underneath it all, the spaceship-looking AirPort base station actually contains Lucent's WaveLAN Silver 11 Mb PC Card. We know because we took it apart to find out. If someone from the Apple warranty police is reading this, then instead, we took a peek at a Guided Tour from the good folks that make FreeBase, which we'll talk about in a moment. Since the card is sold as a standalone product with drivers for Mac, Windows, Novell, WinCE and even Linux, one would guess that these platforms could utilize AirPort. And you'd be right.
One key piece of information you need to know to participate in an AirPort network is the name of the base station. Although a list of base stations is readily available via a handy control panel on a Mac, other platforms usually require you manually type in the name of a base. But once you do this, and make sure you have DHCP enabled, AirPort will happily let just about any 802.11b-enabled computer join the fun.
Things are a bit more difficult if you don't have a Mac to configure the base station, but resourceful souls have come to the rescue and written AirPort base station configuration programs. This is probably due to the fact that the AirPort Base is a steal at $299, compared to around $1000 for similar PC-based solutions. A bare-bones, Java-based AirPort Base Station Configurator is available. There is also a full-featured Windows-based configurator called FreeBase.
FreeBase is especially cool since it can let you change or enable AirPort Base Station features that aren't even available in Apple's own configuration program. So if you have access to a PC, or a PC emulator like Virtual PC, you can enable features such as microwave oven resistance (AirPort uses the same 2.4 GHz range as ovens...kinda scary) or change the DHCP lease time.
So start sharing your Internet connection, without wires, using AirPort. Even if you don't have a Mac.
Have any other Mac OS Hardware Gadgets you think are the cat's meow? Let John know via e-mail, so he can review it, or share it with the rest of us in the Mac Gadget Forum.
Monday's Mac Gadget is here to help you with those cool things that we all just have to have on our Macs. Shareware, Freeware, Postcardware, Emailware, and even commercial apps, Monday's Mac Gadget is here to help you find and use the best of these programs.
John is a software engineer who works in the corporate R&D group of a Fortune 500 company, focusing on all aspects of communications technology. He has several degrees that claim he knows what he's doing when it comes to computers. After watching co-workers reinstall Windows, search for device drivers, and experience other horrors during the day, he's glad that he comes home to a Mac (compatible) computer. Have any comments, suggestions, or favorite Gadgets? Drop John a line at