AirPort Utility 6 for Lion is for Beginners

| Quick Look Review

Apple’s Airport Utility, version 6.0 introduces a graphical look that mimics that of the iPad version. But it also loses some functionality compared to the 5.x version.

On January 30, Apple released Airport Utility 6.0 for Lion. It requires at least OX X 10.7.2. Its chief attributes are that is it has the look and feel of its iPad counterpart and is easier to use than previous versions.

AU 6

Upgrading

If you had been using AU 5.5.3 on Lion, the update will replace it with version 6. Because version 6 isn’t as full-featured as the previous version, Apple has made an upgrade to the original app available, AU 5.6.

If you’re still using Snow Leopard, you should continue to use Airport Utility 5.5.3, It requires at least OS X 10.5.7.

The Advantages

Airport 6 for Lion appears to be an attempt to bring visual harmony to the AirPort Utility series. Of course, the reason why we have AirPort Utility 1.0 for iPad is so that customers who have a home Wi-Fi network but not a computer can configure the AirPort base station with their new iPad.

In the spirt of the iPad version, if you click on an icon appearing on the home page, you get some information. The small gray information box has an Edit button so you can change the configuration. From there, the pages (tabs) look a lot like the previous version of the app.

AU 6 Edit

Version 6 also makes it easy to see which devices are connected, at a glance, as shown above. (Yes, my wife has a PC notebook.)

The Disadvantages

However, unlike the previous versions of AU, the configuration pages are semi-transparent which looks odd and doesn’t really add to the usefulness of the application.

Also, there are some functions missing from version 6, namely explicit Access Control and WDS. Access control allows you to specify permissible MAC addresses on your network. [Author note: see the comments.] Wireless Distribution System (WDS) isn’t recommended on 802.11n networks anyway. So if you need those seldom used functions in Lion, you’ll need to also download version 5.6. Advanced functions such as logging, statistics, SNMP control, display of MAC addresses, and IPv6 control are also missing. (At least, I couldn’t find them.) Finally, I couldn’t use AU 6 to manage an AirPort Express:

AU 6 warning

Practical Use

Because AU 6 is simpler, it’s easier for most average users to get going with. It still offers the ability, under the Network tab, to operate in “Bridge” mode. That means that if you already have a non-W-Fi router connected to, say, your AirPort Extreme, you can just let the Extreme pass the DHCP addresses on to your wireless devices. That keeps them all in the same subnet which is usually desirable. Or you can let the AirPort Extreme issue it’s own DHCP addresses and specify the range.

Other than the slightly glitzier look and some considerable loss of function, the new version is pretty much the same as the older 5.x series in its look and feel.

Summary

The fact that Apple now has two Airport Utilities raises the question about whether Apple should bury advanced features in a new version or have two versions. For now, we get two versions. And because one would think that a version 6 is better than a version 5.6, the situation can become confusing. But then two different names for the utilities could also be confusing.

The good news is that if you’re a beginner with the Mac, OS X Lion and home Wi-Fi, AU 6 will likely be all you need for now. It gets a solid 3/5 rating.

Comments

MyRightEye

Glad I waited. My suspicions were correct. I also downloaded but did not install Lion.3 and glad about that too.

geoduck

Also, there are some functions missing from version 6, namely Access Control and WDS. Access control allows you to specify permissible MAC addresses on your network

They dropped the ability to filter users by MAC address?!?
That’s inexcusable. That is a, well I was going to say basic, mainstream security function. I would NEVER set up my home WAP without limiting users to only those MAC addresses I know belong. This is utterly, utterly inexcusable. The other thing I do is have the network operate in “Stealth Mode”, that is the WAP won’t respond unless you call it by the correct network name. Did they drop that as well?

What was that you were saying last week about Apple making us worry? It’s this kind of s**t that bothers me the most. It’s Apple saying to me “You’re not some bubble gum chewing newbie that doesn’t know a network port froma hole in her, <ahem> ear. We’re not interested in you so we’re taking all the tools away.”

John Martellaro

geoduck: You can always use version 5.6 in Lion or 5.5.3 in Snow Leopard to do that. And who knows?  Maybe Apple plans to roll in those more advanced functions into version 6 later with a better UI. We shall see.

geoduck

You can always use version 5.6 in Lion or 5.5.3 in Snow Leopard to do that. And who knows?  Maybe Apple plans to roll in those more advanced functions into version 6 later with a better UI.

True, however these are basic, fundamental, security functions and if they do roll them out in a later version it means they sent this tool out half completed. Not cool. Also it’s equally likely in my mind that Apple could drop the old tool at a later date and then advanced users would be SOL. I’ve just went through that with MobileMe hosting and iWeb.

It’s all about trust.

Marco Hero

MAC based access control is still there. It’s not hard to find! You can specify ‘no access’ as default except for specified MAC numbers. You can even specify seperate access times for each device, so I can stop my son Skyping from his laptop in the middle of the night!

John Martellaro

I still can’t find it.  I see “Timed Access Control” though.

ScottInTheOC

Access Control is there under the NETWORK tab. Check the Enable Access Control, then click on Timed Access Control. There you can enter the MAC addresses and even control access time. I think this section was “mislabeled” creating the confusion. MAC filtering is there.

John Martellaro

Reader ScotinThe OC is correct.  You can enter a MAC address and restrict the time ... or give it 24x7 access.

Marco Hero

I was being a bit unfair. It’s not very obvious. Note that you can also set the default (i.e. non specified MAC numbers) to be ‘no access’ (but you should also rename the default (which, by default, is named ‘unlimited’)). This gives full control.

geoduck

MAC based access control is still there.

Thank you. Very much appreciate the info.

Fastflyer

HMmmm. I am able to configure both of my 802.11N Apple Express base stations. I have one in bridge mode and the other feeding off of it. Both are joining my Apple Extreme network. I am using both to connect Dish boxes to the internet. No problems talking to either Express. Shortly after switching to AU 6 I successfully accomplished a firmware update to all three devices.

Teun

Printer setup is also missing in version 6… (but still available in 5.6) for those who have a printer instead of a disk connected to the USB port on the extreme.

Marc Dula

They dropped the ability to filter users by MAC address?!?
That?s inexcusable. That is a, well I was going to say basic, mainstream security function. I would NEVER set up my home WAP without limiting users to only those MAC addresses I know belong. This is utterly, utterly inexcusable. The other thing I do is have the network operate in ?Stealth Mode?, that is the WAP won?t respond unless you call it by the correct network name. Did they drop that as well?

What was that you were saying last week about Apple making us worry? It?s this kind of s**t that bothers me the most. It?s Apple saying to me ?You?re not some bubble gum chewing newbie that doesn?t know a network port froma hole in her, <ahem> ear. We?re not interested in you so we?re taking all the tools away.?

Apple probably didn’t bother with MAC filtering and SSID hiding because they’re pointless. You might want to give this article a read: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/ou/the-six-dumbest-ways-to-secure-a-wireless-lan/43

geoduck

Well I think “pointless” is a little harsh. By itself yeah, but as a part of a multi-layer strategy it’s a good idea. I do use a good strong, true random WPA2 passkey and a couple of other tricks I’ve picked up along the way. I’m also out in the country so simple distance means that someone would have to be physically in my yard (and not even near the property line but actually close to the house) to get a usable signal.

This brings up the reason to impliment security. Mostly I want to prevent the random war driver from leeching off of my bandwidth. At home I don’t have any high security data that goes over the air. At work, well that’s a whole different ballgame and we do use much higher level of security and encryption. Frankly for anything really private we stay on the wire rather than broadcasting it.

But time marches on and I guess I probably should up my home game. Maybe it’s time to look at Certificates or something. <sigh>

Lancashire-Witch

I can’t configure my 802.11g Airport Express with AU 6.  I wonder why. Is this an example of forced obsolescence?  I’m a little uneasy with Apple software updates forging ahead and leaving old (i.e. not current) hardware behind. iTunes 10.4 ran fine on my G5, but 10.5 is sluggish. The “Remote” iOS app on my 3G iPhone recognises my AppleTV mark 1; but the same app on my 4th gen iPod Touch doesn’t recognise the ATV 1.  Just two simple example but longevity - useful longevity - is one of my major reasons for using Apple products. Pity this “edge” isn’t as sharp as it used to be.

John Martellaro

Lancashire-Witch:  You’re not the only one who has reported that problem with the early AirPort Express.  As noted in the review, I had the same problem.  And today, another TMO staff member also reported the issue.  I’ll ask Apple, but won’t hold my breath.

Lancashire-Witch

Sorry John, I should have mentioned that my experience with managing my AP Express with AU 6 was similar to yours…  Brevity gets me every time! grin

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