- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2000

There are places to work at home that go beyond the home office. Better lighting, better temperature and less noise can be among the factors that can put an at-home worker on the move. Thanks to a product I received and installed last week, I'm able to use a computer in the dining room, and network my files back to the home office PC and, from there, go out to the Internet if I so desire.

Intel Corp.'s Home RF gets the credit for this portability. Unlike the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.'s 802.11 standard for wireless networking, which is aimed at business users, Home RF is designed for a more casual purpose: connecting computers and printers in a household, and letting them share things such as disk drives, data files, printers and high-speed Internet connections.

The latter has been a sore spot here at La Casa Kellner: For almost two years, I've "hogged" the cable modem while my wife has had to contend with dial-up Internet service. Not anymore: now, our cable modem can support two users there's plenty of bandwidth for that and it allows us both to access a wide range of services, while freeing up a telephone line. I haven't set up printer for sharing just yet, but that's not impossible: the software allows users to share compatible printers at any point on the network.

Setup was remarkably easy and the end result is nothing less than spectacular yet another chance to cut the cord while remaining connected. A couple of clicks of the mouse button and I can save the file to the desktop folder on my office PC.

Intel has wrapped this product into two elements, under the name AnyPoint Wireless Home Networking. One is a module that plugs into the Universal Serial Bus, or USB, port of a computer: it's designed for desktops, but I would probably want one for a notebook PC as well. The other, aimed at the portable market, is a PC Card that slides into a card slot and from which an antenna cable can stretch. The antenna itself can be mounted on the lid of the notebook (with a self-adhesive-backed holder) and is thus in place to get the signal from the "server" computer, which in this instance is the PC in my office. (The products run on Microsoft's Windows 95/98, Windows NT and Windows 2000 operating systems; someone else, I hope, will produce interoperable drivers for the Macintosh platform.)

Once the devices (and software drivers) are installed in each computer, it's a simple matter to run the installation software and configure a network. If you want, you can give the remote computers access to the hard disk drives on each other's machines, or you can refuse access. This is a good way for a family to share that Internet link, but to keep junior out of the budget files, for example. Access to printers is assigned in the same fashion, although you'll need to manually install the printer drivers on each machine you allow to access a given printer.

Setting up the Internet connection is a bit more of a challenge: if you're an America Online customer exclusively and use a modem to dial up AOL, only the primary computer can be used to run the AOL software; others can share that AOL connection to reach the Internet, but would have to use a Web browser such as Netscape or Internet Explorer to do their surfing. I'm told that Intel and AOL are working on a solution that would be incorporated in future versions of the AOL product.

On the other hand, cable modem users such as myself face a more delightful situation: the Intel-supplied software can recognize and use the cable modem connection and surprise I found it possible to access AOL via the home network, by selecting a "TCP/IP" mode of connecting from the AOL 4.0 client software. (I've not tried this with AOL's new version 5.0 software, however; those users may have a different experience.)

Speed wise, the network seems to run very nicely in many respects. A Web portal such as Yahoo.com loaded in about 10 seconds, for example. I also tested out Dialpad.com, a rather interesting free long-distance service that places calls over the Internet. Sound quality was good, but there was a bit more "latency" than I had when using my primary system, which made the calls sound more like CB-radio and less like long distance.

The only "hitch" in getting things to work required me to clear out some old software settings from an earlier home networking attempt. After skating around the problem a bit, a tech support person at the Road Runner Internet cable service suggested the right fix, and all was well in relatively short order. Most users of this product, I suspect, will not have any legacy networking software to discard. (For those hoping to connect a company portable to a home network, Intel offers instructions and help that should let you preserve both settings.)

Home RF is seen as an alternative to the wire-based Home Phoneline Networking Alliance, or Home PNA, standard that has also gained some ground, and for which Intel has another line of AnyPoint networking products. My attempts with Home PNA have failed miserably so far, though I expect to try again since Home PNA can support Macintosh as well as Windows systems.

Meanwhile, those who want to chain a bunch of PCs together at home, without ripping apart walls to install Ethernet cable, will want to consider this product. Networking modules cost $129 for the PC card, and $119 for the freestanding wireless antenna. There are no monthly fees involved, and only the prospect of computing freedom. More information can be found at www.intel.com/anypoint.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.markkellner.com.

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