• United States


May 19, 20044 mins

* Help a wayward columnist choose and install a router

I feel like a boy at Disney World whose head doesn’t quite reach Mickey’s hand, thus rendering him too short to ride Space Mountain. And I’m hoping you readers can help me grow a half-inch.

I was lunching with my Network World editor, Toni Kistner, see. And because I’m new, I was trying to get a handle on my readers – their likes, dislikes and, in particular, their level of technical adeptness.

Toni told me we assume very little in the way of IT expertise; after all, home-based business people wear many hats. Underlining her point, she said, “We really assume nothing except maybe that they own and use a PC and a router.”

I said, “I don’t own a router.”

Toni paused – contemplating, no doubt, the mistake she’d made in hiring me. I scrambled to defend myself, pointing out that I’ve been writing about enterprise-grade technology for 18 years. I’ve chatted with CIOs about their $10 million CRM software implementations; I have a good grasp on the most promising spam-filtering techniques; and I understand why real-time synchronization is important for some workers’ handheld devices, but not for others’.

Nevertheless, my home technology setup is simple. We have two PCs, each with its own cable-modem connection. Originally, we had one home PC and a dial-up connection. When I began to work at home, I took over the computer. This frustrated us all – my wife and kids found their access limited, and I was inconvenienced whenever one of them needed the PC.

The problem was exacerbated when we got a cable modem, because the rest of the family saw they were missing out on a good thing.

All this led to the purchase of a second PC that lives in the kitchen. We needed broadband for it, and thus I faced the decision. Buy a router, which everybody swore was a simple, cheap, plug-and-play answer, or chicken out and have the cable company install a separate cable modem.

I chickened out. In many ways, I’m not sure this was a mistake. The service is reliable, and even when it goes down, the two-modem system is a nice troubleshooting device. If both units are down, I assume there’s a problem in my area. If only one is on the fritz, I call support.

But I do pay a price for being timid. The additional cable modem cost $50, about half what a good home router would have, but I also pay $20 monthly for the service. In 18 months, I’ve paid $350 so that I wouldn’t have to connect a few wires, read manual and drill three holes in the floor.

OK, that does it. Partly because I’m cheap and partly because I want to report back to you on my adventures, I vow to buy and install a home router in the next several months.

But I need your help. Have you been through this? Was it as easy as people say? Were there unexpected problems? What future technologies should factor into my decision? Here are some things you should know:

* We have two desktop PCs, both running Windows XP.

* Our cable modems run at 2M bit/sec and will be upgraded to 3M bit/sec soon.

* In the next 18 months, I hope to upgrade to a notebook PC that serves as a desktop replacement.

* It would be really cool to access the Internet on that notebook wirelessly.

So there you have it – a plea for advice from a guy who’s supposed to be offering you the same. Send me your thoughts and horror stories. I promise to report back on my progress – or lack thereof.