Learning How to Share
The basic idea behind networks is something everyone learned in kindergarten or even preschoolsharing. Networks are about sharing. It wouldn't make any sense for you to create a home network if you had only a single PC (and no other network devices) because then there would be nothing to share.
It doesn't matter if you are a single person with multiple PCs or if you live in a house full of people, because the idea is the same. A network makes it far easier to share the assets and resources that are spread across the network.
Sharing Your Files
Home networks were originally created to make file sharing easier. Prior to the existence of home networks, if you wanted to use a file that was on someone else's computer, you had to go to that person's computer, copy the file to a removable disk (or tape in the really distant past), go back to your computer, and finally copy the file onto your system. This was sometimes called a "sneakernet" because the files were transferred by someone walking around in sneakers. Figure 1-4 gives you an idea of how networking has changed things.
File sharing has never been the same since two or more computers were networked. Now it's almost as easy to open a file stored elsewhere on your network as it is to open one that's right on your PC. If Mom wants to browse through last summer's vacation photos that are stored on the PC in the home office, she doesn't have to bother Dad when he's paying the bills. She can simply use one of the other PCs and have instant access to the shared files.
Sharing files is an essential step in setting up your home network, and it's something that is easily overlooked in your haste to "get it connected and see if it works." In Chapter 8, "Sharing Your Network," you learn how to share the files that you want other people on your home network to be able to access.
Another great way to take advantage of your home network is by sharing one or more printers. Few home PC users print enough to make a really good printer worthwhile, but it can make a lot of sense to get a better printer that you're going to share. Printing to a network printer is faster and easier than putting your files on a floppy disk and taking them to another PC for printing.
As you will learn in Chapter 8, you have a couple of options to share a printer on your home network. Depending on what works best for your family, you can share a printer that is connected directly to a PC, or you can place that printer in a separate location where it is convenient for everyone to use.
You can even share more than one printer on your home network. For example, you might want to have a laser printer for fast, high-quality text printing and a photo-quality color inkjet for printing graphics.
Sharing an Internet Connection
One of the newer uses for a home network is to allow everyone to share an Internet connection. This is especially true in homes where a broadband connection such as cable or DSL makes it possible for several people to surf the Web at the same time. Rather than a broadband connection being used by only one person directly connected to it at a time, a shared Internet connection gives everyone access when they want it, as shown in Figure 1-5.
Figure 1-5 With a Home Network, Everyone Can Share a Broadband Internet Connection
As you'll learn in Chapter 7, "Making Your Network Secure: Locking the Network's Door," it's very important to keep your home network secure from outside attacks. It turns out that the equipment that you use to share an Internet connection can actually make the task of keeping your network secure considerably easier.
The Linksys WRT54G Wireless-G Router shown in Figure 1-6 is an example of the type of equipment you can use to easily and securely share your Internet connection.
Figure 1-6 A Wireless Router Makes It Easy to Share Your Broadband Internet Connection
Regardless of all the other uses for your home network, the one that will ultimately provide you with the most enjoyment will probably be sharing various types of digital media content. You might not realize it yet, but a home network is going to make a big change in the way your family plays.