I’ve been writing about home networks since before they existed. Back in 1998—when IT folks were stringing cables to share a single 56kbit per second analog modem line—I was promoted to networking and communications editor at PC Magazine. At the news my colleagues hung their heads. “You won’t last,” they said. “That stuff is hard.”
Well, PC networking is hard. Packets, protocols, layers, transports. Over the years I’ve had to learn the hairiest technologies, analyzing test results, praising the good, bashing the junk, and pressuring the vendors to play straight.
Ironically, making home networking gear easy to use is really hard. It takes a lot of folks working behind the scenes on standards and protocols and middleware to ensure all the disparate pieces work together without blowing up, and without you having to spend Sunday pouring over some awful manual.
While you don’t need to know about protocol stacks to make smart buying decisions, there’s still a lot to learn—especially now that CE vendors (who don’t love standards) are building network connectivity into their products. The CE and PC worlds are colliding as vendors spout comforting buzzwords like “whole-home network.”
Today, the hardest part about home networking is the sheer wealth of choices. There are just too many vendors and service providers competing for your dollar. How do you pick the winners and keep from getting burned? While no cheat-sheet is foolproof, I swear by mine:
- Only buy standards-based equipment.
- Don’t buy new technology the second it comes out.
- For commodity products, choose vendors who demonstrate the best customer support.
- Don’t buy solely based on price, or emotion.
The kind folks at ElectronicHouse.com have asked me to write a weekly blog on home networking. In the coming weeks I’ll talk about connecting stuff, highlight the companies and organizations doing cool things, and, of course, take requests.
Think my cheat-sheet’s bunk? Love/hate networks? Got good war stories, questions, gripes, raves? Post your comments below.
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Toni Kistner is a technology writer living in Cambridge, Mass. Her main focus is networking and wireless technology.