Nearly every home computer is attached to a network of some kind these days. While it has gotten much easier to set up and connect to a network than it used to be, it still feels like a difficult and mostly incomprehensible area of "mystery computing" to a lot of people. Since most of us have to deal with networks, a guide that makes the whole subject easy to understand can be a real lifesaver. We’ve reviewed other networking books and found them very helpful. Will Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies be another good book to add to your reference library? Let's find out.
NOTE: The book was copyrighted 2008 and does not cover Windows 7 specifically. However, the information on networks and networking is useful for all operating systems, and the information on Windows Vista is close enough to the way Windows 7 does things that it will work just fine. You can also learn about networking with Mac OS X or Ubuntu Linux if you're interested.
Not really for dummies
As with all the other books in the Dummies series, the aim of Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies is to explain everything in simple terms, but without talking down to the reader or using high-level geek terms that only someone who already knows the subject would understand. There's a bit of humor added to ease the learning process, which always helps. There’s a helpful “cheat sheet" in the front of the book that explains common networking terms. Since this is an "all in one" guide, it includes seven sections, which the publisher calls minibooks. They are: Introduction to Networking, Setting up Networks, Network Security, Connecting and Sharing, Network Troubleshooting, Networking Gadgets, and Wi-Fi Hotspots.
Hello, network, nice to meet you
The introductory section does a great job of explaining networking terminology. When I took a college course on networking a few years ago, I wish I’d had a straightforward explanation like this, rather than the tech-oriented approach my textbook took. As with most things, once a person has a good basic understanding of the concept, the rest is a lot easier. The operating-system chapter’s clear, well-illustrated description of Windows Vista networking will cover how Windows 7 works, since Microsoft made major improvements in Windows Vista that were clearly worth keeping for Windows 7. Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies’ explanation of modems and routers is one of the best I’ve seen. People often think these devices are too complex to understand, and the book does a great job of explaining them in simple terms. People can save themselves a lot of headaches and frustration if they’ve got a good basic understanding of the hardware, and it makes getting tech support easier too if you know what you’re talking about when you call your Internet service provider for help.
The setup, the plan, and the connection
The general information on setting up and working with user accounts is good, but the chapter is overloaded with references to operating systems that are not in common use any more (Windows 2000, anyone?). The sections that deal with Windows Vista are equally applicable to Windows 7 and help explain the User Account Control, but UAC is set up to be much more user friendly in Windows 7 than it is in Windows Vista (and thank goodness for that). The section that describes the various kinds of high speed Internet connections is timeless and explains the way the different types of connections work and which equipment you’re likely to need for each one. The same goes for the chapter on network adapters, although that chapter shows its age a bit. Nowadays a computer that does not come with some kind of network adapter already installed is a rare beast indeed. The section on setting up and configuring the network is excellent, and since many people will have to deal with the router-configuration process. Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies can really help with its step by step guide to what’s involved and what happens. The explanations of commonly used terms like DHCP, MAC address, and SSID are particularly good. There is also a section on updating and tweaking a router’s firmware that uses a D-Link router as an example but explains the process clearly enough that the reader could tackle the same process on any other brand of router just as well. Since many people use popular third-party software like DD-WRT to improve their routers’ performance, the section that explains how to use it is a plus. As is the section that deals with amplifying a wireless router’s signal and extending wireless coverage. Taking things a little out of order here, I’d say that the minibook that deals with troubleshooting is excellent, not weighed down by out-of-date references, and gives the reader a good, solid understanding of what could go wrong and what to do to make it right.
The old outweighs the new
The minibook on network and Internet security has a lot of good, basic information, but of course the references to specific hardware and software are out of date. Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies does go into detail about the problems you can cause yourself if you use an unsecured wireless connection, and explains the best ways to protect yourself from intrusions, hackers, and nosy neighbors with too much time on their hands and too much interest in your wireless connection. I thought the explanation of MAC address filtering was particularly good. There’s a good description of Internet for children and parental controls, including an extensive section on how those controls work in Windows Vista that would be applicable to Windows 7 as well. The minibook that covers Connecting and Sharing is, unfortunately, way too full of information for outdated operating systems. Paging through it all to find the Windows Vista information that’s relevant to Windows 7 is more trouble than it’s worth. The section on virtual private networks was extensive, but also out of date, as were the section on file and hardware sharing, DNS and FTP. The final minibooks on Networking Gadgets and WiFi Hotspots are also out of date, although there is some useful information. The Networking Gadgets section has a chapter devoted to a Cisco product called Network Magic that is still available, and which may be worth a look since it simplifies almost everything about networking. The current price of the software ($40 or $30 depending on which version you choose) is not out of reach for most people, but I have no personal experience with it so I can’t say if I agree with the author that the Network Magic is worth buying.
The good and the bad
Pro: The book is packed with useful information, clear explanations and plenty of illustrations. Each topic is discussed in a straightforward manner and with just the right touch of humor to make the reading worth while. For a good solid understanding of the basics of networking, Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies really shines.
Con: The 2008 copyright date (meaning the book was likely written in 2007) means that way too much information is out of date or simply not applicable anymore. No mention of Windows 7, but I found that the instructions for Windows Vista were good enough for most Windows 7 tasks.
Because there is so much information in Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies that provides an excellent introduction to home networking, I’d say it would be worth borrowing from the library. I took a college level course in networking and there were still some things that this book explained clearly that I did not know. However, the overload of outdated information means it might not be worth buying the book if what you’re interested in is Windows 7 networking. For Windows 7 networking books to buy and keep there are far better choices, like our own Network Your Computers & Devices Step by Step.