Wires and Wireless

Wires and Wireless
Mac Tip #129/26-Nov-2003

When I was a very young child my parents would turn on the Wireless (radio) on top of the fridge to listen to The Archers. After a while the valves would heat up and the familiar music would sound. As an 8-year old I graduated to a transistor (radio) and The Goon Show kept me entertained.

Now 40 years later I’m surrounded by TVs, Videos, DVDs, stereos, computers, phones and a variety of other devices whose cables tangle in dusty spaghetti behind the furniture. There’s even a very well-known magazine which takes its name from this feature of our lives: “Wired”.

All those cables are a huge nuisance and so there are many moves these days to get rid of them all together. This of course involves “wireless” technology. At the moment there are mainly two categories: short-range and long-range, and they’re used for different purposes.

Short range Bluetooth

The short-range technology uses something called Bluetooth which can only work over a short distance of a few metres.

You might use Bluetooth to automatically put your Mac’s Address Book on to your cell phone for example when you walk into the room.

Or perhaps you’ll buy one of Apple’s new keyboards or mice which no longer needs a wire to connect your Mac.

For Bluetooth to work the Mac needs a Bluetooth card and the keyboard or mouse also must be able to use Bluetooth technology. You can’t just do this with existing equipment unless it already has Bluetooth built-in, as many newer Macs do.

Long distance wifi

The longer range technology is sometimes just called “wireless” or “WiFi”. We Mac users are likely to use Apple’s “Airport” technology to go on the Internet, surf the Web and do email.

To make this work you need some kind of “base station” which actually connects to the Internet and you need a card in your computer which then uses that connection.

I have this set up in my home where it allows me to carry my Powerbook all over the house and still surf the Web and do email from wherever I am.

What’s more, I can sit at many cafes in central Wellington and for a very small fee check my email wirelessly on my own computer while I drink my hot chocolate.

There are increasing numbers of “wireless hot spots” around the world where you can do this if you have an Airport card (or other wireless card) in your laptop. Got a WiFi HotSpot near you?

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