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Windows Vista : Build Your Network (part 6) - Add Wireless Support to Any Device, Get Bluetooth to Work

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8. Add Wireless Support to Any Device

As soon as you have your wireless network up and running, you'll probably be inclined to do away with as many cables as you can. This feeling is normal; there's no need to seek psychiatric help or psychic guidance.

Here's how to add support for wireless networking to nearly any computer or device:


Desktop computer

Add a wireless PCI card just as you would an Ethernet NIC (network interface card). When shopping for a WiFi NIC, look for a card with an adjustable, external antenna (versus merely a nub); and make sure to get one certified for Windows Vista. Alternatively, you can use a USB-based WiFi adapter and avoid having to take apart your PC; the downside is that these tend to be less reliable than internal adapters.


Laptop computer

WiFi PC Cards have been available for some time, but if you have a modern laptop, you most likely have a better choice. For about the same price as the aforementioned PC Card, an internal Mini-PCI adapter will typically offer better range (thanks to the internal antenna likely already present in your laptop) without the clumsy protrusion of a PC Card. (See the "Handheld PDA" entry, later in this section, for information on using Bluetooth with your laptop.) Another solution is explained in the upcoming "Quick and Dirty WiFi Piggyback" sidebar.

Quick and Dirty WiFi Piggyback

Say you and a partner are staying in a hotel, and each of you has a laptop. The hotel, of course, charges for wireless, and you don't feel like ponying up the extra dough for two connections, nor do you feel like taking turns.

Or, perhaps a friend visits your home or office and wants to check her email with her laptop. What if you don't want to share your wireless encryption passphrase with any passerby who asks for it? Or, what if the laptop doesn't have wireless?

Assume you have a sample wireless network like the one illustrated in Figure 7-3 or Figure 7-4. You can, of course, plug any PC (provided that it has an Ethernet port) directly into your wireless router with an ordinary category-5 patch cable, and give it instant access to the Internet. But what if the router isn't in a convenient location?

Fortunately, any Windows PC can act as a gateway, funneling Internet access to any computer to which it is physically connected, using Windows' built-in Internet Connection Sharing feature . All you need to do is connect this new laptop directly to your own desktop or laptop PC, and this typically requires only a single cable.

If the visitor's laptop has an Ethernet port, and your PC has an unused Ethernet port (likely if you're on a wireless network), just connect the two computers with a category-5 crossover cable, and you've got yourself something like the wired network shown later in Figure 19. Just activate Internet Connection Sharing on your PC, and the guest PC will have Internet access.

You wouldn't want to use this as a long-term solution, but it works well enough for a quick email download, takes only a few minutes and a $4 cable, and doesn't compromise your network's security (much).



Printer

Although you can connect a printer to a WiFi-equipped PC and share it with the rest of your network, a better choice is to connect your printer directly to your wireless network. Among other things, this means you don't have to connect any cables to your laptop to print a document, no specific PC must be turned on to access the printer, and you have the option of placing the printer in a more convenient location. To do this, you'll need a wireless print server that plugs into the back of your printer. Then, simply install the software that comes with your print server to create a virtual printer port on your PC, to which your printer's drivers connect and send documents.

Wireless print servers tend to be a bit flaky. Since most printers don't need to be portable, consider a wired print server for more reliable printing. Just plug the device into your router with an Ethernet cable, and then plug your printer into the device.



DVR, video game console, or other media device

If your device has an Ethernet port, just add a wireless bridge (sometimes called a wireless game adapter) and cut the cords for good. Or, if your device has a USB port for this purpose, you may be able to plug in an off-the-shelf USB WiFi adapter if your device supports it.


Handheld PDA

There are two prevailing wireless technologies: WiFi and Bluetooth. While some handhelds come with built-in WiFi, a larger percentage support Bluetooth (and only a select few play for both teams). Although only WiFi-equipped handhelds can connect to the WiFi networks, you'll need Bluetooth support if you want to connect to the Internet with your Bluetooth-equipped cell phone. (The same goes for laptops; get an inexpensive Bluetooth USB dongle to connect your Windows PC to your cell phone wirelessly and surf the Web from the park or even the train!.

Now, some higher-end PDAs come with WiFi or Bluetooth support built in, while others have special expansion cards that provide connectivity. You can get a WiFi SecureDigital (SD) card or a Bluetooth SD card that will fit in many PalmOS and PocketPC handhelds, but if you have only one SD slot, you'll have to remove your memory card. If you need the wireless support, you may prefer to replace your PDA with one that has WiFi or Bluetooth (or both) built in, and do away with the awkward protrusion of the expansion card.


Digital camera

Some high-end digital cameras now have WiFi options, allowing you to send your photos to the hard disk in a nearby computer wirelessly, either in batches or immediately after you take them. Unfortunately, this only works in the studio (as opposed to outdoors), where you'd be in range of your wireless router. At the time of this writing, there are no wireless cards you can conveniently insert in place of your digital film, but it shouldn't be long.


Video camera (webcam)

Get a WiFi-enabled Internet video camera, and place it anywhere within range of your network. Then, use your PC to view a live video feed wirelessly. Or, use it in its server mode, and let anyone in the world see how much coffee is left in your coffee pot. 


Home theater

Several companies sell WiFi music and video players that connect directly to your stereo or TV. The better ones have HDMI plugs to support HD video, allowing you to play downloaded movies on your home theater in all their glory.

There's virtually no limit to the number of devices you can make wireless, provided that they support some form of networking already. If all else fails, a wireless bridge, should allow you to connect just about anything to your wireless network.

9. Get Bluetooth to Work

Bluetooth holds a lot of promise. For one, you can do things like connect your laptop wirelessly to a Bluetooth GPS receiver for portable navigation, or to your cell phone for cordless address-book synchronization. You can use your Bluetooth cell phone as a portable wireless modem and surf the Web on the go, or transfer photos you took with your cell phone to your PC without touching a cable. There are even tiny remote-controlled toy cars—like the Sony Ericcson CAR-100—that you can drive with your Bluetooth phone (truly illustrating the noble role of technology in our lives).

The problem is that Bluetooth standards are poorly implemented in most devices; don't be surprised if you can't exchange a simple address book entry between your Bluetooth-capable PDA and your cell phone, even if they're the same brand. Even Vista's built-in Bluetooth stack only works with certain types of Bluetooth transceivers, and then only under a full moon.

Usually the biggest stumbling block is getting Vista to recognize and use the Bluetooth transceiver in your PC. You can tell whether Vista is aware of—and has loaded a proper driver for—your Bluetooth hardware if there's a Bluetooth Devices icon in your Control Panel (Classic View, please).

Most PC-based Bluetooth adapters are either tiny cards wired inside some laptops or lipstick-sized USB dongles that plug in to the back of your PC. But just because the manufacturer of that adapter claims compatibility with Vista doesn't mean you'll see the Bluetooth icon in Control Panel. The problem is that only some Bluetooth adapters use Microsoft's Bluetooth stack, the set of drivers and utilities that allows your programs to talk to your Bluetooth devices. Many adapters instead use either the Toshiba Bluetooth stack or the Broadcom Bluetooth stack; good luck trying to find out which stack your adapter uses simply by reading the packaging.

To determine the missing pieces on your PC, open Device Manager in Control Panel. If all is well, you'll see a Bluetooth Radios category, under which you'll find an entry for your adapter and another for Microsoft Bluetooth Enumerator. If you don't see the Microsoft driver, or if your adapter appears in the Unknown Devices category, you have three choices: hunt down a native Vista driver, be content with your device's proprietary software (if it works), or discard your adapter and spend $20 on a newer one.

Don't bother trying to brute-force install a driver right here in Device Manager. If you manage to install the proper software, Device Manager will identify your Bluetooth adapter and install the driver automatically. Otherwise, the best you'll get with a manually loaded driver is an icon in the Bluetooth Radios category covered by a yellow exclamation mark and the error "Device cannot start." Before you try to install one of the Bluetooth stacks listed here, unload any drivers already on your PC by right-clicking the entry for your Bluetooth radio in Device Manager and clicking Delete.


Inspect the software that comes with your Bluetooth adapter (even if it won't install on Vista), or check the manufacturer's web site to find out what kind of chip your adapter uses. If you have a Toshiba Bluetooth adapter, you can get the Toshiba stack at:

http://aps.toshiba-tro.de/bluetooth/pages/toshiba/general-information-pc-stack.html

Or, if you have an adapter that uses a Broadcom or Widcomm Bluetooth chip, you can get the Broadcom stack at:

http://www.broadcom.com/products/bluetooth_update.php

or the Broadcom Vista update at:

http://update.broadcom.com/downloads/btwinitialupdate.exe

Once you get that Bluetooth Devices icon to appear in Control Panel, go ahead and click it (or run bthprops.cpl) to open the Bluetooth Devices window shown in Figure 16. There's a lot of stuff here, but for the most part, only two of the tabs are useful when connecting to other devices: Devices and COM Ports.

Figure 16. The elusive Bluetooth Devices window makes an appearance in Control Panel only if you've installed native Vista drivers for your Bluetooth radio


The Devices tab lists your phone, PDA, GPS, and any other Bluetooth-devices you've already paired with your PC. (Use the Hardware tab to list your PC's internal Bluetooth radio.) It won't show all the Bluetooth devices in range. Rather, click Add and then turn on the My device is set up and ready to be found option. Make your device "discoverable," and then click Next here to find it.

Most PC software communicates over Bluetooth airwaves via virtual COM ports that Windows opens on your PC (just like the ones you plugged your mouse into in the 1980s, except invisible). Click the COM Ports tab to see which ports have been claimed by the devices listed in the Devices tab; any software you use to talk to your Bluetooth device will either autodetect this information or ask you to specify the COM port to use. If you don't see at least one COM port associated with your device, return to the Devices tab, highlight the device in question, click Properties, and choose the Services tab to see what the device is capable of.

There's no Edit or Properties button on the COM ports page, so you'll need to open Device Manager if you want to change any settings. In Device Manager, expand the Ports (COM & LPT) category, and then double-click a Standard Serial over Bluetooth link entry and select the Port Settings tab to configure it.


You'll notice there's no Connect or Disconnect button anywhere in the Bluetooth Devices window. While the absence of these features can be inconvenient, they're not strictly needed because Windows connects automatically whenever an application tries to use one of those virtual COM ports. To disconnect, just turn off the other device, or (if your PC has one), turn off your PC's wireless radio switch.

If you have trouble getting your software to talk to your Bluetooth device, make sure it's using the same COM port identified in the Bluetooth Devices window. If it doesn't ask for a COM port, check the software publisher's web site for an update or see whether an additional driver is needed.

Finally, don't be afraid to try a different software product, which can be helpful in determining whether the problem lies with your device, with Microsoft's Bluetooth stack, or with the software you're trying to use. One nifty little program is called MeHere (free from http://mehere.glenmurphy.com/), which uses your Bluetooth GPS to navigate a live Google Maps window, and guess what... it works with Vista!

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