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Frequently Asked Questions - Networking

I get asked a lot more questions than these, so if you need advice on what to buy (or what not to buy!), which technologies work and which are not ready for prime time, I am here. Give me a call! Telephone advice is always free at simpliTek.


Should I set up a wireless network?
Wireless networks are significantly less reliable than wired networks, period. No matter what kind of hardware you use, and no matter how carefully you set it up and maintain it, a wireless network is going to be down some percentage of the time. I strongly recommend using a wired network whenever possible, and using wireless for occasional connections such as using a laptop in a conference room. If your business depends on email and the Internet (and whose doesn’t these days?) don’t build your business on the weak and shifting foundation of a wireless network.


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I am worried about whether my wireless network is secure or not. How can I tell?
Wireless network security is a challenging topic, and it is better left to the pros. There are five things you can do to secure a wireless network, and we frequently come across networks where they are using 0 out of 5. There are 3 security measures that are so easy to do that not doing them is almost malpractice for a network tech. The other two steps are the ones that provide real security, but they are the hardest to implement and the hardest to live with day to day, from a reliability and convenience standpoint. If you are worried that your network is not secure, then it probably isn’t and you should hire someone like simpliTek to secure it for you.


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I can send mail from my laptop when I am at home but when I am other places I get error messages when I try to send. What’s up with that?
How you send email messages is really tricky, unfortunately. You can receive your email from anywhere on the planet, as long as you know the server name, login and password. But sending email is more complicated. Most companies who provide an outgoing mail server (called an SMTP server) are very careful about who they let use it, because they want to make sure that you are not a spammer. So, most providers will not let you use their SMTP server unless you are connected to the Internet through their system. If you have SBC Global DSL at home, when you are at home you connect through SBC and so you can use SBC’s outgoing mail server. But if you take the same laptop somewhere else and connect to the Internet using someone other than SBC, then SBC is not going to let you use their SMTP server. They use the term “relaying”, which means whoever you are connected with is trying to “relay” your mail over to SBC to send it out. Almost NO Internet provider allows relaying. So, you have two choices: 1) change your outgoing server to match the company you are connected through at the moment, or 2) find an Internet provider who will let you use their SMTP server from anywhere as long as you have a login and password. Very few ISPs will let you do that, but some companies who host email will let you use their SMTP server from anywhere if you are their customer. SimpliTek uses Netfirms to host its email, and Netfirms provides an SMTP server we can use from anywhere. There are other companies who can host your website and email who will let you use their SMTP server from anywhere. If you don’t have your own email and use a Cox, SBC or other ISP email, there may not be much we can do.

If this sounds really complicated, well, it is. It took us years to understand how SMTP works so don’t feel bad if it is hard to figure this out. Just call us and we’ll help you.


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I have a printer that has a network jack in it. But when I plug it into the network, I can’t find it when I try to install a network printer. What gives?
Microsoft has perpetrated some unfortunate terminology in the area of printers. In order to help clear up the fog, we like to refer to three different kinds of printers, using different terminology than what Microsoft uses.

  1. Local printer – a printer connected to your computer by a USB or parallel computer.
  2. Shared printer – a printer that is connected to another computer on your network, and shared so that you can use it. Microsoft inaccurately calls this a Network printer.
  3. Network printer – a printer that is connected directly to the network with a network cable. Microsoft apparently doesn’t have a name for this kind of printer.

Unfortunately, when you run the Add Printer wizard in XP, it only talks about Local printers and Network printers. But the kind of printers they call “Network” printers are actually Shared printers. The Add Printer wizard doesn’t really handle true network printers well at all, and you absolutely cannot “browse” the network to look for a “network” printer because true network printers will not show up.

Are you completely confused yet? If not, read on. To install a true local printer, use the Local Printer option and keep the box checked that says “Automatically detect and install . . “. To install a shared printer, which Microsoft erroneously calls a “network” printer, you use the Network Printer option. To install a true network-attached printer, use the Local printer option, but uncheck the box that says “Automatically detect . .”.  The rest is too confusing to try to cover in an FAQ. Suffice to say that Microsoft has inadvertently made printer installation a lot more challenging than it needs to be. Windows 7 handles the distinction between these kinds of printers extremely well and now you actually can scan the network for available network printers, something that didn't work in Windows XP.


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My printer has both a USB port and a network port. Since I will put it right next to a computer, I could plug it in with USB. Which is better, USB or network?
In terms of speed, there is probably not much difference. The main consideration in your choice is this: if you use a USB cable and plug the printer into a computer, then that computer has to be turned on in order for anyone to print to that printer. If the printer is plugged directly into the network, then anyone can print to the printer whether the computer next to it is turned on or not. Another advantage of a network printer is that PCs and Macs can both print to it directly, without having to deal with cross platform problems.

On the other hand, you may not have an additional network jack next to the computer where you want to place the printer, so you may not have any choice but to use USB. If you want to put the printer someplace where there is no computer within about 12’ , you probably don’t have any choice but to use the network jack, or a wireless connection. USB cables are ordinarily limited to 17’ in length; network cables can be 175’ long. You can buy special “amplified” USB cables if you want to go further than 17’ but we have no experience with them.


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I am moving to a new office. Wouldn’t it be easier/less expensive to use a wireless network instead of wiring it?
In terms of fulfilling its promise to transform the face of computing, there is almost nothing as disappointing as wireless networks. They are just about one of the most unreliable and frustrating systems you can deploy. I have installed a lot of wireless networks and many of them just don’t work consistently. For the sake of reliability there is no better money spent than installing the wiring for a wired network. Wireless is okay for taking laptops into the conference room, etc. but with the mission critical importance of the Internet and email, it is not wise to base the day to day operation of your business on anything as flaky as a wireless network.


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